THE BELIZE WILDLANDS PROJECT: ECOSYSTEMS AND CULTURES
Join us as we take part in a unique, firsthand investigation of Belize’s diverse tropical ecosystems, remarkable animal and plant communities, and human cultures they support.
Lodged just below Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula on theCaribbean, and formerly known as British Honduras, Belize’s relatively unknown and distinctly exotic lands stir the imagination. Far removed from other Central American countries in history, culture, ethnic makeup, and language, Belize stands apart as a politically stable ex-British colony whose official tongue is English. From barrier reef to towns of rebel African slave descendants, from lowland neo-tropical jungle to Mayan Indian villages, from mountainous hardwood rainforest to isolated Mennonite settlements, Belize offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore a truly wild place, not yet overwhelmed by the pressures of global expansionism. Here, in a dramatic cross section of landscapes, participants will gain a unique understanding of Belize’s interwoven ecosystems and cultures while participating directly in field studies to help preserve Belize’s ecological and cultural heritage.
Team members will have a rare chance for hands-on field investigations of environmentalchallenges facing Belize today. Because of Belize’s rich biodiversity and its relative isolation, little is known about much of the nation’s flora/fauna, and that which is known is incompletely understood. The opportunity for discovery awaits us on many levels.
In Belize team members will be introduced to key ecological research monitoring techniques including wildlife transect establishment, camera station monitoring, and animal identification. Traveling from mountain to coast, we will examine animal populations in Belize’s principle terrestrial ecosystems (rainforests, coastal mangroves, lagoons, riparian zones) and assess the effectiveness/long-range sustainability of resource management strategies for Belize’s protected nature reserves.
Off the Belize coast exists the second largest barrier reef in the world. Studded with mangrove and coconut palmed cayes, and guarded by atolls to the east, the 180 mile long reef is ecologically complex and intimately tied to the rainforests through its many water courses delivering nutrients to the sea. In this system, dazzling numbers and varieties of plants and animals are supported including 30 coral species, sea turtles, rays, eels, and over 250 varieties of fish living in and along the reef system. Snorkeling through the reef environment, we will study closely the ecology of the system, collect evidence of human disturbance, and assess the impact of increased human use.
Belize’s cultural geography will be a third focus for our field studies. Belize is a land inhabited by an extraordinary mix of peoples. Our travels will take us to various cultures, and at times we may find ourselves as their guests. We will conduct informal interviews with local people, collecting personal histories and perceptions of the country from the various ethnic groups living within its borders. In this manner we will begin to develop a sense of how the different cultures see themselves in relation to the land, and how the concepts of conservation and stewardship vary across cultural lines. Here too we will consider the effects of Belize’s vast protected nature reserves on local populations in terms of environmental/ economic benefit, and the enhancement or degradation of
cultural senses of history, place, and home.
By the end of the project, all of us will have experienced unparalleled environmental and cultural diversity, developed the ability to employ scientific field methods, evaluated firsthand a variety of conservation management techniques, and explored the human element in wildland/wildlife stewardship.
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