Botanist working at Marco Gonzalez

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 22            June 3, 2010

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Zoe Goodwin collects data from the Marco Gonzalez area.


    Press Release – Marco Gonzalez Committee – June 1st, 2010 – There is a buzz in the air about what is going on down south close to the end of the island. In the near future, a San Pedro non-profit group is working hard to bring a piece of history to life. That would be the Marco Gonzalez Maya site, well known by locals who have over the years visited their ancestry at that location. Over 20 years ago, the site was un-named, sitting on the only high ground on the southern end of the island in the middle of marshland. It was rich with artifacts and has been a source of locals picking up precious items for decades. In 2009, Jan Brown worked with the Department of Archaeology, NICH, Dept. of Environment, Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, San Pedro Town Council and other prominent San Pedranos to bring light to the Marco Gonzalez site to have it saved and made into a reserve for development as an Educational Center and Visitors Center for tourism. An NGO is now in place to assist with that plan.

    In preparation of college students coming to do research this summer, Ms. Zoe (Zoie) Goodwin was invited by the appointed director of excavations at the site, Mrs. Liz Graham, to identify flora and fauna species within Marco Gonzalez. Ms. Goodwin is a tropical field botanist working in Belize on the Darwin Initiative Project 17-022 – a study of the “conservation of the lowland savanna ecosystem” in Belize. She works directly for the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Darwin Project is led by the University of Edinburgh through the partnership of University of Belize, Belize Botanic Garden, Forest Department of GOB, BERDS and Plant Action.

    “The Herbarium where I work is at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland. I have worked – well mainly volunteered - on the Belizean flora on and off for the last four years, mainly in the forests. I was officially hired for the Darwin Initiate Project 17-022 in July 2009. My main role in the Darwin Project is to construct a check list, literally a list of the vascular plants of the lowland savannas of Belize. This information and knowledge will be passed on to Belizeans so that they can gather baseline data on the status of Belizean lowland savannas to be able to monitor the savannas. The long term training, ie: training teachers and researchers from Belize, is being done mostly with the University of Belize. But, savanna plant identification – a herbarium user course – will be run for the staff of the various NGO that manage Belize’s Protected Area system.”

    “The savannas are home to a unique group of plants that have adapted to survive drought, flooding and occasional fire, including a number of rare endemic species. Yet the savanna is under -valued by people, under-represented by Belize’s protected area systems and threatened by over burning for hunting and cattle pastures and by conversion to agriculture (citrus, rice, mangoes, etc) and aquaculture (shrimp & fish). Our partnership with the aforementioned groups in Belize is intended to bring awareness to the fragile interaction of people and the ecosystem to protect the savanna flora for the future.”

    “Ms. Goodwin’s work inside Marco Gonzalez site was very eye opening for me,” stated Jan Brown. “I was seeing a tree/bush the first day, wondering why she was snipping so many samples of the same thing. Then Zoe explained there were many varieties of the same species she was gathering. After that, I started looking carefully at the shape of the leaves and any possible berry or tiny flower and seeing the difference. This information will be valuable when we are able to offer the site to public viewing when information ‘boards’ are placed by these trees and ferns.”

    The curiosity about what is being built into the site at this time is just this…..a temporary walkway to accommodate college students coming in June and July to do research at the site. The students are from the University of London under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Graham and the University of North Carolina lead by Dr. Scott Simmons. During their four to six week visit, they will be studying soil, water and doing light excavations.

    Due to the early arrival of the rainy season and the fact that Marco Gonzalez sits almost one-quarter mile inland in the heart of marshland, the “London Bridge” has to be built! Donations of any used lumber that may be lying around and you wish to have it cleaned up and hauled off, please call Jan Brown, 226-2059. They are looking for bush poles, long boards, any pieces over 38” long, scrap paneling and pallets. “We’ll be glad to clean up your yard for you.” But, Jan warns curiosity seekers that the walkway is only for the purpose of the students and not the general public. Permission has been given by Mr. Pierce to build across South Beach Belize land, and unauthorized entry to the Marco Gonzalez Site is cause for Trespassing by order of the Department of Archaeology. The Marco Gonzalez Maya Site Project will eventually be open to the public with proper raised boardwalks leading to a Visitors Center/Educational Center for our children and a benefit to the entire island for tourism.

    For more information about Ms Goodwin’s work, Google Darwin Initiative Project 17-022 or visit the website http://eeo.ed.ac.uk/sea-belize for their six month’s report.



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