January 30, 2010
Leaving Ambergris Caye on Wednesday, we hung up our dive gear for a few days and dedicated Thursday and Friday to meeting with the people here who set policy, do the science and ultimately will decide the fate of Belize’s natural areas. Our first order of business, though, was to pick up our fearless leader, Dr. Sylvia Earle, who had just flown in from Paris and the premiere of the new film by renowned filmmaker Jacques Perrin, Ocean.
We were ably hosted by the Nature Conservancy’s Alejandro Martinez, who drove us to the landlocked capitol of Belmopan for the launch of the University of Belize’s new Environmental Research Institute (ERI). Dr. Earle joined Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega and ERI’s dynamic duo—Institute Science Directors Dr. Elma Kay and Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts—in an inspiring dedication ceremony. In fact, ‘dedication’ was in abundance, most especially in the commitment and intensity with which Elma, Leandra and their colleagues are approaching their work. For their intention is no less than to create a world-class research and training program, to conduct ground-breaking science on terrestrial and marine ecology, and to create Master’s and Doctoral degree programs so that Belizeans do not have to leave their country to earn an advanced degree. We came away inspired, energized and committed to helping them in their quest.
A Friday morning interview with Dr. Cho-Ricketts helped us learn even more about the ERI’s ambitious mission and goals, and the challenges she and Dr. Kay have willingly taken on. Following this, we met with Alejandro at the TNC’s Belmopan office for an informative overview of the country’s proposed “Reefs for Life” initiative. The message was as clear as the ocean waters we’d recent dived: Belize has a phenomenal opportunity to gain significantly greater protection for its pristine reefs, mangroves and offshore waters, but the window is a short one and now is the time to act. Although much remains to be done, we were inspired by the obvious alignment between Belize’s leading scientists, conservationists, government leaders and other stakeholders. This is a nation that understands the importance of protecting its priceless natural heritage, and in doing so, will set an example for other nations to follow.
This afternoon brought a changing of the guard as the Deep Search team returned to bustling Belize City to drop John Racanelli off at the airport and pick up Sadie Waddington. In the afternoon Sadie and Kip met with Dr. Melanie McField to get her thoughts on how global warming is affecting the health of the Mesoamerican Reef. Dr. McField is a leading researcher in Belize who works for the Smithsonian Institute.
Soon, our team will head for beautiful Turneffe Atoll to see what Birgit Winning and the Oceanic Society have accomplished at Blackbird Caye.
Written by John Racanelli
Photography by Kip F. Evans