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The Gap Year Blog

Science Reports 2020: Belize Marine Conservation

12 May 2020 15:00 PM


Frontier's scientific research is a crucial part of our organisation, and the spring reports are a culmination of all the data collection our awesome project teams have been doing from January - March this year.  We're so proud of the important work our staff and volunteers do, and we can't wait to share their latest findings with you.


Project Background

Belize is a small country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the largest living reef in the world.

The reef is unique due to its length and variety of diverse corals, and it contributes enormously to the protection of beautiful coastal landscapes and the maintenance of seawater quality. It also provides breeding grounds for many types of marine creatures, including endangered species like the Green sea turtle.


Why Is Our Work Important?

The Frontier team are based in Caye Caulker, an island off Belize, where they are engaged in important research work to protect and understand the Belize Barrier Reef.

The Belize Reef System is under increasing pressure from pollution, climate change, coastal development and other human activities.

It’s vital that we look after the reef, not only to preserve this incredible eco-system and safeguard our planet, but also because locals are dependent on the reef for their livelihood – especially those who work in commercial fishing.


Research and Conservation Aims

The main goal of Frontier Belize is to conduct ‘long-term scientific monitoring of key habitats and species within the forest and marine reserve’.

The team use data collection methods such as biological surveys, animal behaviour observance, and diving expeditions to monitor the populations of marine species and the health of the reef.

Their results are used to inform fishery management and coastal protection, and the data they collect is used in international databases to compare the health of the various sections of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.





What Were the Key Findings?


  • The fish management zones in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve have been working, and there are considerably higher fish densities in these areas 


  • There has been a large decline in the coverage and health of seagrass meadows over the last 2 years, which will continue if sand-dredging patterns do not change 


  • Adult lionfish have been successfully reproducing


  • Tour boat numbers need to be regulated to prevent frequent ‘unnatural feeding’ of nurse sharks and Southern stingrays. Tourists should be educated on the ethical implications of feeding the fish from a boat



The Role of Frontier Volunteers

Without our volunteers, Frontier Belize would not be able to carry out the crucial research that they do. Our citizen scientist volunteers are an integral part of efforts to protect this vulnerable and delicate eco-system.

One of the things our Belize volunteers do is collect data on the abundance of species like the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. This involves snorkelling and diving while searching for these creatures, and volunteers have to look under rocks, between plants and in the sandy ocean floor - a bit like a conservation-themed treature hunt!

Frontier volunteers are also trained to collect data on the behaviour of sharks by observing their reaction to tourist boats, and they are briefed in all elements of species identification and scientific methods. 

Not only do our volunteers get to experience front-line conservation under the supervision of our amazing Belize team, but they leave the island with a set of invaluable scientific research skills and a wealth of knowledge about marine conservation. Many of them also leave with their PADI Advanced Open Water certification.


Here’s what Angus Fraser, a Frontier Belize volunteer in March, had to say:  


‘The work that I have been doing with the other volunteers has been really exciting… I am currently studying all the different types of fish that we find in the reefs and atolls around Caye Caulker and although it has been challenging at times trying to keep track of all the things I have learned, it has been really interesting learning more about the animals we are trying to protect’



Sound like something you'd like to get involved in? Join the Belize marine conservation project here.

Read the full science report here.


By Ella T Smith - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial and marine conservationcommunity and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!