Final Farewells: Youth Camp Week 2, Graduation, Boat Trip, and Departure

Youth Camp Week 2: 

Entering the second week of Youth Camp, we really felt like we were starting to get the hang of things. We continued to explore our theme of Eco-Cultural Identity with days focused on Threats to the Marine Ecosystem, Human Health and the Environment, and Advocacy. On Monday, the San Pedro representative from Oceana Belize, Angel Briceno, came to speak to the campers about the threats of oil spills, plastic pollution, the work that his organization is doing to combat these threats, and how the children themselves can get involved. The children enjoyed answering his questions and receiving Oceana pencils as prizes, and one of the older campers asked us at the end how she could find out how to get more involved in the organization. They also loved getting to feel the shell-less egg that Emily and Rene created with vinegar to demonstrate the effects of ocean acidification.

“Naked” Egg  demonstrates the effect of ocean acidification on calcium carbonate shells

On Tuesday, Glenda finally got to use all of the water bottles that we had all been collecting for the whole trip. Her water filtration lesson, using sand and coffee filters to “clean” dirty water was a success and Yeiny’s jeopardy about fishing practices was a big hit as well!

Captivated students watching dirty water drain through the filter

Students getting excited about water filtration

On Wednesday, the students started the day by drawing a picture of a place on the island that was special to them and later they made advocacy posters to illustrate something that they care about and want to protect. After one last Coral of the Day, the students spent most of the day on Thursday preparing their final projects for graduation.

Example of a “Special Place” Project

Example of an Advocacy Poster


Graduation was a sweet conclusion to a great year of camp! Attendance was good: we asked the Lions Den to set up 100 chairs, and they were all filled and several parents were standing in the back! The food was delicious: beautiful cupcakes donated from Wild Mangos and Blue Water Grill. We underestimated how fast kids can go through cheese puffs!

Emily passing out cupcakes with the help of our neighbor and friend Delmi

After allowing time for people to trickle in, the evening started with a presentation of the camp picture slideshow that Glenda created while people were eating their food. Next, we opened up the floor for final project presentations from the students. One camper, who was returning to camp for her third year, impressed us with her in-depth poster and presentation about how a coral polyp develops. Some other campers presented about their favorite Coral of the Day.

One camper presenting the poster he made about his favorite Coral of the Day: Fire Coral!

After final projects, we presented the campers with their Expert Cards– first to the REEF Program students and then to Youth Camp students– signifying that they had successfully completed the program. There were around 70 students who graduated this year!

Yeiny presenting a student with his Expert Card

A returning camper looking excited to have received her card


To end the night on an energetic note, the students performed the two songs they had been practicing for two weeks: Don’t Litter the Beach and The Mangrove Song (with dance moves!) They knew them both so well and sounded great! The audience loved it!

All of the graduates and teachers (see if you can spot all six of us in there!) at the end of the graduation ceremony

Glass Bottom Boat Trip: 

We all agreed that the Glass Bottom Boat trips on Friday contained some of the best moments of camp. It never got old to see every one of the students shriek with excitement every time a new type of coral came into view in the glass. Remembering them from the Coral of the Day lessons, they would shout out their names at the top of their lungs: “PURPLE SEA FAN!” or “LETTUCE CORAL!” and point them out to their friends. They were also excited to see the swarming of sharks at Shark Ray Alley and the captain gave them each a piece of fish to throw to them. It is so special for the kids to be able to see in person what they learned about in the classroom at camp, especially considering that some of them had lived on the island their whole lives and never been out to see coral in a boat. The six of us ended Friday with a delicious dinner at El Fogon restaurant which was a gift from Olive, the restaurant owner and mother of two of our returning campers.

8AM boat trip group, ready for take off!

2PM boat trip group posing for a group photo

An exciting view though the glass at Shark Ray Alley!

Saying Goodbyes and Wrapping Up at Smith:

We were heartbroken to leave our friends, so we put off final packing until Saturday night, spending every last moment we could enjoying the sunlight together. We ended our trip with breakfast at Neri’s tacos, one of our favorite food spots, where we bumped into one of our favorite campers for a final farewell.

Saturday goodbyes on the Blue Step dock

Last trip to Neri’s Tacos

The adventures did not stop on the island: we sprinted through the airport to make our connecting flight with only three minutes to spare, and then the airline lost eleven of our bags. Despite these trials, we still found time to call our Belizean friends from the airport, and we returned to Smith for a productive final week culminating in a successful presentation. As we shared with the audience at the presentation, our lives were certainly changed by this experience and we all hope to return to San Pedro in the future!

   – Emily Hitchcock & Team STARRS

First Week of Youth Camp and 2nd Movie Night

Youth Camp

This week we began running our Youth Camp: a 2-week long educational camp focused on marine science for children ages 7-11. We headed out of the house with a suitcase full of supplies, bags filled with bananas for snack time, and an overwhelming amount of excitement for what would be our first day of Youth Camp. About 60 kids showed up and registered the first day of camp and 90+ kids in total registered throughout the week!

The first half of the day consisted of introductions, rules for the camp, “Get to Know you Bingo,” and as always, Coral of the Day. We introduced our camp theme this year: “My Roots in the Sea.” The kids also learned a song called “Don’t Litter the Beach” (lyrics taught by Emily and I accompanied with ukulele) and ended the day with a beach clean-up.

Getting ready for our icebreaker “Get to Know you Bingo”

Jasmine teaching Coral of the Day

The kids doing the beach clean-up

On Day 2, we dove a little deeper into the meaning behind our theme this year by focusing on eco-cultural identity. In order to have the kids learn about this topic, we talked about the meaning of home and where we come from. One of our activities was to use the mural (depicting Ambergris Caye) and have the kids place a cutout where they lived. Another one of our activities was doing a fill-in-the-blank “I am From” poem.

The focus of Day 3 was Mangroves. For the beginning part of camp, we taught the kids a lesson on Mangroves and the role they play in the ecosystem. We also taught the kids a song written by Emily and Jasmine called “The Mangrove Song”.

For the later half of the day, we had guests Chris and Gary from ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) collaborate with us to teach about the mangroves and crocodiles of Belize. They also talked to the kids about waste, how long different things take to break down, and played a food-chain themed game with them.

Gary giving his lesson on crocodiles and waste

Chris leading his food-chain game in the auditorium

On Day 4 the focus was coral reefs. We had a guest, Mariela Archer, the education director at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, who talked about the roles of different stakeholders in reef conservation. We ended the day with our “building an edible coral polyp” activity, which consists of 3 parts: the polyp (marshmallow), tentacles (twizzlers), and zooxanthellae  (green sprinkles). Each kid built their own coral polyp, and was quizzed on the parts before they were able to eat it.

The kids working on their edible coral polyps

On Day 5, the focus was on relationships and food webs. Yeiny taught a lesson on symbiosis and led an activity that had the kids compare relationships in the sea to relationships that they have in their everyday lives. I taught a lesson focusing more on the food-web and how different animals interact. We played a food-web game using balls of string to illustrate the complexity of food webs and how every component has an effect on the rest.

Zuriel, Josue, Jose, and I posing for a selfie

2nd Movie Night

We had our second movie night at the Lion’s Den on Saturday. It had been raining the entire day, making the evening perfect for movie-watching. We showed the movie Shark Tale and the kids could not stop laughing, they seemed to really enjoy it. About halfway through the movie, a kid from camp even came up to me and asked me about the type of coral being shown in the movie. It was great to see that he was being so observant and using what he had learned in camp!

From left to right: Jasmine, Emily, Giovanna, and Yeiny posing with popcorn & juice at our second movie night


   – Glenda Perez & Team STARRS


R.E.E.F. Camp, 20th year Reunion Snorkel and Celebration

R.E.E.F. Camp

Week 4 was a very exciting week because we got to start the R.E.E.F. Camp, which is for kids 12 and older and for those who have done the Youth Camp before.

Day 1 of camp consisted of learning each other’s names, establishing the rules and giving the kids an introduction to what doing research looks like. We had three research stations: 1. Observing and identifying different types of sand with a microscope and magnifying lenses. 2. How to do research underwater with SCUBA gear. 3. Citizen Science presentation. 

The theme of Day 2 was plastics. We took the kids to do a beach cleanup to gather plastics. After a presentation of the effects of plastic to the environment and to humans, the plastics we had collected were used to make art. 

Jarvin and Giovanna picking up plastics during the beach clean up.

The kids working on their plastic art projects.

On Day 3, we had a guest, Mariela Archer, the education director at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, who talked about advocacy and the role of Hol Chan in reef conservation. After a presentation describing advocacy and what it takes to be an advocate, the kids  designed their own advocacy campaign, which included making posters and flyers.

The kids listening as Mariela speaks about Hol Chan.

On day 4 we hosted Chris from ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) who collaborated with us to teach about mangroves and crocodiles. The kids got to learn about the cultural and ecological importance of mangroves. Chris also helped them debunk myths about crocodiles.

Emily, Renee, Gary, and Chris talking to the kids about the mangroves and crocodiles.

On this day we also got to take the kids to dinner at Fido’s where they shared their highlights of the week.

Day 5 was the culmination of the REEF Camp with a snorkeling trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley with Amigos del Mar. Some of the kids got to touch the nurse sharks in Shark Ray Alley. The kids were really happy to see the corals and to swim around the sharks. It was the first time for some of them!

After the snorkel trip with our Amigos dive masters Anthony and Jordan. 

20th Year Reunion Snorkel Trip and Celebration 

Besides the R.E.E.F. Camp, this was a very exciting week because it was the week of the 20th year anniversary of the program. Alums and professors started arriving on Wednesday, where the celebration began with a reception at the Blue Water Grill restaurant. On Thursday morning, 25 alums professors and current Smith students went on a snorkel trip to Hol Chan and Shark and Ray Alley with Amigos del Mar. Though most of us had already been snorkeling there, it felt like a new experience because of the program alumnae that were there, making the experience much more memorable. The celebration continued and culminated with a gala on Friday night where past campers and many members of the San Pedro community that have been so valuable for the program joined us to commemorate the 20th year anniversary of the camp.   

This week will be the start of the Youth Camp and we are looking forward to the next two weeks. 


  • Yeiny Moreno and the STARRS Team 

Research Week and Lobsterfest


This past week (Week 3 in Belize!) was our designated research week with the professors.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were our scuba diving and snorkeling days with David and Denise and Al.  On Tuesday and Thursday, we kayaked in the mangroves for Denise’s research. Emily, René, Jasmine, and I scuba dived with David.  Before we left Amigos del Mar, the dive shop, we discussed exactly what we would be doing with the corals (the practice dive last week helped a lot!) and divided into two groups.  One person took pictures of the coral mounds that fit within the square frame of a PVC pipe (quadrat) and then close-ups of soft corals for identification. Back at Smith, these images will determine the average amount of dead and live corals on each mound.  Each day we did two mounds and took about 16-20 quadrat images. Yeiny and Glenda snorkeled with Denise and filmed all around the coral mounds to get a complete image of the sampled mounds.

Emily and René with Jordan also taking pictures of the corals.

Me and Jasmine with JC taking pictures of the coral mounds.

While it seems simple when written out, these tasks were quite difficult as the current and waves moved us around a lot.  Because of that, we had to be overweighted (essentially, we had more weight on our scuba weight belts) so that we really stayed on the seafloor.  And, we had divemasters that would help us get images in case we couldn’t. For example, Jasmine and I teamed together and we had to take images in a small space in which we were surrounded by coral mounds.

Me and Jasmine at the end of our dive.

 It was very hard for both of us to be in that space so I got in and held the quadrat while JC (our divemaster) floated about me and took the images. Also, communication is limited so we bring a clipboard with waterproof paper.  We also have some hand signals, such as the “OK” hand signal for “I am OK” and a thumbs up for “I need to go up,” so we can quickly communicate. However, by the end of research week, these tasks came easily to us and we will miss being able to dive and snorkel.  

A lobster by a coral mound.


On our last diving day, our diving masters took us to a cave that was 25 ft underwater.  We had used the air tanks for research so we could only free dive down if we wanted to see it.  Emily and I tried and we got down there! It was so cool and saw so many fish (including a lionfish!).  Next to it, there was also a coral nursery.


On Tuesday and Thursday, we headed north to take pictures and

Me, Glenda, Jasmine, and Yeiny kayaking in the mangroves.

collect data in the mangroves.  The pictures were of mangrove propagules (young mangrove trees) above water and their roots underwater.  Then, we mapped where they were located so we can find them next year. We also made note of different living organisms, such as snails, barnacles, algae, to see if they affected the growth of mangrove propagules.  To collect these data, we kayaked out into the mangroves with a GoPro, iPad, and Bad Elf GPS device.

René and Emily collecting data in the mangroves.


Our table at Lobsterfest!

To end our successful research week, we had Lobsterfest on Saturday.  This festival celebrates the start of lobster season and a variety of restaurants have tents to give passersby a taste of their delicious lobster dishes.  We also had a table of our own to advertise our summer camp. We had coloring and face painting, and pin the tail on the lobster and a fishing game. All of the kids had a lot of fun and so did we!

Jasmine with some campers!

This coming week, we will be busy with our REEF camp for students aged 12 and older.  Stay tuned to hear all about the fun activities we will do with the kids!

– Giovanna Sabini-Leite & Team STARRS

Movie Night, Inland Trip, and Preparations for Research Week!

Movie Night

We had our first movie night last Wednesday at the Lion’s Den in the middle of town! Our turn out was almost triple what it had been last year, which was really heartening to see! In total, we had about 50 children show up, and about 10 parents came out as well. We watched Moana, and though we had some technical issues with the DVD at the start, Glenda and Emily came through and fixed them. The kids had a lot of fun! Most of them had seen Moana before and knew all the musical numbers by heart, so when they started playing, the whole crowd would belt the songs along with the characters. At the end of the movie, we handed out about 40 flyers for Coral Ed camp! Overall, I would say that movie night was incredibly successful.

Inland Trip

On Friday afternoon, we set out to Sarteneja and arrived at Shipstern Conservation and Management Area which is managed by the Corozal Sustainable Forestry Initiative (CSFI). We were able to hear from Abner Quevedo (the program manager for tourism) about the kind of work that CSFI does in the surrounding local communities. We learned that they are very involved in the process of maintaining the forest as a protected area, and are building understanding with each of the community groups that live in the surrounding area around sustainability, conservation, and our duty to protect the ecosystem.  In his words “without the jungle, without the trees and the birds and the wildlife, we cannot survive.” On Saturday, we had the privilege of visiting some of the community members involved in conservation efforts. We started out the morning learning about the indigenous Maya influence in Belize and the agriculture and harvesting practices that the Maya practiced for over 500 years. Next, we visited a Mennonite community and gained perspective about their way of life and values in order to understand why it is so difficult to communicate with them about issues of sustainability and community development. Lastly, we visited a manatee and primate rehabilitation and restoration group called Wild Tracks and learned about their efforts to raise public awareness about the illegal pet trade of monkeys, and to care for manatees and primates which have been injured or abused by humans, or displaced by natural disasters. The tour was extremely illuminating, as Abner and Ermilo (our tour guides) were extremely knowledgeable and willing to answer any and all of our questions!

Preparations for Research Week

Finally, we have been preparing for research week which started today (Monday 17). The professors landed last Wednesday, and since then, we have been practicing our skills at snorkeling and diving at Mexico Rocks, as well as employing research methods such as laying transects, placing the scale bars, identifying soft corals, and getting comfortable working underwater! It has been quite the experience, both difficult and also beautiful. So far, we have taken three trips to Hol Chan and have seen nurse sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, southern rays, a vast number of fish (including pufferfish, parrotfish, damselfish, angelfish, snapper, etc), a great variety of corals, sea urchins and nudibranchs! Here are some of our favorite pictures from under the sea.

-René & Team STARRS

Week One in San Pedro: Settling in, School Visits, Fundraising, & Media

Today marks one week since our arrival on La Isla Bonita. So much has happened since we have arrived. We’ve already had a taste of Waruguma’s pupusas, Paradice Cream, Miss Albertina’s, and Neri’s tacos! We’ve also have been adjusting to the heat and going for swims after a day of work. By now most of the team has gotten a better sense of the island and navigating through Front, Middle, and Back street. Throughout the week we have advertised at the schools, advertised for our movie night, fundraised for camp, and made visits to the local media stations.

Coral Ed Team on their way to San Pedro!

(L to R) Jasmine, Glenda, Yeiny, Giovanna, and Emily outside the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Office

(L to R) Renée, Glenda, Yeiny, Jasmine, and Giovanna outside the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Office

School Visits

We have gone to advertise the Youth Camp and REEF Program to La Isla Bonita Elementary School and Holy Cross Anglican School. This year, our skit includes Glenda the Grouper Fish, Yeiny the Jellyfish, Renée the Manta Ray, and Giovanna the Kid and is centered around an encounter they have one day swimming in the ocean. The skit touches upon many topics including family, symbiotic relationships, and corals, and it ends with an invitation to this year’s camp. The kids absolutely loved it!!

Renée, Yeiny, Glenda, and Giovanna performing their skit at La Isla Bonita Elementary School


We have been going around the Island asking community businesses and resorts for donations to help cover the cost for some of the fun activities of camp such as the glass bottom boat trip and for food donations for the graduation we have at the end of camp. As of now, we have received the generous support of many businesses. We will have cupcakes, brownies, fruits and stew chicken donated for camp and graduation! We are very grateful for the support of the community.


Glenda and Renée made an appearance on Good Morning San Pedro and Reef Radio. In addition, Giovanna, Emily, and I recorded an advertisement for camp and community movie nights on the Christian Lighthouse Radio. The ad will run until July 1st, so hopefully, students will listen to it and attend camp this summer! We also reached out to the local newspapers and have gotten the word out on their sites.

San Pedro Sun:

Ambergris Today:

Glenda and Renèe on TV!! (Good Morning San Pedro)

Jasmine and Yeiny at the Reef Radio office

Emily, Jasmine, and Giovanna recording at the Lighthouse Christian Radio

(L to R) Giovanna, Jasmine, Emily, and Yeiny after recording at the Lighthouse Christian Radio

There have been many highlights of the week, but some of the most memorable have been our encounters with past campers and those familiar with the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures. For example, when Emily and I visited the RC school, some of the students ran up to us and asked if we were going to have camp this year. We told them yes! They were so happy and began reminiscing about their experience in camp. They said they’ll get their permission slips from the library soon. In addition, we encountered some community members who are looking forward to our table at Lobsterfest…which isn’t for another two weeks!  It’s the small things that have made San Pedro feel like home for us all during this week. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of our time here.

– Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos & Coral Ed Team 

Sunset on the water

A beautiful evening in San Pedro

Rooftop view

Getting Ready for the 20th Year!

Smith College Coral Reef Ed-Ventures 2019

This week the team is hard at work planning, printing, purchasing, and preparing for what we’re sure will be another amazing year of Coral Reef Ed-Ventures in San Pedro, Belize! We are all itching to get down to Belize, and we will be departing early in the morning this coming Sunday, June 2nd! In the meantime we wanted to tell you a little about ourselves.

Meet the Team!

Emily Hitchcock ’19 Co-Leader

My name is Emily Hitchcock, and I just graduated from Smith with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy, a minor in Spanish, and a concentration in Sustainable Food. I love to spend time outside, especially with children, and I have worked with the Smith Botanic Garden for three years. I am particularly passionate about environmental education and connecting young people with the local environment in which they live. Originally from Eastern Massachusetts, I have spent many glorious summer hours by the ocean, and am beyond excited to return to the island of Ambergris Caye for a second summer. Having been involved with a lot of environmental organizing during my time at Smith, I am looking forward to empowering the campers to see that they too can make a difference in their environment. I also love making music with children and plan to incorporate this into camp. I got my SCUBA certification this semester and am psyched to put it to use out on the reef!

Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos ’19 Co-Leader

Hello! My name is Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos, and I am a 2019 Smith graduate! I majored in Environmental Science and Policy and minored in Statistical and Data Sciences. I first participated in the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program in 2017, and this year I’m returning as one of the team co-leaders. Participating in this program has been one of the highlights of my time at Smith. The program truly allowed me to delve into both my passions of marine science and education. Since my last time in San Pedro, I have continued to explore ocean habitats and work within communities in New Zealand and at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia. I’m looking forward to coming back to San Pedro this summer to teach the campers, engage with the community, and conduct research in the reef and mangroves.

Giovanna Sabini-Leite ’21

Hi everyone! My name is Giovanna Sabini-Leite, and I am a rising junior at Smith. I am a double major in Latin American Studies and Biology, and I am particularly interested in studying how environmental science and marine biology intersect with government and geography. I have previously worked with Projeto TAMAR, an NGO that focuses on protecting endangered sea turtles, in my home country of Brazil. This coming year, I will be studying abroad in Australia with a Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology program and then in Spain where I will be studying Environmental Law and Spanish. I am very excited to build upon my knowledge of marine science, to be immersed in research, and to work with our campers in San Pedro!

Yeiny Moreno ’20

Hello! I’m Yeiny Moreno, a rising senior at Smith studying Psychology and Neuroscience. After spending a summer teaching hygiene, nutrition, and health in Guatemala and working as a counselor in a summer camp in New York City, I’ve developed an interest in child development and education. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and though I loved interacting with the marine environment around me, I never got the opportunity to learn about how to take care of it. Therefore, I can’t wait to learn from the kids in San Pedro about their relationship with their marine environment, and I’m really looking forward to getting to teach them about the importance of conserving marine life and showing them how fun that can be.

Glenda Perez ’21

Hello! My name is Glenda Perez and I’m a rising junior at Smith majoring in Environmental Science & Policy and Education, with a concentration in Translation studies (Spanish & Portuguese). I’m passionate about teaching in a way that is fun and relatable for students and have worked in several classrooms. I’m also particularly interested in marine science in the Caribbean, and hope to continue doing similar work in my home country of the Dominican Republic. I’m so excited to join the Coral-Ed team this summer and have the opportunity to work with kids so that they can find ways to support environmental efforts in their own community.

Renee Revolorio Keith ’21

Hey y’all! My name is Renee Revolorio Keith, and I’m a rising junior at Smith College. I am a double major in Environmental Geosciences and Latin American Studies, concentrating on coral reef management and ecological futures in Latin America. I am passionate about climate justice, community organizing, and environmental education, and I am excited to have the opportunity to work and learn alongside the Coral Ed students in Belize. I was born in Guatemala and raised in Berkeley, California. I have been fascinated by coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems since I was young, and they are where I feel most at home. With that being said, I am grateful to be able to go back to Central America to study these ecosystems in greater depth and to learn the research methods for categorizing and evaluating coral health, which will be useful in my future research abroad this year in Brazil and Cuba!

This Summer

As you can tell, we are all so excited for the 20th year of Coral Reef Ed-Ventures! As usual we will host a 2-week Youth Camp for campers ages 7-11 and a 1-week REEF Program for campers ages 12 and older. Our theme this year will be “My Roots in the Sea,” so we will be exploring the place that the campers themselves have in the surrounding marine ecosystems and the role they can play in protecting them. We are looking forward to some exciting guest visitors and trips into ecosystems themselves. Before the camps begin, the team will conduct research on the local reefs and mangroves.

This year will be especially exciting because the 20th Anniversary Celebration will also be taking place in San Pedro at the end of June. Smith alumni who participated the program over the years will be returning to reminisce about their time in San Pedro and observe the ways in which the camp has impacted the community.

Stay tuned to hear weekly updates as the program proceeds!

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-Emily Hitchcock & Team STARRS (Safety, Teamwork, Awareness, Responsibility, and Respect)