Our fourteenth Coral Ed team has been assembled and we are looking forward to our first planning meeting after spring break. This year’s team: Team leaders: Alyssa Stanek (’13) and Kayla Clark (’14) New team members: Sarah Alper (’15), Kiara Gomez (’14), Dena Greenstreet (’15), Sarah Tucker (’13)
It’s amazing to think that just this morning we were packing our bags into a van and leaving Northampton through the downpour for Bradley International Airport! Nine hours later we stepped out into a warm, windy Belize City afternoon and boarded a small ten person plane bound for San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye. From the airplane windows we got our first glimpse of the town we will spend the next six weeks living in. Even from the air we can see the white breaking waves that form a line between the dark blue of the deep waters and the turqouise of the shallow depths along the eastern edge of the sand and stretching off into the distance. The line of white waves are a result of the water breaking over the Meso-American barrier reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This reef, and the seagrass and mangrove habitats that have developed in the calm lagoon created by it, protects the island from storm waves and erosion while the habitat on the reef sustains the animals that feed the island and draws tourists from around the world. It is this same reef that fourteen years ago drew scientists from Smith College to conduct research off the coast of Ambergris Caye. A summer environmental education program developed shortly after as a result of collaboration with these professors, Allan Curran, Paulette Peckol, and Susan Etheredge and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. For the last fourteen summers students from Smith College have run environmental education camps in San Pedro, Belize with the intention of supporting local children’s growth and development as stewards of their marine and coastal environment. This summer I’m lucky enough to be returning for a second summer as a teacher, along with Alyssa Stanek and four new teachers Dena Greenstreet, Sarah Tucker, Sarah Alper and Kiara Gomez.
Week 1 has already flown by us and we are already a couple of days into the third week. During the second week, team STARRS continued working on recruiting kids for Youth and Advanced camp and fundraising. To balance our hard work, we are enjoying some time out swimming by the docks (picture above), eating some delicious pupusas, and cooking dinner. Some of us are also training by the shores of the island (swimming and running) and getting open water certified with Eddie. I have become acquainted with the many connections that the team has acquired and preserved over the years. All of the people here have been very warm and welcoming.
The kids at the schools we have gone to are very excited that we are here to run the camps for another year. One of the highlights of my week when I saw the excitement and curiosity in children’s faces the first time Kayla and I did a skit. It just made me smile. I am both excited and nervous for these next couple of weeks because everyday I will understand more of San Pedro. I am very happy to be a part of such a wonderful team that is committed to this program. More updates will come about our third week!
The team has had a wild ride this week with the weather! Our professor, (and one of the founders of Coral Reef Ed-Ventures) Al Curran, arrived in San Pedro on Saturday, and with him he brought the rain from New England! It has rained steadily since Saturday, only clearing up just this afternoon!
We planned on having our first day of advanced camp on Monday, but the weather had something else in mind. As we stared out of Mellie’s apartment into the grey sky, we feared that no campers would show up at the high school due to the rain. Little did we know that within the hour, water would be flooding the streets and buildings along the beach. Decked out in our rain gear, the six team members and Al headed to the high school. We normally take the beach to get there, but quickly turned around as we saw huge rip tides hitting the wall that protects the cemetery in front of our house. After fighting the wind and rain to get to the school, we decided that it was unsafe to have camp. We stuck around the school for a little while to let anyone who showed up know that we were cancelling camp, but we were not surprised to see that no one was venturing out in the weather! Check out the pictures of the team in rain gear before camp!
We were bummed to have to cancel camp, but we were able to have our first day on Tuesday. It was a huge success and we had 5 students! We are looking forward to having more kids as the weather gets better. This year we will be engaging students in a first hand observational research project. Thanks to the generous help of ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary), we will be taking students on a field trip to hopefully see some crocodiles in their natural habitat. ACES is committed to crocodile conservation. Their work consists of rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing crocodiles, along with providing education to tourists and locals about the American Crocodile. We’re very excited to be working with them this year.
Coming up this weekend is the annual LobsterFest! We’ll be hosting a sand castle contest at Banyan Bay, where the local youth sailing club will be having a competition. In the evening we’ll have a table set up in the park with face painting, pin the tail on the lobster, and other arts and crafts! Look forward to pictures of the team dressed in costume!
Sending you all warm wishes and (finally) sunshine from San Pedro!
Wow! Time is really flying by! The past week was really great- we worked with Hol Chan, the professors, and ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) to have a jam-packed research week!
On Monday we were able to travel north on the island with the director of Hol Chan, Miguel Alamilla, and a few rangers to assist them with their turtle nest monitoring. Our first stop was at a residential property. The owners called Hol Chan because they saw several turtles creating nests along the beach near their property. Miguel checked out the nests and talked with the residents about how to continue monitoring the site. Then we were on our way to Baccalar Chico, a site north on the island that Hol Chan oversees. While Miguel and the rangers walked the beach in search of turtle nests, Jon Caris and the team worked on getting the kite going to take some ariel photography. We sent the kite up twice and took over 700 pictures of the shoreline and surrounding area to get a better understanding of the beach profile. We hope these pictures will be useful for Hol Chan as they continue their work in Baccalar Chico.
- Kiara and Jon set up the kite
We spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday working at a coral site called Mexico Rocks. This site is awesome and has a bunch of large mounds of coral. Because they are mounds, it is easy and safe to navigate around them without being worried about touching anything. On our first day, we snorkeled around and got a sense of the site, what kinds of coral were growing, and what other living things were in the coral. We split up into teams of two and picked two mounds to focus on for the next day. Wednesday we got set up in our SCUBA gear and clipboards to assess our mounds. Jon took GPS points of each mound and we measured the height, width, and length of each mound before assessing meter sections on the mound. Each pair of two had a meter stick that they used to measure areas around the mound and then recorded the types of coral present. Thursday, we returned to the site to finish our work of Wednesday and, additionally, assess any disease, predation, or breakage to the coral.
Friday we spent the morning snorkeling around the mangrove lagoon area. It was so great to experience this ecosystem! We were able to distinguish between different types of mangroves and really see the difference between prop roots and the roots underwater. We saw a ton of baby fish swimming around the roots. We also saw lion fish! Friday evening we had a completely different experience in the mangroves. We went on a tour with ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary), which is an awesome organization here in San Pedro dedicated to rescuing and relocating crocodiles. Vince, Cherie, and Chris (from ACES) rescued a crocodile the night before, so we were able to have one on board with us. We took data on it (measurements, physical characteristics), scanned the chip to see that this particular crocodile had been tagged before, and released it in an area far away from the houses that boarder the lagoon. We learned a ton about the difference between Crocodiles and Alligators, the characteristics of crocodiles, and the issues they face in San Pedro and other parts of the island. We’re excited about the partnership we are building with this great organization.
All in all, we had a wonderful research week. We’re excited to see what direction the research takes in the coming years. It’s great having a new set of experiences to influence our teaching practice in the upcoming weeks of youth camp!
Our first week of youth camp brought challenges, great successes, and buckets of rain. For three days, Team STARRS was greeted in the morning with torrential downpours, thunder and lightning. The first two days, the rain stopped, the sun came out and we were able to have camp as usual. But on Thursday, the downpours, thunder and lightning were so relentless that we had no choice but to cancel camp. It didn’t feel safe to have all those kids under the metal palapa that day!
Despite this setback, Friday was our most successful day of camp that week. It was Seagrass and Shallow Seas day, and our rotations and activities all went smoothly and the kids were enthusiastic and present. The older campers’ Seagrass rotation learned about stakeholders in the community, (fishermen, hotel owners, and conservationists) and who has a say in what happens to seagrass in San Pedro. Three groups of campers each represented a group of stakeholders, and held a debate over the fate of the seagrass (whether to clear it or preserve it.) The campers did so well with this concept and developed some great arguments for all sides. On Friday, we also had Will from Tres Pescados Fly Shop as a guest speaker. Will delivered a very engaging presentation to the kids about fly fishing, and sustainable sport fishing. Team STARRS finished the first week of camp with a bang!
While some like to relax on their weekends off, others like to take on an extreme physical challenges. Our fierce ladies, Kiara and Sarah Alper, volunteered last minute to participate in the Lagoon Reef Eco-Challenge Kayak Race, a nearly 50-mile journey around the perimeter of the island that lasted Saturday and Sunday. In classic Smithie fashion, Kiara and Sarah were one of only two teams of women in the race, and they made team STARRS so proud! When they crossed the finish line on Sunday afternoon, their tiny kayak was mobbed with proud little campers. It was a moment to remember!
Youth camp came and went in a flash, and on Thursday it was graduation time already! Graduation, and the conservation poster contest were highly anticipated by campers and parents alike this year. Our youth campers arrived with 15 fantastic poster submissions covering topics ranging from crocodile conservation to sea turtle nesting site protection. On Thursday night, the San Pedro Lions Den was full to the brim with about 80 campers and many parents, siblings, aunt and uncles. Thankfully we received plentiful food donations from local bakeries and restaurants to keep everyone happy! Campers from all age groups performed skits of their own creation for our guests, all on the theme of reef, mangrove, and marine species conservation. We were so proud of everyone for braving the stage and showing everyone what they have learned! In addition to skits, campers performed two camp songs: the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chant, and the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures theme song (“Oh good grief, protect the reef!”) Team STARRS prepared expert cards and Advanced Camp certificates for every camper who came to both sessions, and handed them to each graduate as their name was called at the end of the ceremony. The night concluded with many hugs, kisses, and a few tears from campers, parents and teachers alike.
Representatives from the San Pedro Sun attended the graduation ceremony, and published an article and photo gallery of the night. You can view the article and photos by following the link below:
After Thursday night, our last days on the island flew by in a blur. The RC School was cleaned from top to bottom on Friday, and our apartment was cleaned and packed on Saturday and Sunday. Our last full day on the island was rainy, but our friends told us it was the island crying because we were about to leave. On Sunday morning we woke up early and said our goodbyes to our dear friends on the street and departed for Tropic Air at 8:00 AM, escorted by friends. After a long day of traveling on three planes, we arrived safely in Northampton around 2:00 AM. Now that we are home, the trip seems like a fantastic dream, and now is the time to begin tying up loose ends, preparing our presentation, and processing our wonderful, challenging experience on La Isla Bonita.