This article was first published by our friends at Travel Off the Radar, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their blog.
“For a long time most of the villagers have made a living from fishing. They have always fished the entire coast of Belize. Even those who don’t take part in the traditional lifestyle still make their income from the sea. With their close relationship to the reefs, Sartenejans quickly notice changes to the reef and fish,” says the narrator on an informative video put out by the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD).
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is impressive, covering 560 miles from Cancun to Honduras. In Belize, where the reef stretches for a remarkable 186 miles, a company called Blue Ventures has taken a creative and effective approach to conservation.
Beginning in January of 2010, Blue Ventures, already in its eighth year of operation, began a project with the Belizean community of Sarteneja, the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD) and other organizations to understand the impact the local coastal communities have on the nearby reef.
Fishing and marine environments provide a huge source of income and nourishment for nearby residents, and while some are tempted to take extreme conservation measures, SACD clarifies in a video on the Blue Ventures website: “In this community, when people hear the word conservation, they think ‘no fishing.’ That’s not what SACD wants. Conservation can allow fishing to continue, but there are always better ways to do it. There are best practices to ensure the sustainable use of these natural resources.”
For six weeks, volunteers with the Belize project are able to conduct research with Blue Ventures and their partner organization, the SACD. The mission behind the research is to eventually develop a sustainable environmental management plan for the region that not only increases the quality of life for the residents of Sarteneja, but also increases and sustains a healthy level of marine biodiversity.
Depending on schedules, volunteers undergo 7-15 days of their science training program, learning techniques of monitoring and identifying species. If you have not received your PADI certification, courses for PADI Advanced Open Water certification are given within two weeks of arrival.
Sign up for a spot on one of the trips they have coming up in November; more dates are also available in 2012. Blue Ventures also has training and volunteer programs for their research sites in Madagascar. If you aren’t sure which would be the best fit for you, read about each one on their website.