Short term and long term volunteers at Bacalar Chico

by Dylan Gomez Manager, Bacalar Chico

Small groups of volunteers who have worked at Bacalar Chico for short periods, such as a few days to a rnonth, engaged mostly in manual labor. This included beach cleaning and construction work. Individuals who volunteered for longer periods, Usually two to three months, engaged in Survey type work such as underwater fish Surveys and other small projects.

Both short term and long term Volunteers are valuable and helpful to Bacalar Chico. Over the years they have helped to accomplish many important tasks. ( 1) They painted signs that inform the public of Bacalar Chico's Multipurpose Zoning Scheme.These have been erected in San Pedro and Sarteneja and at the Marine Reserve. (2) They built the "Guard Post"- located on the East Coast of Ambergris Caye, north of Rocky Point.This enables the staff to camp and conduct reef surveys from this location. Now that it's being furnished it will he the home of the biologist and a couple of other long term Volunteers. (3)They have established three mangrove monitoring sites, which will enable Bacalar Chico to contribute mangrove data to the regional database in the Caribbean within a year. (4) Two small visitor centers have been created. one at the San Juan Field Station and the other at the "Guard Post." This allows the staff to brief visitors and tourists about Bacalar Chico using displays and pictures. (5) A brochure promoting tours at Bacalar Chico for tour guides was also de- signed. This is distributed to any guide who is interested. (6) Finally, a web site is being created for Bacalar Chico. The site should be completed before the end of September.

Just last weekend Bacalar Chico hosted thirteen foreign volunteers from Kings College, England. They stayed for five days and labored to construct a portion of a ramp that could be used to pulI Bacalar Chico's boat onto land for servicing. As a form of gratitude, Bacalar Chico ensures that their stay is both educational and enjoyable.They were given brief talks about the purpose of the protected area, he need for volunteers, the turtle monitoring program. commonly sighted reef features and the need for sustainable use of the reef's resources. Field trips also complemented the lectures. The group was taken to a couple patch reefs where they snorkeled. For many, it was the first time that they saw a reef; for others it was the first time that they ever snorkeled. They were also taken to the turtle nesting sites. They were fortunate enough to see one of the nests erupt with more than a hundred Logger Head (Caretta caretta) hatchlings. A very rewarding sight to the thirsty, sunburned and tired volunteers.

Since the start of' 1999, Bacalar Chico has received over fifty-two short term and five long term volunteers. Of these, thirty-three were short term Belizean volunteers and one was a long term Belizean volunteer. While the voluntary needs for Bacalar Chico could be filled with foreigners, Bacalar Chico would like to have more participation of Belizeans, especially San Pedranos. Of the thirty four local volunteers that Bacalar Chico has received for this year, twenty-one were from Cayo and thirteen from Corozal.

It is disappointing that no San Pedrano has volunteered at Bacalar Chico since the start of the project in 1995. The staff would be delighted and eager to assist any San Pedrano who would like to volunteer at the Marine Reserve or the National Park. Presently there is the turtle monitoring program. Youth groups and students are encouraged to participate in this program. If you are interested, call Bacalar Chico at 015-8099 for more information of pickup a volunteer form at the Hol Chan Office. Space is limited so call the office today.

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