Beauty and adventure of Glover’s Reef Atoll weans teen daughter off Wi-Fi
These comfortable beachfront tents were the accommodations on the Southwest Caye of Glover’s Reef Atoll. Inside the tents were comfortable beds and furnishings.
It was our first night in Belize and things were not starting out well.
“You didn’t tell me we were camping!” exclaimed my 16-year-old daughter Kelsey. “I would never have agreed to come if I had known we were camping.”
She had a point. I hadn’t used the word “camping,” because to me camping means a sleeping bag on the floor of a tent. We were in a comfortable wooden cabana with beds, mattresses, pillows and sheets. There was electricity and a central shower area with running water and flush toilets. This wasn’t really camping.
I suspected the underlying problem was really a slight case of nomophobia, or fear of being out of cellphone contact. With no cellphone signal and no Wi-Fi, the cabanas were practically prehistoric — in a teenager’s mind, anyways. When I booked the trip with Island Expeditions, I had hoped that a few days away from technology on a mother-daughter adventure trip would be good for both of us.
The adventure began the next day with a half-day guided river tubing and caving tour. We were transported by bus to a lush rainforest area where we each selected an inner tube, a life jacket and a hard hat with a headlamp. Our guide pointed out unique flora and fauna as we hiked along a well-travelled trail through lush rainforest. When we stopped for a short rest, our guide pulled a rust-coloured stone from the river and painted everyone’s faces Mayan style. He said it would bring good luck in the caves.
Eventually we climbed aboard our tubes and rode them down the river and into a limestone cave system filled with stalactites, stalagmites and other fascinating rock formations. With nothing but the light from our headlamps it was sometimes eerie as we floated and hiked our way through the caves — no wonder we needed that good luck.
After a hearty lunch at a local restaurant, we visited the Belize Zoo to get a first-hand look at their jaguar rescue program and meet the jaguars close up. Island Expeditions is a big supporter of the zoo’s conservation efforts and it was good to know that our travel choice was going to support a worthwhile conservation initiative.
The next day, we travelled cross-country by van and then boarded a boat to make the one-hour journey to the tiny island of Southwest Caye on Glover’s Reef Atoll. One of the richest marine habitats in the Caribbean Sea, Glover’s Reef is considered by many to be one of the world’s top snorkelling and diving areas. Using the tiny island as a base camp, we planned to spend the next six days exploring as much of the reef as possible.
This time we were staying in actual tents, making it difficult to argue with Kelsey’s assertion that I should have used the word “camping” when describing the trip.
On the upside, the large tents were beachfront and equipped with beds, mattresses, sheets, pillows and furniture. Toilet facilities were another matter.
“I miss plumbing,” she said when she realized that she would be using a composting toilet and a solar-powered shower for the next few days. Once again, there was no Internet and no cellphone access at the base camp.
It didn’t take long to get into the routine of camp life, which began with a daily sunrise yoga class led by a professional yoga instructor under the shade of coconut palms, and ended with a delicious dinner in the main dining lodge.
In between there were snorkel tours, kayaking expeditions, kayak sailing, stand-up paddleboard lessons, a guided fishing excursion and plenty of time for hammock surfing with a good book.
Each night after dinner, Kelsey and I made a habit of lying out on the boat dock and gazing up at the magnificent star-filled sky. There is virtually no light pollution when you are on a tiny island in the middle of a vast expanse of ocean.
On our last night in Belize, while we lay on the dock trying to locate the Big Dipper, Kelsey spotted a falling star — her first ever.
“I really loved this trip,” she confided as we made our way back to our tent a few minutes later. “Maybe camping really is my thing.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she hadn’t really gone camping — not by my definition anyways.
A new generation of threatened hawksbill sea turtles is thriving in the protected waters of Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize, evidence that efforts to protect these and other marine species in one of the world’s great barrier reef systems are working, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Belize Fisheries Department.
In a recently published study in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists have reported that the coral reefs surrounding the atoll are home to more than 1,000 juvenile hawksbill sea turtles– good news for a species.
The authors of the study titled “In-water assessments of sea turtles at Glover’s Reef Atoll, Belize” are: Samantha Strindberg, Virginia R. Burns Perez and Janet Gibson of WCS; Robin A. Coleman of WCS and Sawfish Consulting Ltd.; Cathi L. Campbell of WCS and the University of Florida, and Isaias Majil of the Belize Fisheries Department.
“The findings of our research show that juvenile hawksbill turtles are thriving at Glover’s Reef– extremely good news for this endangered species,” said Virginia Burns Perez, WCS Technical Coordinator in Belize. “Strongholds for the species such as this one should become a model for other foraging and nesting areas that are important for the hawksbill turtle.”
Re: Glover's Reef Amazing Marine Life
#519388 11/30/1612:31 AM11/30/1612:31 AM
Belize's Glover's Reef providing refuge for new generation of sea turtles
A marine scientist is holding a hawksbill sea turtle. Researchers from WCS and the Belize Fisheries Department have uncovered a thriving population of juvenile hawksbill sea turtles living in the waters of Glover's Reef Atoll. Credit: K. Holmes/WCS.
A new generation of threatened hawksbill sea turtles is thriving in the protected waters of Glover's Reef Atoll, Belize, evidence that efforts to protect these and other marine species in one of the world's great barrier reef systems are working, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Belize Fisheries Department.
In a recently published study in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists have reported that the coral reefs surrounding the atoll are home to more than 1,000 juvenile hawksbill sea turtles- good news for a species.
The authors of the study titled "In-water assessments of sea turtles at Glover's Reef Atoll, Belize" are: Samantha Strindberg, Virginia R. Burns Perez and Janet Gibson of WCS; Robin A. Coleman of WCS and Sawfish Consulting Ltd.; Cathi L. Campbell of WCS and the University of Florida, and Isaias Majil of the Belize Fisheries Department.
"The findings of our research show that juvenile hawksbill turtles are thriving at Glover's Reef- extremely good news for this endangered species," said Virginia Burns Perez, WCS Technical Coordinator in Belize. "Strongholds for the species such as this one should become a model for other foraging and nesting areas that are important for the hawksbill turtle."
Glover's Reef Atoll is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere. The Glover's Reef Marine Reserve, in particular, is important to both the fishing economy of Belize and the region's marine biodiversity. In order to safeguard this natural wonder, WCS worked with the Belize Fisheries Department and other local stakeholders to initiate a conservation plan for the site. The hawksbill sea turtle was selected as one of several target species for conserving the larger seascape.
Researchers conducted a snorkel survey of sea turtles in and around Glover's Reef Atoll. Credit: WCS.
"A healthy population of hawksbill turtles at Glover's Reef has positive implications for recovery of the species in Belize and the wider Caribbean region," said Nicole Auil Gomez, WCS Belize Country Director. "Once these young hawksbills mature they leave the Atoll and can travel incredible distances."
Meanwhile, Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade stated that "This study validates the importance of the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve for the survival of such an iconic species. The thriving Hawksbill turtles are a wonderful success story for the government and people of Belize and its partners in their efforts toward the sustained management and conservation of the Glover's Reef Atoll."
The newly published study is the result of field research between 2007 and 2013, during which time 12 snorkel surveys on sea turtles were conducted in the coral reefs around Glover's Reef Atoll. Safe and tested methods were used to catch, examine, tag, and release sea turtles. From 2009 onward, for the first time ever for in-water assessments of turtles, a technique known as distance sampling (visually spotting sea turtles along a transect line and estimating distance between the turtle and the line) was used.
Complementary monitoring methods provided a comprehensive assessment of turtle population status and dynamics, while accounting for the proportion of turtles that were not caught or seen. "Our turtle monitoring protocol is based on robust survey and analysis methods," said WCS Scientist & Wildlife Statistician Samantha Strindberg. "This allows us to more confidently assess the effectiveness of conservation management for this important population of hawksbill turtles now and in the future."
In addition to snorkel surveys along underwater transects, the research used established methods to catch, examine, tag, and release sea turtles during the study, which lasted between 2007 and 2013. Credit: R. Coleman/WCS.
Results of the study found that the abundance of juvenile hawksbill turtles was estimated to be more than 1,000 individual animals, with much smaller numbers of green and loggerhead sea turtles. The research team also determined that the probability of survival for the hawksbills was reassuringly high, another reason for optimism about the persistence of sea turtles at Glover's Reef Atoll.
"The discovery that Glover's Reef Atoll is an important habitat for young sea turtles is an important find, one that will enable regulatory agencies to fine-tune already effective management policies to safeguard a highly threatened species and its biodiverse habitat," said Jason Patlis, WCS's Director for Marine Conservation.
"This is great news on two levels: the discovery of a robust population of juvenile hawksbill sea turtles means a brighter future for this highly endangered species, and the protections afforded this population within the Glover's Reef Atoll once again demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of well-managed marine protected areas," added Patlis.
Glover's Reef Atoll is also the focus of a 167,000-gallon tank located in the New Conservation Hall and Glover's Reef exhibit at WCS's New York Aquarium. The exhibit replicates its diverse coral reef namesake in Belize and is home to marine creatures including eels, rays, hogfish, and many other species. Through powerful graphics, visitors are introduced to WCS's Glover's Reef Marine Research Station along with WCS studies on coral diversity, bleaching, and other conservation topics.
Two weeks ago, we showed you the major catch of out of season conch in the Glover's Reef Atoll. Fisheries officers suspected that had been happening for months - seriously depleting marine wildlife stocks in the area.
Well, while that may be true in the short term, the Wildlife Conservation Society reports that a 7-year study of marine environments near the Glovers Reef Atoll shows that fish-stocks are good.
They say it's because of replenishment zones, which are basically no take zones used in conservation to give fish populations a chance to recuperate from overfishing.
A comprehensive, 7-year study of the replenishment zone at Glovers Reef Atoll found higher numbers of Lobsters, Conch, and Other Fish Species in and around Replenishment Zone of Glover's Atoll.
The research included the two marine species that are economically important as fished species: the Caribbean spiny lobster and the queen conch. It also included the Nassau grouper, the hogfish, the queen triggerfish, and several species of parrotfish which have been banned from harvest in Belize since 2009.
The study was published in the latest edition of the journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series.
The opportunities to conduct research in Belize have been growing and if you ask about marine research, you’ll find out that those opportunities are endless. From mangroves to fin-fish, turtle and coral research, Belize has been recognized as an ideal location for these kinds of scientific work. In southern Belize, about forty-five kilometers off the coast; the Glover’s Reef Research Station carries out big research programmes and has been doing so since the mid nineteen nineties. The station aims to encourage long-term conservation and management of Belize’s barrier reef and has wider application to other coral reefs and marine protected areas in the region and rest of the world. On Wednesday, News Five took a trip out to the Glover’s reef Research Station to find out more. Andrea Polanco reports.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
The Glover’s Reef Research Station is known across the world for its marine research. It is the only research facility within the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve off the coast of southern Belize and it is owned and operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society This small island, called Middle Caye, in the Glovers Reef Atoll is the base of an operation where scientists do advanced research within one of Belize’s most complex and vital coral reef systems. The work that’s done here has far reaching influence.
Jason Patlis, Executive Director, Global Marine Conservation Programme, WCS
“WCS has been in Belize for thirty something years. In fact, WCS operates the New York Aquarium in New York City and one of the oldest exhibits we have for a million visitors that come in is on Glovers Reef. So, the connections to Glovers, the atoll and the island, as well as in New York, are very strong. The resources here have remained pristine, very well protected over the time. We are very well committed to make sure that continues into the future.”
A number of marine research projects are underway at the Glover’s Reef Research Station at any given time. It is here that the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool the Managed Access programme were piloted. Local and international scientists also do in-water sea turtle monitoring, spawning aggregations monitoring, as well as fisheries catch data and a number of other biologically and economically significant studies.
Nicole Auil Gomez, Country Director, WCS Belize
“One such issue was looking at herbivorous fish and we were able to provide the data that then translated with other organizations and fisheries department into legislation for banning the fishing of herbivorous fish. So, that we are able to keep the algae off of coral reefs. What we are seeing today, however, is that the closing off of fishing on these herbivorous fish was not the only factor that causes overgrowth of algae corals. And if we are going to be looking at in the future is the impact of nutrients on the reef system.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society is based in more than twenty-five countries – but the Glover’s Reef Research station is its only research station in the world. Since the nineties, scientists and WCS fellows have been coming here to do important work. And the impact of the work has been recognized across the world. But today the WCS continues to tackle issues like over-fishing and climate change that are destroying coral reefs – across the world, including Belize.
Dr. John Robinson, Chief Conservation Officer, WCS
“Belize is a wonderful example of a barrier reef. Barrier reefs are incredibly important around the world. They provide fish resources for people, they are very important in terms of their biodiversity – they have a number of fish species and conservationists really know and respect coral reef systems. Belize has done a really outstanding job of holding on to its coral reefs and protecting it. But on a global basis, many reefs are overfished and all the reefs in the world are dealing with the broad issue of climate change. So, a lot of what we do is that we work to maintain the integrity of the reef. We work to support fishers so that fishers can look at it as their resource and when they look at it as their resource they will look after it in an important, sustainable way.”
Glover’s Reef Research Station – a Hot Spot for Marine Research
The Caribbean is one of three major hotspots of marine biodiversity in the world, but its ecosystems are under pressure from over-fishing, climate change, pollution and other impacts. Conservationists and government have implemented a number of programmes to address these issues in Belize, from replenishment zones to managed access, to patrols and enforcement. But to find out just how well or not our marine environment is doing, N.G.O.s and their partners must do regular research and monitoring. For more than twenty years, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been studying our marine environments through their research facility in Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. It is a fully equipped station used to assess the health of coral reefs so as to help improve the management of marine protected areas and fisheries. One of the programmes that are carried out from the station is the monitoring of the spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper. It is a species that has long been fished along coastal communities and vulnerable to illegal fishers during spawning. But research carried out in Glovers Reefs and other sites has helped to get highlight the need for regulations for this endangered fish, including a closed season from December first and March thirty-first. Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more about the facility where researchers and students alike can do conservation research.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
The Nassau Grouper is an endangered species in Belize and across the Caribbean. At the turn of the century, researchers recorded a massive decline in the species and Government had to introduce regulations to give this fish a chance to survive. The only time that Nassau groupers reproduce is during the aggregations they form at specific spots in the reef for a few days after the full moon during December to March. During this time when they spawn, they are most vulnerable. And so this is when illegal fishers, from Belize and neighboring countries, target this species.
Kenneth Gale, Operations Manager, Glover’s Reef Research Station (WCS)
“In the past, Belize had a lot of Nassau Grouper spawning banks. But studies have shown that whenever a site is depleted, the fish do not go back there. Every December, January and February, during the full moon Nassau Grouper aggregate and come to one spot. So, some from around here would travel all the way up like nearly sixteen miles up and go there. So, fishermen actually know these animals are there so they would go and fish them. We have seen evidence of poaching there. Whenever we dive we see jeans pants, sprung anchors, strobe lights. Monitoring is actually difficult because it is really outside of the atoll and it is really rough and actually quite far from here as well.”
And scientists have found that at least ten years is needed for replacement rates of reproduction when there is no fishing, and much longer when fishing occurs. There used to be many spawning aggregation sites across the Caribbean, but most of them no longer exist because they have been fished out. Only a few remain, and some of those are in Belize. Here at Glover’s Reef Research Station, a WCS research team conducts Nassau grouper spawning aggregation monitoring in January and February – to try to help to sustainably manage this fish.
“We are seeing some improvement. It could be better. Actually, January last year we started to work with the Belize Coast Guard to boost enforcement. What WCS has done is to actually bring the people from C.C.O. at Fisheries to monitor it but it is actually really difficult because the poachers and the fishermen are always one step ahead of enforcement. These guys are always one step ahead of enforcement– they are well equipped with have lights, GPS finders. They are always one step ahead of us.”
Monitoring is just one of the programmes being conducted inside the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. The WCS carries out a number of other initiatives to help protect other vulnerable species like sharks and turtles. The Belize Coast Guard and Fisheries Department who conduct enforcement and patrols are also based on Middle caye – the research station site. And it is from here where local and international marine scientists conduct cutting edge research.
“We cater primarily to researchers, scientists and student groups. We are not a tourist facility, per se. So, whenever you want to come here you have to have some aspect of research to come here. We have a full service station. We have our own fleet of boats. We can sleep thirty people comfortably. We have dorms. We have fresh water showers. Wireless internet. Hot and cold shower, so it is a full service and research station.”
And as Kenneth Gale explains, it’s just a few steps away from the reef. And the WCS would like to see even more scientists and students take up the opportunity to do conservation. And while Glover’s Reef is the southernmost atoll – the research station on Middle Caye is powered by mostly green energy – and will keep you comfortable and connected when you are away from home.
“One of the good things about Middle Caye and Glover’s Reef Research Station is that everything is located close by. The reef is about five hundred feet away from the pier. There is sea grass here; there are mangroves there. So, you don’t need a boat to actually go out like other research station where you have to take a boat and go out for fifteen minutes to go and find the reef. Everything is close by. Everything is centralized, as well. So, whenever you come here, we take good care of you. You don’t have to worry about boats or anything. We have a full service kitchen with cooks. So, everything is actually well taken care of. The station is powered by ninety-five percent via green energy. We have solar panels and a win turbine. We have twenty-four hour power here at the station. For some people, whenever they hear caye, they think it is rustic and there is camping. All rooms have fans, lights and we try to keep the place as comfortable as possible. And if the system fails, if there is no system, we have a back-up generator. We also have our own set of compressors and dive tanks and so we offer compressors and refills and do different things like that for the guests.”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.
If you have conservation or marine research projects you’d like to do, you can contact the Kenneth Gale at Glovers Reef Research Station at 532-2153 or email at [email protected]