“We are hitting the tipping point and if we don’t all take action soon in the community, Isla Bonita is not going to last much longer.” Those were the words of Dr. Marisa Tellez, a Scientific Researcher conducting research on various parts of Belize, including Ambergris Caye. Her strong statements come while sharing initial findings on her research of parasite samples collected on the island back in September. Tellez has been contracted by United States Government through the National Science Foundation, to collect data and study American Salt Water Crocodilians in an effort to look at ways humans and environmental impact are affecting disease and the health of the animals in crocodilian habitat.
The samples were collected by flushing crocodiles’ stomachs, as well as dissecting small crabs and fish, known to be the crocs’ basic diet. Tellez and her team collected parasites, which are a good indicator of the health of an animal and the environment. They also studied the spleen of the dissected animals to look at the animal’s health.
According to Tellez, fish and crabs from around the populated parts of San Pedro Town actually showed signs of illness. “With the fish, their spleens were white and covered with cysts … their spleens need to be very pink or red and very plump. A spleen can tell you right away the health of an animal. Upon our initial observation, we could have said right away there is something going on in the environment.”
But for parasitologists, a healthy environment is one that is full of parasites. That is because most parasites have a role and are beneficial in helping the immune system of animals to be stronger and better able to fight other diseases. Scientists use it as a form of a barometer to study the health of animals and the environment. Samples taken from fish and crabs found in the more urban areas, especially in San Mateo had very little to no parasites. Tellez said that for parasitologists and environmentalists, it is a huge red flag that indicates that there is instability within the natural environment, or that something is negatively affecting the health of the environment. “Most of the time that is due to the heavy metal pollution, arsenic and improper disposal of oil,” explained Tellez.
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