R.E.E.F. Program!

Last week we held our R.E.E.F. Program for students 12 and up, or students who had previous experience at youth camp. This year we had 8 students, several of whom had either been to youth camp before or were returning to the R.E.E.F. program. On the first day of camp we talked about our experiences doing research and showed the students how to analyze the data that we collect. We gave each team of two a picture of a quadrat and had them estimate the percent cover of the live coral, dead coral, algae, and other. We then calculated a class average of live coral, and we compared that to the data collected in previous years. It was interesting to see the class discuss the different percentages and why the live coral cover was so low.

The second day of camp we talked about plastics. We showed a video on the Great Pacific garbage patch, and talked about what different types of plastic there are in the ocean and if there was anything to be done about it. We then took the class outside and, using the mapping technology we used for our mangrove research, made a map of plastic found on the beach. Along with making a map, we also cleaned up the plastic and trash that we found. The students really enjoyed using the iPads and GPS, and it was great to get out of the classroom.

On Wednesday we had guests from Blackadore Caye join us to discuss their research on seafloor mapping. The kids got to see the equipment used, and the resulting maps of the seafloor. It was really great to have the students see real life opportunities in science, especially presented by local people. After camp the kids got to go on a special crocodile watch with the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) where they released a baby crocodile they named “Shirley Buttercup Twinkle”. The students had so much fun, and it was definitely a highlight of the week. 

The next day we taught the kids about seawalls and marine protected areas. They got to go out and see real seawalls as we discussed the pros and cons of different man-made structures to protect cities from the ocean. We then talked about how the barrier reef acts as a natural seawall and protects the island from storms and large waves. Most of the students already knew about the marine protected area around Hol Chan, but it was interesting to show them how much of the ocean is protected, and how much more there is to protect.

Finally, on Friday we went on a snorkel trip with the Blackadore research team. The students really enjoyed the boat ride and the cool water; it was a great way to end a great week.

Starting today, and for the next two weeks we will be busy holding our youth camp! We are so excited and cannot believe that we only have two weeks left in this beautiful place.

-Katherine Akey & Team STARRS

Research Week!

This past week was our designated research week where we went out and did research at Mexico Rocks and at the mangroves. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we suited up to do our underwater research on the coral mounds. Before we got in the water, we went over our specific jobs and split up into two teams of three. Two of the team members were tasked with taking pictures of the coral mounds inside a pvc pipe square (quadrat) and taking closer pictures of the soft coral. These images will be used to calculate how much live and dead coral covers the mound. The leftover team member had to take a very slow video going up and over the coral mound and then one going all around the sides, in order to get a complete picture of the mound for later analysis. Over the course of our three dives, I got to help out with both jobs, and such simple tasks become incredibly difficult while scuba diving. Communication is very limited and because most of us were new divers it took us a little bit of time on the first dive to figure out our buoyancy issues because it was such a shallow area. By the end of the research dives we were all pros at taking the data and we saw some incredible marine life as well!


On Tuesday and Thursday we headed up north to take data in the mangroves. We were looking at the mangrove propagules (a small and young mangrove tree) and mapping where they were located, complete with pictures taken above and below the water. To get this data we had to kayak out into the shallow warm waters with our GoPro, iPad, and Bad Elf GPS devices. We were looking at the different organisms living on or around the propagules, such as snails, barnacles, seagrass, sponges, or algae, in order to see their effects on the growth of the mangrove propagules.

To round out our week of data collection and diving, this past saturday was San Pedro’s annual Lobster Fest! The begin of lobster fishing season means a large block party with all the local restaurants serving their best lobster dishes. Every year we also have a booth to promote our camp! This year we did face painting, had coloring pages, and were teaching kids how to fold an origami frog. The night was a success and everyone had a lot of fun!

This week we are busy with our R.E.E.F. Program for students 12 and up, we have a lot of exciting lessons and field trips planned so stayed tuned to read all about it! 


-Katherine Akey & Team STARRS


Week Two in San Pedro

It’s been a busy week of recruiting on all accounts. We spent Monday morning waking up San Pedro on the Good Morning San Pedro broadcast, sharing details about the camp and talking about how we all got involved and hope to walk away from the camp. It was an unexpected line of questioning, but it was nice to be able to tell the community about why we’re running these camps and why we’re here to participate in them. We even made it to the local paper, which we made sure to grab a hard copy of.

We’ve also been walking up and down the streets and ringing up phones to tell people about camp and ask for local support, whether that comes as funding, food or anything else for camp. So far we’ve raised a fair bit of money and have guaranteed cupcakes for graduation, which is exciting for the kids! We’re still working on that too, with plans to take the kids on a glass bottom-boat trip and out snorkeling to use high-tech research equipment. R.E.E.F. camp this year will get to experience a lot of hands-on activities, and fieldtrips which will hopefully inspire them to venture further into the sciences.

Wednesday was one of our two movie nights, featuring ‘Surf’s Up’ at the Lion’s Den. After many, many hours over the stove we had 90 bags of popcorn and a 5 gallons of Kool-Aid ready to go. About 20 kids and their parents showed up, which wasn’t bad for a rainy night and our first movie shown outside of camp weeks. The kids who came enjoyed themselves, and got to pose with us for some pictures for a local newspaper.

The professors also landed in San Pedro this week; Al, David and Denise stopped by our apartment to say hello and see how things have been going. Although they only swung by briefly on Wednesday, seeing as we were busy with movie night, we were with them again bright and early the next morning. Come Thursday we were up and at it in the water for 8:30 sharp. Everyone enjoyed our practice snorkel in Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley, intended for everyone to get comfortable in the water.

There were beautiful coral, copious sharks and gliding rays all around us, and it was a great introduction to the deeper waters of Belize.

On Friday things got a bit more intense as we went out on the water again, this time for a practice dive. This trip was to Mexico Rocks, where everyone geared up to explore the corals up north before moving on to research practice. For this research we’ll be taking coral transect quadrat photos and data to compare to past data and assess annual changes in the reef. This meant that we split into two groups of three to practice laying out the transect, fumbling around with the clipboard, trying to stay in place with a quadrat while someone takes a picture of said quadrat and more. It was definitely a challenge, and everyone appreciated this trial run before the data gets to be real. Things came to an exciting end as a storm kicked up, and we sailed against pelting rain back to the safety of San Pedro’s shore.


This weekend will see us headed to the mainland for some visits to a zoo, Mayan ruins and more, so stay tuned to read all about it!


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-Liz Nagy & Team STARRS

Week One in San Pedro!

We have settled into our apartment in San Pedro and have had our fill of breakfast burritos. We arrived to San Pedro on Sunday by Tropic Air and were pleasantly surprised by an unusually cool breeze when we landed. We spent the first day getting our bearings and marveling at how fast things have changed in such a short time (Superbuy now has air conditioning!). One of the first things we noticed was the piles and piles of Sargassum, a brown seaweed, on the beach. The increase in Sargassum is a recent phenomenon affecting beaches throughout the Caribbean, and definitely a topic we will address in camp this year.

This week we recruited at four schools; Ambergris Caye Elementary School, Isla Bonita School, New Horizons, and San Pedro Roman Catholic School. The kids loved this year’s skit, which starred Francine the Flounder (played by Aidan) trying to find a place to dispose of plastic waste while visiting her ocean-dwelling friends. Click here to see the San Pedro article written about our school visits. This skit was partially inspired by the new plastic bottle recycling initiative started in San Pedro this year.

We have also been working hard to fundraise this week. Armed with our brightly colored shirts and big smiles, we have been asking local businesses and resorts to support their community by donating to our camp. These donations will be used for field trips for the campers, such as the glass bottom boat trip we hold at the end of youth program.

In the middle of the day when things start to slow down in San Pedro because of the suffocating heat, the group has enjoyed snorkeling off the docks in front of our apartment. Even staying close to the shore, we have managed to spot parrotfish, nurse sharks, and of course, the infamous lionfish.

We are all very excited to get to know our island community and spend more time exploring the marine life over the next few weeks.