BERN members meet on La Isla Bonita

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 23            June 5, 2008

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Not even the rains from TS Arthur could stop the meeting of BERN journalists.

Dr. McField, a member of the Smithsonian Institute spoke about Coral Reef Conservation plans currently in Belize.

On May 30th to 31st, through the funding assistance of the Oak Foundation, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and co-sponsored by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), experts on environmental reporting met up with the Belize Environmental Reporters Network (BERN) and journalists from around the country for its third installation on Journalism reporting. Media from radio, television and newspaper from all around the country were specially invited to rendezvous in La Isla Bonita and despite the inclement weather received some follow-up education on how to report on various sensitive environmental issues.

    The workshop facilitators were Dr. Robert Thomas, Director for the Center of Environmental Communications, Dale Willman, Executive Editor from Field Notes Production, Perry Beeman, Environment Reporter for the Des Moines Register and Luz Marie Hunter from the Belize Outdoor Adventure Travel Services. The sessions took place at the Isla Bonita Elementary conference hall where discussions on the preservation and life of manatees were first on the agenda. Speakers for this session were Caryn Self-Sullivan, a biologist and marine rescue activist who spoke about the information they have recorded on the Manatees in the Drowned Caye Areas. On the second day, Dr. Melanie McField of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative spoke about Coral Reef Conservation plans currently in Belize and the ever burning issue of Global Warming.

    The workshop proved beneficial and according to facilitator Perry Beeman, "It was the third workshop of its kind. It was piloted for a two year program and we are pleased at what we managed to accomplish. With the financial assistance of the Oak Foundation and PACT, journalists from around the country convened at St. George's Caye for the first workshop, Chaa Creek for the second workshop and in San Pedro for this the third. We, Bob, Dale and I, are working hard to find ways in which we can continue with the training. We have seen a vast improvement and we know that these workshops are helping the journalists that attend. The stories being produced are more in-depth, have a better array of sources but we need to achieve a balance in the stories covered. All in all the training has worked and that is the reason we would like this to continue," Beeman ended.

    The team was to engage in snorkeling activities at the Hol Chan marine Reserve for specie identification and to take a first hand look at the conditions of the corals, but due to the soggy weather it was not permitted.

    To educate and engage citizens, journalists in November of 2006 established the Belize Environmental Reporters Network (BERN), a project that aims to improve the quality and quantity of reporting issues impacting our most fragile environment. Rapid economic growth in Belize and other parts of the developing world is having a profound impact on the local and global environment, but citizens in many countries including Belize are ill-informed about these critical issues. Public demand for these stories is high. Yet, localizing a big environmental story, finding local contacts and translating conflicting science and statistics can be a very tough assignment. Helping the community and general populace understand how the changing environment has a local impact, is an important and challenging task for BERN.

    "It has been an extremely enriching experience for Bob, Dale and for me. Journalists have the power to effect change so I believe that the workshops came at a time that is most important," ended Beeman. Participants of the third workshop were: Jorge Aldana and Ian Leiva (Reef Radio), Janelle Chanona (Channel 5 News), Roxanne Guy and Shannon Harrison (Plus Television), Kainie Manuel and Maria Novelo (San Pedro Sun), Yaya Marin-Coleman (Krem Television and Radio), Anita Nembhard (Amandala), William Ysaguirre (Freelance for Reporter, Amandala and Guardian) and Eckarth Flowers. The team is scheduled for its fourth installment in May of next year!
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