The removal of apex predators like sharks is one of the most prevalent and devastating human impacts on earth’s marine ecosystems. Overfishing and the use of indiscriminate, destructive fishing gear like gillnets is far-reaching. Sharks are becoming increasingly rare throughout most of the Belize Barrier Reef and this decline presents a major ecological and economic problem for Belize.
You’ll assist with the deployment, recovery, and maintenance of hook-and-line shark fishing gear in various locations at the Glover’s Reef study site, as well as in the measurement of associated environmental data like water quality, salinity, and pH. You’ll help the researchers tag, take tissue samples from, and release captured sharks. (All sharks are firmly secured to the side of the research vessel prior to data collection and are kept in the water for the whole procedure. Volunteers will be involved with all facets of this process except the securing and final release of the animal, which will be carried out by experienced staff.) You’ll also help collect shark tissue samples within several different habitats, from local fishermen’s catches, and from your own handline fishing and seine-netting. You will also conduct snorkel surveys to record habitat type, as well as abundance and diversity of coral and fish species. This data on the status of the reef will be collected for each site where a video is deployed, to allow comparisons between different habitats.
You’ll have opportunities to interact with tourists and Belizeans throughout the project to help assess their attitudes toward sharks, reefs, and marine reserves, helping produce, distribute, and score written questionnaires and add them to the database. You may also help transcribe video interviews.
What to Expect?
Though the Caribbean nation of Belize was once a haven for sharks because its Mesoamerican Reef barrier reef, the second largest on earth, and a network of marine reserves provide the ideal shark habitat, an increase in shark fishing means that population collapses may occur even here.
Join our team in Belize and you’ll join a decade-long research project comparing shark and grouper populations at Southwater Caye, a new marine reserve, Glover’s Reef Atoll, a well established reserve, and at Turneffe Atoll, a heavily-fished, unprotected site. The data you help collect will demonstrate whether and how reserves actually help protect various shark and other marine species. You’ll help gather information on local Belizean and tourist perceptions of sharks and marine reserves using questionnaires and short video interviews. You’ll help deploy and operate baited, remote underwater cameras to capture footage of sharks for both scientific analysis and community outreach, and you’ll conduct snorkel surveys to help select suitable video sites and collect baseline data on the status of the reef at each site. Working on research boats, you’ll get close to shark species such as the Caribbean reef, nurse, Caribbean sharpnose, great hammerhead, lemon, night, and tiger. And you’ll assist scientists in the capture, measurement, tissue sampling, tagging, and safe release of these iconic marine predators.
As pressures mount from shark fishing, and bycatch (fish caught unintentionally) accounts for a greater number of sharks, it’s critical to determine how reserves might protect their numbers and to assess the attitudes of local residents and tourists about sharks and marine reserves. If scientists and conservationists can get a better understanding of how species use the marine environment, and refine their reserve management and outreach strategies, sharks in Belize stand a chance of survival.
- Program ID: # 2037
- duration: 1 to 2 Weeks
- location: Dangriga, Belize DangrigaBelize16° 58' 0.0012" N, 88° 12' 59.976" WBZ
- Fitness level: Moderately Fit
- Closest Airport: Belize City (BZE)
- Costs From: $1500 to $3000
- Program Type: Environmental & Wildlife Programs
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