July 15, 2015

No day of traveling would be complete without security hold-ups, long layovers, and delayed flights, but eventually we all made it back to Northampton safe and sound. Around 2:30 am on Monday morning we collapsed into our beds, finally back at Smith. It is strange to be back here already, but we are excited to share our experience with the rest of campus. So far this week we have been reorganizing our supplies and getting everything ready to be stored. We have also been hard at work preparing a presentation about our trip, including research week and camp weeks, which we will be giving on Thursday to any students or faculty on campus.

I still can’t believe that the program is coming to an end. I have been reflecting on my experience and feel so grateful to have been able to share the majority of my summer with the community in San Pedro as well as our amazing Coral Ed team. I already miss the campers and the island, but I will remember this experience for the rest of my life. Our time in San Pedro was something truly special, and I hope we had as much of an impact on the kids as they did on us.

Until next time, San Pedro!



July 9, 2015

I cannot believe that we are already on our last week here in San Pedro! The time has just flown by.

On Monday two dive masters came from Ecologic Divers to teach the children about careers related to the reef and to give them an introduction to diving. For the second part of camp we taught the kids about conservation and its importance with a game involving Swedish fish and different fishing techniques. The day passed by really well!

Dive Master Charlie teaching the children about dive equipment

On Tuesday two representatives came from Oceana to teach the children about the hazards of offshore oil drilling and oil spills. This was very important for the children because as of right now Belize does not drill for offshore oil, but in the future it is up to the children to vote against this practice. The rest of the day was spent gathering supplies and food for the graduation ceremony.

Representative from Oceana teaching the children about the hazards of oil spills

Wednesday was the last day of camp! A representative (Cecelia) came from Mar Alliance, a marine conservation organization devoted to the protection of marine organisms like sharks and sea turtles. Many of the students at camp had misconceived notions about stingrays and sharks, so Cecelia helped clarify and explain why sharks and rays are important in the ecosystem. While one group of students learnt about sharks the other groups worked on their projects for graduation the same evening!

Cecelia from Mar Alliance teaching campers about sharks and rays!


Graduation started at 6:30 pm and was a huge success! We had roughly 50 students come with their families to join in the festivities. Some of the students presented the posters they made relating to a marine topic. Later in the evening we distributed coral reef expert cards to the students for their hard work at camp! Working with the kids and seeing how much they learnt from the camp was a truly rewarding experience for me! I am really going to miss San Pedro and the children.

Mandy and Emily assisting the students as they present their poster at graduation

On Thursday we took the students out on a glass bottom boat trip to see some of the marine life talked about at camp. Many students, although they live close to the reef, have never been out to see it so this was a good exposure trip. The campers absolutely loved the experience!


Riley with the campers on the glass bottom boat trip

For the last two days here on the island we are busy packing up all of our supplies and organizing things for our return to the U.S on Sunday early in the morning! This will be a bittersweet goodbye as I am excited to get back to Smith but also sad to leave all the wonderful children and people on this beautiful island.



July 5, 2015

It’s hard to believe that the first week of youth camp is already done, and we only have one more week in San Pedro! We’ve had a really great turnout for youth camp so far, with lots of new faces and many returners.

We began the week on Monday with an introduction to a new theme for our camp – gratitude. So often we aren’t appreciative of what we have in our lives and the good that surrounds us, so we thought that this year we could try to incorporate lessons on gratitude into camp activities to try to foster positivity and gratefulness into the campers’ daily lives. To begin this project, we had a discussion with the students about things that they’re grateful for; many gave answers that we expected – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, etc. However, we got some answers that we were pleasantly surprised by – school, nature, the reef, fresh air. We finished off our lesson on Monday with a beach clean-up as a way to express our gratitude towards the environment around us and the people who work so hard every day to make San Pedro beautiful.

IMG_4918Elena with a group of students cleaning the beach

We continued camp for the rest of the week in a more traditional fashion, learning about different marine habitats and organisms. On Tuesday we learned about the mysterious world lurking more than a mile below the surface ocean in the deep sea – including organisms such as the angler fish, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and hagfish. Wednesday we moved onto mangrove habitats with a special emphasis on crocodiles! Our friends from the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) came into camp to talk to students about crocodile conservation on the island. We continued on Thursday with a lesson on coral physiology and ecology. The students put their skills to the test by making coral polyps out of marshmallows, twizzlers, and sprinkles. We wrapped up the week on Friday with a lesson on marine ecology, followed by an assortment of games that tested what they had learned during the week.

IMG_4938Elena discussing coral morphology with students

IMG_4934Shabnam helping a student make their marshmallow coral polyp

We are looking forward to the last few days of camp! We have a few guests coming into camp to talk about various topics, including two divemasters from Ecologic Divers to discuss coral reefs and conservation; a representative from Oceana to discuss off-shore drilling in Belize; and a representative from MarAlliance to discuss their shark project. Then we have graduation on Wednesday night! Lots to look forward to this week 🙂



June 30, 2015

We just wrapped up Advanced Camp last week and had a great turn out of kids attending the camp. The Coral Ed 2015 team all pulled together to utilize each other’s strengths, which made the week so successful.

At the beginning of every camp day, Mandy and Emily would play a marine soccer game. The kids all stood in a large circle and, as they kicked the ball to someone else in the circle, they had to name something marine-related. The key to the game is that once something is said you cannot repeat the same thing that round. The kids really enjoyed the game because of naming all different organisms, especially as we got deep into the round because they had to think more creatively to come up with an organism that had not been said yet. It was fun to see the kids remembering the different terms and organisms they learned and utilizing them in the game.

One of the first major activities of Advanced Camp was the scavenger hunt. We took the kids on a little walk up north past San Pedro High School, where we were in close proximity of the mangroves and the beach. Elena and Riley got the kids ready by describing the rules and the items on the scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt presented various teaching opportunities for the team. We were able to challenge the kids to learn about the various objects such as a sacrificial leaf, mangrove propagule, calcium carbonate, etc. As the kids went through the list we were able to explain and teach a thing or two about the different items.

Our next adventure was to Hol Chan Marine Reserve office. This gave the kids an opportunity to meet with the Hol Chan researchers. After interviewing the Hol Chan employees the Coral Ed team walked with the kids around the different exhibits and talked about the different zones and the varying animals and plants you find in the different zones. Some of the campers were grateful for the field trip to the office because some of them aspire to work for Hol Chan or with a similar organization one day.

IMG_4644Later on in the week we set up the microscope and had the kids go collect different objects at the beach they wanted to investigate. The leaf that we put under the scope provided us a great gateway into a mini-lesson on bryozoans on the leaf. Shabnam, our plant expert, led the section when the kids were comparing and contrasting turtle and manatee sea grass. While Laura, who is Geology major, took the reins and led the discussion about sand with the kids.

IMG_4654The last adventure was the crocodile trip with Aces. The crocodile wrangler, Chris, educated the campers in an interactive lesson on the biology of crocodiles. The campers were even presented the opportunity to hold the crocodiles! After the lesson, we went crocodile searching. The campers took their flashlights and surveyed the scene. Once one of the campers spotted the crocodile eye, Chris got into the water and wrangled the crocodile. The campers were able to see Chris in action and inject the crocodile with the tracking chip and take the necessary research measurements. The campers helped Chris release the crocodiles back into the lagoon.

IMG_4847Overall, Advanced Camp was a success even with the stormy weather we had to work around. The advanced campers enjoyed their time so much that they are eager to help us with Youth Camp.



June 24, 2015

Lobsterfest is an annual tradition all around Belize that marks the opening of the lobster fishing season and ends with a big festival in the central park filled with live music and performances, restaurant stations, and local organizations such as Red Cross and Saga Humane Society tabling about the work they do on the island.  The Coral Reef Ed-Ventures team each summer sets up a table in the park and does face painting and other activities for the children to promote our camp, celebrate with the town, and of course—eat tasty lobster!! We prepared with childhood enthusiasm, Halloween in June, and arrived at the park representing Coral Ed dressed as a turtle, pirate, jellyfish, fire coral, parrot fish, and a mermaid!

10955099_932470633480891_7747568864877055178_nThe Coral Ed girls in costume at Lobsterfest

I am always impressed by the kindness on the island.  We arrived at the park and realized we had forgotten to reserve a table for our booth, so we asked the coordinator of the festival if there were any extra tables and she sent one of the workers to search the park for one.  While waiting for the table, a woman approach us asking if we were the Smith College Coral Ed girls.  Moments of serendipity strike me the most here, perhaps because the serendipitous moments that connect me to home feel surreal, as home is so far it seems almost intangible, and because, well—how often do you run into a Smith alum in the Caribbean?  Turns out this woman graduated from Smith in 1995 and now currently writes a blog for the island. We took photos with her and ended up as the cover of her blog post for lobsterfest! [http://www.sanpedroscoop.com/2015/06/san-pedro-belizes-2015-lobsterfest-june-food-music.html] Shortly after setting up the table the fun began.  We set up two games for the kids – both ocean themed of course – and handed out prizes to the participants.  We also got to spend some time with the professors before they left.

2015-06-20 19.22.53Mandy facepainting at Lobsterfest

2015-06-20 19.22.19Laura (left) and Shabnam (right) playing games with the kids

Although this is my second summer in San Pedro, this was my first Lobsterfest because we were on the mainland last summer.  Gatherings like these channel the real small town feel amongst locals despite the chaos of the unfamiliar tourists.  I love watching the two worlds—the local’s and the tourist’s—collide, fold into each other, rely on one another, but can only get so close.  And as I stand between the two worlds—a little too familiar to be a tourist, and a little too strange to be a local, I find myself especially grateful for my team of Coral Ed girls who always strive to make our home feel like home, and for the community of locals here who constantly remind me that there is a home here in San Pedro.




June 21, 2015

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Coral Ed group! David, Denise and Camille arrived last Wednesday for research week. We began our time with them with a trip up north to the Grand Belizean Estates to scope out possible research sites/ideas. It was interesting to see the progress being made on the road paving up north, as well as the other various development projects in the area.

IMG_4366Beach at Grand Belizean Estates

We took a trip to the mainland on Friday and Saturday, where we visited the Mayan archaeological site Xunantunich. While we were touring the site, a team of excavators were uncovering a new temple on the site. It was cool to see how meticulous of a job it is to uncover the ruin while maintaining its original structure. We also learned about a team of researchers working on a project to make a 3-dimensional rendering of Xunantunich!

10407116_10207210852055768_1349644065197886269_nThe group after climbing one of the temples at Xunantunich

We returned to San Pedro late Saturday night in anticipation for our first research dive on Sunday! We went to Mexico Rocks to begin our sea fan and coral mound research. Despite a relatively strong current that made maintaining buoyancy difficult, we were able to get a good start on data collection. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse for the next few days when a tropical storm came through, so we couldn’t go out diving. Instead, we did two terrestrial projects – turtle nesting and drone surveys with Hol Chan at Rocky Point, and a mangrove project at Grand Belizean Estates.

1508976_10152985424726687_2626348210888612928_nJon Caris flying one of the drones near Rocky Point

11535922_10152987510981687_405927308361755271_nTurtle Nest (with eggs!!!) near Rocky Point

We continued our underwater research on Thursday and Saturday with another dive to Mexico Rocks to continue coral mound surveys. On Friday we were invited to go out to Hol Chan with Miguel and Kira to do conch surveys. We visited five different sites in Hol Chan to collect and measure queen conchs – Shabnam, Emily, and David snorkeled to collect the conchs, while Mandy and I stayed on the boat with Kira measuring the length and thickness of the conchs. It was a great opportunity for us to be a part of the research that Hol Chan staff conducts in the reserve.



Shabnam (left) and Laura (right) recording coral mound data at Mexico Rocks

2015-06-19 12.32.59Riley and Mandy assisting Hol Chan staff with measurements for their annual conch surveys

After 11 days of research with the professors, we now begin final preparations for our advanced camp beginning tomorrow and our youth camp beginning the following week! It’s hard to believe that our time in San Pedro is already halfway through, but we’re all excited for the next three weeks of the program 🙂

– Riley Gage


June 7, 2015

It has been a busy week so far here in San Pedro. With fans on blast and water bottles in hand, we have been slowly adjusting to the heat and getting out to explore the island. We took a golf cart up north to see some of the resorts, and then south to the more residential areas. There is a lot to see for a town with only three streets! We have already gotten to work promoting Coral Ed, going into local businesses and telling people what we are all about. We recorded a radio advertisement and did an interview on Good Morning San Pedro, so word should be spreading quickly that Coral Ed is back for its 16th year! We have had all positive reception; it is exciting to see how supportive the local community is of our program. We also got up early Saturday morning to participate in a beach clean up, where we walked the beach as well as the streets of San Pedro in search of trash.

11403176_1438937469760057_7230751690235558095_nThe Coral Ed team picking up trash on the beach

It hasn’t been all work though. We took time to cool off by jumping into the water and some of us even went parasailing! In preparation for research week, we did a dive in Hol Chan as well as a snorkel in Shark Ray Alley. We saw sharks, rays, and even sea turtles! We all loved getting back in the water and getting our first glimpse at the reef that we will soon be studying!


Mandy and Elena interviewing with Reef Radio TV

We have been making great progress so far and can’t wait to get into the schools this week to start getting the kids excited about camp. Between the clear blue water, the delicious pupusas, and the friendly people we have met, I think it is safe to say that we are all falling in love with San Pedro.

-Laura Henry

May 30, 2015

In the short length of a week the Coral Ed 2015 team has come a long way. This week has been full of initial meetings, giant list makings, SHOPPING, packing, lesson plan reviewing, and and LOTS of paper cutting as we prepare for Belize. We have granola bars for days and pods of paper sea creatures eagerly awaiting their time to shine on our mural, which this year will help to explain the zones of the ocean including the upper sand, the mangroves, the barrier reef, and the deep sea. We have also prepared a fun interactive skit that we will perform in the classroom to help get children interested in the camp.

Even in this short week we have all come a long way in our evaluations of each others strengths and weaknesses and I can honestly say I am very excited to spend the next 7 weeks with an incredible team lead by our Co- Leaders Riley and Elena. Riley is a recently graduated Biology major with a minor in Marine Science from Amherst, and Elena is a senior Biology major from Connecticut. New to the team this year we have Laura a Senior Biology and Geology Major from New Mexico, Shabnam a senior Biology major from India, Emily a senior and Biology and Environmental Science and Policy from Wisconsin, and Mandy a Junior and Bio-Education major from California.

One thing that I was very pleasantly surprised to learn and grow to understand was the amount of support that this program receives. We are supported not only from our own families and friends, but also from a great alumni network, generous donors, and of course the professors who work very hard to organize this trip and make sure we are safe and taken care of when In Belize. We owe huge debts of gratitude to everyone invested in seeing Coral- ED succeed. THANK YOU. We will continue to update our blog and keep you in the loop but If you are interested in receiving more updates check out our newly created Coral Ed-Ventures Facebook page.

Today we stuff our last few belongings into any open spaces, print out itineraries, and make sure we dig out our passports in time for our 3:30 am departure from Smith. See you in Belize!

CE 2015 8

Pictured from Left to Right: Bottom Emily Volkmann, Mandy Castro, Riley Gage Top Row Shabnam Kapur, Laura Henry, Elena Karlsen- Ayala

-Emily Volkmann


Welcome Team STARRS members for 2015:

Riley Gage (2014-15)
Elena Karlsen-Ayala (2014-15)
Mandy Castro
Laura Henry
Shabnam Kapur
Emily Volkmann

2 thoughts on “2015

  1. Thank you girls for all of these wonderful posts!!!!
    We really enjoy reading about all the Ed-ventures you are having!!! The photos you include are just great. They help us see you all in action!!!
    When we go to the Belize-San Pedro official website, there is a link to check out the weather. It gives us an opportunity to see a 24 hour time-lapse video of the weather for a particular day. Looks like there has been a lot of cloudy days, but you are all making the best of your time there.
    Lobsterfest looked like it was such a neat experience. Your costumes were so creative!!! I enjoyed seeing the faces of those who surrounded you, either getting their faces or arms painted or playing the net game with the white balls!!
    Of course, my favorite part is seeing all of you on Facebook. That is my joy for the end of my day!! I come home from work (I usually work 2nd shift) and last thing I do before I go to bed is check Facebook to see if there are any new photos posted. If not, I just look through the previous ones. It helps bridge the gap between your far-away world and home, and missing Emily. It helps me go to sleep peacefully!! 😀
    Thanks for all you are doing in San Pedro. I am so glad you are able to have these experiences!! Thank-you to Smith College, the alumni, family & friends for supporting this Coral Reef Ed-Venture Program. We are so grateful!!
    Hope the rest of your time there goes well!! 😀
    The Volkmann Family–Wisconsin

  2. Thank-you ladies for all you have done in San Pedro/Belize for the Smith College Coral Reef Ed-Venture Program these past 6 weeks.
    I am sure you have touched the lives of so many children & families there as well as had an adventure you will remember from now forward.
    May you have safe travels back to the US and enjoy the rest of your summer!!! 🙂
    Thanks also for those behind the scenes who have contributed to putting this program together, keeping us informed with all the wonderful photos and posts. Without all of you, we wouldn’t be able to capture their experience, nor this opportunity be available for our girls.
    We are so excited to have Emily home soon!!! 😀

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