In our continuing effort to shine a light on exemplary Belizean women for Women’s Month, tonight we introduce you to a young marine biologist.  While the number of women in the sciences has significantly increased in recent years, women are still under-represented in some fields. The Belize Audubon Society is one organization working to increase women’s representation in the crucial areas of conservation, ecology and biology. News Five’s Andrea Polanco has more.

Tanya Barona, Biodiversity Research & Monitoring Officer

“I was a student at the University of Belize and was majoring in marine biology. We had a field trip that we had to go to Turneffe and that was the first time I went to the reef and saw what was happening in the water and when I saw that I completely changed majors. I switched over to marine science and it just grew from there.”

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Tanya Barona now has a career in marine biology. She has been working with Belize Audubon Society for the past two and a half years as the research and Monitoring Officer.

Tanya Barona

“It took a lot of active effort to end up where I am. It wasn’t just the in class sessions but I did a lot of volunteering to be able to understand and be proficient in my field.”

Andrea Polanco

“What is it that you love now about this job that you have?”

Tanya Barona

“Teaching – actually. Through-out my years I have learnt so much and I get joy out of sharing that with people and giving people the experience that I got when I was younger.”

The Belize Audubon Society co-manages seven protected areas – five terrestrial and two marine protected areas and so Barona’s critical to support management decisions.

Dominique Lizama, Conservation Programme Director, B.A.S.

“Her role helps the organization in monitoring the natural resources out at the lighthouse reef atoll and the information that is collected is used to inform decision making for the protected areas.”

Barona’s work at the Belize Audubon Society is twofold. She spends some time in the office doing data analysis – but some of her best days are out in the field where things can get very unpredictable.

Tanya Barona

“When you are out in the field it is not a regular eight o’clock morning. Sometimes you are up at six a.m. on the boat really early, for example, when you are doing spawning aggregation monitoring. Peak hours for spawning are at the break of dawn and right before the sun sets. It is super exciting and it does take up a lot of your time. Sometimes the weather is not perfect; not flat seas; not sunny skies; really cold when have a cold front and the sea is very rough but it is fun and you get a lot of experience out of it. So, it is not easy for sure.”

And sometime just working in a male dominated field brings its own challenges – but the Belize Audubon Society has created opportunities to encourage women to take up space in conservation as well as an environment that promotes women’s participation in marine science.

Dominique Lizama

“When I entered the conservation field fifteen years ago, it really was a male dominated field and to a large extent it still is but Belize Audubon Society has had a long history of supporting and empowering women in the conservation field. We have had a history of women as protected areas managers, women as executive directors and we have expanded beyond that for having women as rangers.  You have to love it and we can definitely do it. It is just a matter of striking that balance. I think a lot of women are deterred perhaps because of family reasons or feeling like they won’t be able to sustain and be out in a harsh environment but once we set our minds to out, we can do it. We have a lot of women in Belize across the N.G.O. sector who are leaders in this field.”

Tanya Barona

“The environment, yes, it is a friendly one. You do have challenges like I said before but in terms of how you carry yourself with people, you give respect and they give respect back. So, being in a male dominated environment is not threatening. It is just something you deal with.”

Andrea Polanco

“Do you think it has pushed you to do better, improve and be better at your job?”

Tanya Barona

“For sure, for sure. There is always competition in anything that you do and it definitely drives you to try to be the best.”

And her advice for those who want a career in this field is simple:

Tanya Barona

“Get out there. Get some experience under your belt. Do a lot of volunteering. It is time away from your family. You do learn a lot and that would be my biggest suggestion – just get out there.”

Channel 5