We had more than 40 groups visit our Belize Field Station in 2015. One of the most rewarding aspects for me was working with the groups of local students. Many Belizeans live near the water but have never looked below the surface nor fully recognized our human footprint. One student, John Bruhier, who visited our field station with Ecology Project International (EPI), impressed me with his passion both during and after the trip. I asked him to write a special guest blog.
Here is John’s experience, in his own words:
20 students from the Belize High School of Agriculture where thrilled to be chosen to attend an EPI course for one week. On August 30th, 2015 at 9:00 we left the school campus and travelled to Belize City. At the Princess hotel dock, we met up with our very friendly and kind EPI instructors (Jaen and Abi). We introduced each other and learned the different rules we should follow for our safety. We placed our bags in the boat and buckled up for a 90-minute trip to Blackbird Caye. After 30 minutes passed, my buddy got seasick and went to the back of the boat while I made myself comfy and took a nap. I woke up because the boat slowed down just before the great barrier reef of the western hemisphere, the Mesoamerican Reef. I looked into the turquoise water and saw many corals. As we approached the field station, the waves started to pick up and the boat rode over each one, which was a blast for some of the students and myself. We reached the dock at Blackbird Caye where Jaen and Abi introduced us to manager Kathi.
The first night we stayed up and watched the waves running to the shore. Day two my buddies in cabin number three got up and went jogging at daybreak. We headed to the palapa where we saw the cooks making breakfast for us. After breakfast we played games and learned about the different marine life and how the islands develop. The following day we went on the boat with our two instructors, the boat captain with diver, and Kathi. Swimmers were put through a test and the instructor determined if they should use a lifejacket or not. We went swimming for about 20 meters without touching the bottom. We saw starfish, conch, cowfish, and other types of fish. After lunch Abi’s group went to watch dolphins and Jaen’s group went snorkeling. Unfortunately, we never saw the dolphins that day. We went snorkeling the next day near the coast of a nearby island and saw the different fish and coral. The day after, we played a game and went snorkeling. We speared eight invasive lionfish and dissected them to learn about what they are were eating. After, we filleted and ate them. It was delicious. The time at Blackbird Caye was marvelous and short. I learned tons of new information about the Plastic Island in Midway and the invasive species and how Belize is blessed and it is a young, thriving country. I spent my birthday at Blackbird. My only wish was to return as a staff member and share my knowledge with others students from different schools..
Upon returning, and after I found out how plastic affects the environment, I went to school and talked with my principal. I told her we could save a lot if we had real plates instead of foam plates, and we can recycle plastic bottles. She agreed!
In my community, I share my information of how we could protect the environment and use different methods to eliminate plastic—when buying, carry our own bags and recycle much more often. Another method is to use what we need now and save the rest for another day. I told my friends we should use more products that are ecofriendly. Some products can harm us, and the environment we live in. I learned this amazing quote from Racing Extinction “we can be the creators of the world or the destroyers”. We humans have to learn how to save our planet from becoming a polluted world. We need to learn how to save our resources and protect the environment.
John will be attending the University of Belize in the fall 2016, studying marine biology. He wishes to thank the EPI team, especially Jane Nieto Amat (the best instructor in the world) and Abi McKinnon, as well as the Oceanic Society staff.
Kathi Koontz is director of California Whale Rescue and Oceanic Society's former Bay Area Programs Manager. Her passion for the ocean includes work as a whales-in-distress responder through NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Kathi is an avid diver, snorkeler, and advocate for marine wildlife. She has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University and spends as much time as she can underwater.