Belize’s Coral Reefs: Fostering Sustainable Practices through Co-ManagementLatest update January 9, 2019 Started on October 12, 2018
Follow along on our journey to bring marine scientists, natural resource managers and fisherfolk together to preserve Belize's coral reef ecosystems!
We combine SCUBA diving, interviews of key stakeholders, and educational programming to integrate science into decision-making practices for sustainability.
Happy New Year! I am delighted to share that this Open Explorer expedition has been chosen to be a part of the Science Exploration Education (SEE) Initiative! This program pairs expedition leaders (like me!) with an OpenROV Trident – or underwater drone – to help them explore various different marine ecosystems.
I will use my OpenROV Trident to supplement data collection that I’m planning on conducting along the Belize Barrier Reef underwater using SCUBA. Using either method, I will quantify lobster, conch, and fish species underwater. A main difference between SCUBA diving and operating the Trident, is that I can operate the Trident from the water’s surface!
Whether on a boat or a dockside, I’ll be able to obtain video and photograph data because it will be tethered to my Android tablet. This provides me with an exciting opportunity to collect underwater data in two ways and compare my results! I can also share the videos and photos taken with the Trident with my collaborators and the community members in Belize, contributing to increased awareness of coral reefs.
Follow along as I learn how to operate the OpenROV Trident – I’m hoping to take it to my local pool in the coming weeks to test it out!
Hello followers! I thought I would provide a bit of background about who I am and what led me to pursue this expedition:
Growing up in Narragansett, Rhode Island, sparked within me a passion for the ocean, for I spent my summers playing in the shallow waters of the local beaches. This passion grew deeper when I developed an excitement for learning and interest in scientific inquiry from field trips to the coast with enthusiastic teachers. I became fascinated with the natural world – it was a mystery I wanted to understand. This was the driving force behind my decision to study biology at Connecticut College.
While at Conn, I was exposed to a variety of opportunities that pushed me beyond my comfort zone and sparked my passion for coral reef research. I spent a week snorkeling and conducting field research around South Water Caye, Belize, during a Tropical Biology course (photo 1: posing while snorkeling at sunrise, credit: Molly Conlin). I also became SCUBA certified, further motivated to explore the underwater world. After this, I spent four months on the island of Bonaire, in the Dutch Caribbean, during a field semester in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation (photo 2: ready for a scientific dive, credit: CIEE Bonaire).
Between Conn and graduate school, I spent several years working in marine conservation at the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in Key Largo, Florida, and education at the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program in Mystic, Connecticut (photo 3: posed on Vieques, Puerto Rico with S’14, credit: Williams-Mystic). These experiences showed me firsthand that marine conservation efforts are most effective through collaborations between multiple interest groups.
Motivated by my desire to protect and conserve coral reef ecosystems, I decided to pursue my PhD in ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My career goals focus on marine conservation science, especially addressing the gap between the scientific community and the public. Because I feel as though the scientific community cannot remain isolated from the people its research benefits most, I hope to use science to advise policymakers about the best management techniques for protecting tropical marine ecosystems.
This expedition is a component of my dissertation research, which I’ve designed to include social and ecological components of marine conservation. For effective conservation of marine resources, we need to integrate how and why humans use them, and incorporate their perspectives into management decisions. In another post, I will write more about why I’ve chosen to do this project in Belize specifically, and why Belize is a pioneer for this kind of interdisciplinary conservation work.
Overfishing of marine ecosystems threatens biodiversity and the viability of fisheries. Marine reserves are designed to mitigate these impacts by restricting fishing access in select locations, but poaching and lack of enforcement limit their broader success. Territorial User Rights for Fishing (TURFs) have emerged, assigning fishers rights to fish in designated areas in exchange for reporting their catch. In 2011, the first TURFs in the Caribbean were established by the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD) and incorporated the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) and the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve. Since June 2016, a nation-wide TURF system – known as Managed Access (MA) – was implemented, and seven additional MA areas were added to pre-existing reserves. This expedition corresponds to my early career grant, where I seek to quantify the efficacy of Belize’s MA program in restoring overfished stocks, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and improving fishers’ livelihoods. I will collaborate with the BFD and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to evaluate the efficacy of Belize’s MA program using the social-ecological systems (SES) framework. This expedition focuses on the Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR), which is co-managed by the BFD and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). I will compare logbook catch data to long-term ecological monitoring of the PHMR to determine if catch data are reflected in the environment. I will also conduct a socio-economic survey of fishers who utilize PHMR for their livelihoods. The results of this project will assist natural resource managers with the best science-based decision-making practices for sustaining fishers’ livelihoods while preserving coral reef ecosystems.
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