April 2009 - Conservation in Belize

Apr 24, 2009

Day 27 in the month of March, Year 2009. As starship 761XE, returning from Belize, skims the azure blue waters approaching Cozumel for landing and the usual run-around trying to clear Mexican customs, I reminisce on the past couple of weeks.

southwater caye marine reserve belize

Southwater Caye Marine Reserve, Belize. (c) EcoFlight 2009.


A veritable time warp: a history of friends in the conservation movement since I started traveling to Belize in 1974 and daily flights these last two weeks over every part of this diverse country. I marvel at the nature of the Belizean people and that Nature itself has remained relatively intact and healthy in this country that thrives on a conservation ethic.

The time warp is a blur of colors:

The deep blue that surrounds the Pelican Caye and Tobacco Caye where we flew to document and protect the South Water Caye Marine Reserve which has some of the best reef and atoll life in Belize.  

The greens of the jungle as we searched for the elusive Harpy Eagle with telemetry equipment on board. The Harpy has an 8 foot wingspan and a diet dependent on the health of the forest, mammals like sloths and monkeys. A vigorous and successful reintroduction program by the Peregrine Falcon Fund and Birds Without Borders is keeping watch on this endangered species and working on reintroducing them from Panama. Ecoflights help to monitor the bird's whereabouts and search for their huge nests.

Patches of brown, illegally cleared areas, show up in stark contrast to the green of the jungle. The jungle areas are under constant threat from population growth and neighboring incursions, particularly on the border of Guatemala in the Chiquibul National Park. Flying with local constabulary units and park rangers, we were able to provide GPS positions of illegal incursions to more easily allow on the ground policing of these areas.  Slash and burn tactics have been happening across Central America for years but it is particularly disturbing when they include border incursions into some of the most pristine and largest intact forests left in Central America.

White, not just for the towering cumulus clouds but for the limestone cliffs that carve dramatic landscapes into the green jungle.  The karst cave systems in Chiquibul are some of the largest in the world. The cliffs are the main habitat of another endangered species, the orange breasted falcon. This rare falcon appears to be more absent from this apparently suitable habitat than expected and we were working with the Peregrine Fund to research the reasons for their absence. Tracking the threatened Jaguar amidst Mayan ruins and wild jungle is work we care deeply about as their forest habitat shrinks.

With all of the natural splendors of Belize it is wonderful that the tourist industry has been growing at a sustainable rate.  There are many challenges; cruise lines now frequenting Belize are a threat to the fragile reef system that forms the second largest barrier reef in the world, a world heritage site. The town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, long the leading tourist destination in Belize, is now challenged by unacceptable (by the local population) degrees of growth.

As the wheels come down and we slide gracefully through the clouds, I reflect with satisfaction on the colors of a very successful trip.......and await the color red - as in red tape - of the Mexican bureaucracy.