Fishing has been the way of life in Ambergris Caye for decades. Unfortunately, it has proven not to be as lucrative a business as it was before. With fishermen trained and skilled in this trade, finding alternate jobs becomes quite difficult. This is where Green Reef stepped in. With monies received from a COMPACT grant, 19 fishermen took part in the Specialized Training for Nature Guiding workshop held at Bacalar Chico.
From August 20th to 28th, fishermen from Sarteneja (12 fishermen), Copper Bank (2), Xunux (2), Corozal (1) and San Pedro (2) spent time on the park reserve learning the “ropes” on tour guiding and bird watching. “We are trying to develop community linkages, hence our choice to invite various people not just residents of San Pedro,” commented Green Reef coordinator Mito Paz.
“With various areas being named marine reserves with the steady increase of people practicing this trade, making a living from fishing alone has become hard. It was a method of creating opportunities for these men,” he explained. This workshop includes classroom work and field training to give the utmost help necessary for these fishermen.
However, according to Paz, this workshop forms part of a larger project which is presently being worked on between both bodies, Green Reef and Bacalar Chico. Packages allowing University students and study groups access to Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve have been organized and distributed. “This is the perfect place to learn about what the environment has to offer. It is unspoiled and quiet. Plus, our new facilities allow for these kinds of groups,” he explained. Fishermen who took part in the training will now be hired, when groups make reservations, to guide them through the park and reserve. “There is great bird watching and wonderful kayaking excursion that many can enjoy. We have to equip our people with the skills necessary so that they can enjoy, protect and make a living from our reserves,” commented Paz.
“Not only do these workshops benefit the fishermen themselves but it also helps the environment. With fishermen having alternative livelihoods, the strain on the marine life is less.” The first trainings were funded through the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Project (MBRS) Four classes were offered and included: SCUBA Open Water Certification, Nature Guiding, Sportfishing, and Snorkeling and Kayaking. Each class also had a section on first aid and business marketing and management. Green Reef developed the manuals that are used in the classes and a team of experienced tour guides lead the trainings. These courses were offered in June and September 2004 again in 2005 and Paz states that they will continue.
In the works, according to Paz, is the completion of the Bacalar Chico Field Guide. This very informative handbook will include information pertaining to Bacalar’s flora and fauna, its archaeological history, regulations and beautiful pictures. To date, Bacalar Chico sees 1,000 guests per year.