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Nov 30, 2015

Calabash Caye Field Station Officially Opened

The University of Belize is playing an integral role in the management of our natural resources, terrestrial and maritime, through its Environmental Research Institute.  Since officially launching the program a few years ago, students and researchers have been utilizing a field station on Calabash Caye where they have been gathering data on fish species, mangroves and coral reef.  That information is then inputted to a database that is used by other management agencies in the protection and sustainable use of those resources.  After being partly destroyed by Hurricane Richard a few years ago, the facility on the island had to be restored.  With financial assistance from various donor agencies a new building has been erected.  The Calabash Caye Field Station was officially opened today. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Calabash Caye, located within the Turneffe Atoll, is among a string of islands partially encircling two lagoons that are covered by sea grass beds.  There are a number of mangrove cayes on the western edge of the atoll that remain submerged most of the time, exposed briefly during extreme low tides around full and new moon events.  These evergreen trees, sea grass beds and coral reefs increase the diversity of marine and terrestrial life at Calabash Caye.  It is also the site of one of two field stations managed by the University of Belize through its Environmental Research Institute.

 

Leandra Cho-Ricketts, Science Director Marine, UB ERI

Leandra Cho-Ricketts

“It’s the first national marine field station that we have and this field station supports a lot of education, research and training that the University of Belize offers.”

 

Officially launched in January 2010, the UB ERI is a first-of-its-kind organization that is committed to the development of scientific studies through the building of local capacity.

 

Imani Fairweather-Morrison

Imani Fairweather-Morrison, Program Officer, Oak Foundation

“We recognize that research to inform policy and development in the country was hugely important and ERI’s focus is primarily on research around environmental issues to guide national development.”

 

One such initiative is ERI’s contribution to the management of the Turneffe Atoll’s marine resources through research and monitoring.  The health of the coral reef, mangrove ecosystems, coral bleaching, sea turtle nesting and fish spawning aggregations are carefully examined using data gathered by the institute.

 

Leandra Cho-Ricketts

“Besides the academic programs at UB we, as I mentioned earlier, do a lot of monitoring and research work that provide data for the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, in terms of its health and how the co-manager, TASA, Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, can use that then to help to improve the health and the function of this marine reserve.”

 

That collaborative effort in overseeing the wellbeing and viability of the chain of islands that make up the Turneffe Atoll is the responsibility of the Fisheries Department and TASA.

 

Estella Requeña

Estella Requeña, Executive Director, TASA

“We’re mandated to do the day-to-day operations and that entails the surveillance, the enforcement, working with the fishermen, the communities and stakeholders that work out here and live off of the Turneffe reserve. The University of Belize ERI has been around for many years and has been doing a lot of research out at Turneffe.  TASA is a fairly new organization and, you know, we’re developing all the plans to be able to collect all the data being collected from UB and other NGOs, local and international NGOs to be able to gather that data to be able to manage and do adoptive management of the reserve.”

 

This vast undertaking is headquartered at the Calabash Caye Field Station where the institute provides marine science education to both Belizean and foreign students, and hosts numerous exchange groups and researchers.  A new CCFS facility was officially inaugurated today.

 

Alan Slusher

Alan Slusher, President, University of Belize

“I do wish to put on the record, personally and on behalf of the University of Belize, our appreciation to all the donor institutions and to all the individuals, including staff members who contributed to ERI’s facilities here and elsewhere and who continue to contribute to the work and to the growth of the Environmental Research Institute.  And in respect to donor contributions to these facilities, I single out the Oak and Bertarelli foundations and SICA.”

 

The Oak Foundation is the largest of those three donors.

 

Imani Fairweather-Morrison

“At Calabash after the hurricane they wanted to rebuild the facilities.  We didn’t award the grant in full, we gave them a challenge grant.  We said if we’re putting in a part you have to raise the rest of the money and it’s really heartwarming to see that they stepped up to the plate.  The Government of Belize really came through with a major portion of what was required and another international funding partner, the Bertarelli’s came in with the other piece of the pie.”

 

Mark Borland, Director, Fondation Bertarelli

Mark Borland

“One of the Bertarelli Foundation’s big areas of work is in marine conservation and we heard about the work that was being done in Belize and the Turneffe with the marine reserve.  We were invited to come and see what was happening and we came and we met the people from the University of Belize and we were very impressed with them, the science work they’re doing and we believe that marine conservation and these conservation movements need to be underpinned by evidence and by science and so we were impressed by the work that Leandra was doing here and asked if we could help.  And they asked if we could help build the building we’ve opened today.”

 

That facility, built to withstand the elements, will house students and researchers and serve as the nerve center for data collection on marine ecosystems within the Turneffe Atoll. Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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