The Aldebaran crew is in Belizean water studying marine life, including the Belize Barrier Reef.

The Belize Barrier Reef has some new paladins in its defense against the effects of climate change: the marine biologists and crew aboard the German research vessel Aldebaran, who have been assessing and video-documenting the impact of climate change on the reef since their arrival in Belizean waters in mid-January.

Their mission is to get the message out, to raise concern in Belize, Germany, and other parts of Europe about the damage done to Belize’s Barrier Reef, the largest in the hemisphere and the second largest in the world, by the industrial and agricultural pollutants which are allowed to seep into the rivers and seas. With some 70% of the world’s surface area covered by water, any contaminant dumped into any water body in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa or any part of the world, will eventually have a global impact.

Even when the quantities of pollutants seem minuscule in comparison to the volume of the world’s oceans, over time they accumulate to have a significant effect. When someone defecates in the river in Peten or Cayo, those downstream may get E.coli bacteria in their drinking water draw from the river. As recent events have shown, when a banana farm or a shrimp farm draws huge amounts of water from a small river interrupting the natural flow of sediment downstream, the result is a beach disappearing from the coastal village like Monkey River, because the sand washed away by the sea is no longer being replaced by the river.

The Aldebaran departed its home port of Hamburg on January 8, 2009 aboard a larger freighter, the ‘CMA Bahia’ and it was launched into the Caribbean Sea at the Guatemalan Port of Santo Tomas de Castilla two weeks later. Since then its seven-man crew have been filming every aspect of life on the outer and inner zones of the reef, the island mangroves, the coastal zones and river estuaries, collecting bio-metric data as well as geometric information statistics. The Aldebaran crew recognizes the truth of ocean pioneer Jacques Cousteau’s words: “We will only protect what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we have been taught.”

Their mission is to help German and European television audiences grow to understand and love the colorful reef, so that they change their behavior to prevent further impact on the reef, before it is too late. Using a unique set-up of five, high definition video cameras synchronized to record a 360 degree panoramic view of underwater world, the Aldebaran is documenting the reef in a way never done before, with the fifth camera recording a view of the surface. State of the art computer software then combines the five images seamlessly so that when projected onto the spherical surface inside a planetarium the viewer get a three-dimensional view of the underwater world.

Recorded with stereo surround-sound, the experience gives the viewer the fantastic feeling of being underwater, without donning a wet-suit, mask or fins.

The sobering truth is that if man is unable to slow down and stop his pollution of the world’s atmosphere to mitigate the effect of global warming on the reef, Aldebaran’s video panorama may be the only legacy of the reef to survive for future generations, rather like taking a camcorder to record the last few months of a beloved relative diagnosed with a terminal illness.

The Aldebaran crew have spared no effort in recruiting new soldiers to their fight, liaisoning with the Friends of Nature group which has been working for marine conservation in the Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) and the Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) since 1996.

Aldebaran’s point man in Belize Frank Schweikert and media rep Steffi Lupp invited the German Ambassador H.E. Peter Linder, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Hon. Rene Montero, Minister of Tourism Civil Aviation and Culture Hon. Manuel Heredia and local media mogul Rene Villanueva Sr. to view their work at Gladden Spit of the coast of Placencia last Thursday, April 16. They were joined by Dr. Leslie from the Caribbean Center for Climate Change in Belmopan and Lindsay Garbutt of the Fisheries Department. Montero and Heredia applauded the Aldebaran’s achievements so far, and Ambassador Linder outlined the way forward saying that after the dangers to the reef have been identified, monitoring practices should be set up, a mitigation plan worked out and people and funding should be identified to complete the task.

But they were preaching to the converted, and we must recognize that the reef will be saved not by the band-aid measures implemented here in Belize, but rather by getting the world’s leaders and people to accept their responsibility for the global environment and to make a change for the better. This is no easy task, as witnessed at the recently concluded 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad where regional leaders could not even agree to sign on to the Declaration of Port of Spain. Belize has friends in high places who are willing to help; the present Chancellor of Germany helped draft the Kyoto protocol during her tenure of Minister for the Environment during the term of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, another agreement which the USA refused to sign.

The Reporter