Shark populations worldwide are collapsing. But now you can help establish protected areas for sharks along Belize's magnificent Mesoamerican Reef.

Though the Caribbean nation of Belize was once a haven for sharks because its Mesoamerican Reef barrier reef, the second largest on earth, and a network of marine reserves provide the ideal shark habitat, an increase in shark fishing means that population collapses may occur even here.

Join our team in Belize and youíll join a decade-long research project comparing shark and grouper populations at Southwater Caye, a new marine reserve, Gloverís Reef Atoll, a well established reserve, and at Turneffe Atoll, a heavily-fished, unprotected site. The data you help collect will demonstrate whether and how reserves actually help protect various shark and other marine species. Youíll help gather information on local Belizean and tourist perceptions of sharks and marine reserves using questionnaires and short video interviews. Youíll help deploy and operate baited, remote underwater cameras to capture footage of sharks for both scientific analysis and community outreach, and youíll conduct snorkel surveys to help select suitable video sites and collect baseline data on the status of the reef at each site. Working on research boats, youíll get close to shark species such as the Caribbean reef, nurse, Caribbean sharpnose, great hammerhead, lemon, night, and tiger. And youíll assist scientists in the capture, measurement, tissue sampling, tagging, and safe release of these iconic marine predators.

As pressures mount from shark fishing, and bycatch (fish caught unintentionally) accounts for a greater number of sharks, itís critical to determine how reserves might protect their numbers and to assess the attitudes of local residents and tourists about sharks and marine reserves. If scientists and conservationists can get a better understanding of how species use the marine environment, and refine their reserve management and outreach strategies, sharks in Belize stand a chance of survival.

Meals and Accommodations

Youíll spend the first night at Southwater Caye in single-sex, dormitory-style accommodations; all other nights will be spent at Gloverís Reef Research Station, in single-sex rooms shared by two volunteers. With advance notice, couples may share rooms at Gloverís Reef. All bedding is provided and all rooms have fans. Both field sites offer reliable 24 hour electricity, wireless internet access, shared bathrooms with composting toilets and cold, freshwater showers. Warm water solar showers are also available.

A cook prepares all meals onsite. Customary Belizean breakfasts might consist of fruit, fry jack, journey cake or pancake and Lunches and dinners of pasta, fish, meats, beans and rice, salads, and cooked vegetables. With advanced notification, weíll do everything we can to accommodate special dietary requirements. There are no stores on the atoll, and no alcohol is allowed at the field station.

About the Research Area

Belize is a beautiful tropical country, and a world biodiversity hotspot. The field season will see temperatures likely to range from 32-38įC/90-100įF during the day, along with some days with high precipitation and humidity. Belizeans are ethnically diverse, with Hispanic, Mayan, Creole and Garifuna cultures all interacting; English is the primary language and Christianity the main religion. The expedition will be immersed in local culture even when not conducting research, as the research staff assistants and the field station staff are largely Belizean.

During the course of your volunteering, youíre likely to see a wide range of wildlife not directly associated with the research, including sea-turtles, dolphins, osprey, iguana, frigate birds, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, small reef fish (grunts, damselfish, seahorses, angelfish), tarpon, bonefish and coral. Glover's Reef offers guided nature tours, bird watching and kayaking for your recreational time.

Watch Shark Reef | Full Program on PBS. See more from Saving the Ocean.