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Nov 21, 2018

Glover’s Reef Research Station – a Hot Spot for Marine Research

The Caribbean is one of three major hotspots of marine biodiversity in the world, but its ecosystems are under pressure from over-fishing, climate change, pollution and other impacts.  Conservationists and government have implemented a number of programmes to address these issues in Belize, from replenishment zones to managed access, to patrols and enforcement.  But to find out just how well or not our marine environment is doing, N.G.O.s and their partners must do regular research and monitoring.  For more than twenty years, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been studying our marine environments through their research facility in Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. It is a fully equipped station used to assess the health of coral reefs so as to help improve the management of marine protected areas and fisheries. One of the programmes that are carried out from the station is the monitoring of the spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper.  It is a species that has long been fished along coastal communities and vulnerable to illegal fishers during spawning.  But research carried out in Glovers Reefs and other sites has helped to get highlight the need for regulations for this endangered fish, including a closed season from December first and March thirty-first.  Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more about the facility where researchers and students alike can do conservation research.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Nassau Grouper is an endangered species in Belize and across the Caribbean. At the turn of the century, researchers recorded a massive decline in the species and Government had to introduce regulations to give this fish a chance to survive. The only time that Nassau groupers reproduce is during the aggregations they form at specific spots in the reef for a few days after the full moon during December to March. During this time when they spawn, they are most vulnerable. And so this is when illegal fishers, from Belize and neighboring countries, target this species.

 

Kenneth Gale

Kenneth Gale, Operations Manager, Glover’s Reef Research Station (WCS)

“In the past, Belize had a lot of Nassau Grouper spawning banks. But studies have shown that whenever a site is depleted, the fish do not go back there. Every December, January and February, during the full moon Nassau Grouper aggregate and come to one spot. So, some from around here would travel all the way up like nearly sixteen miles up and go there. So, fishermen actually know these animals are there so they would go and fish them. We have seen evidence of poaching there. Whenever we dive we see jeans pants, sprung anchors, strobe lights. Monitoring is actually difficult because it is really outside of the atoll and it is really rough and actually quite far from here as well.”

 

And scientists have found that at least ten years is needed for replacement rates of reproduction when there is no fishing, and much longer when fishing occurs. There used to be many spawning aggregation sites across the Caribbean, but most of them no longer exist because they have been fished out. Only a few remain, and some of those are in Belize. Here at Glover’s Reef Research Station, a WCS research team conducts Nassau grouper spawning aggregation monitoring in January and February – to try to help to sustainably manage this fish.

 

Kenneth Gale

“We are seeing some improvement. It could be better. Actually, January last year we started to work with the Belize Coast Guard to boost enforcement. What WCS has done is to actually bring the people from C.C.O. at Fisheries to monitor it but it is actually really difficult because the poachers and the fishermen are always one step ahead of enforcement. These guys are always one step ahead of enforcement– they are well equipped with have lights, GPS finders. They are always one step ahead of us.”

 

Monitoring is just one of the programmes being conducted inside the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve. The WCS carries out a number of other initiatives to help protect other vulnerable species like sharks and turtles. The Belize Coast Guard and Fisheries Department who conduct enforcement and patrols are also based on Middle caye – the research station site.  And it is from here where local and international marine scientists conduct cutting edge research.

 

Kenneth Gale

“We cater primarily to researchers, scientists and student groups. We are not a tourist facility, per se. So, whenever you want to come here you have to have some aspect of research to come here. We have a full service station. We have our own fleet of boats. We can sleep thirty people comfortably. We have dorms. We have fresh water showers. Wireless internet.   Hot and cold shower, so it is a full service and research station.”

 

And as Kenneth Gale explains, it’s just a few steps away from the reef. And the WCS would like to see even more scientists and students take up the opportunity to do conservation. And while Glover’s Reef is the southernmost atoll –   the research station on Middle Caye is powered by mostly green energy – and will keep you comfortable and connected when you are away from home.

 

Kenneth Gale

“One of the good things about Middle Caye and Glover’s Reef Research Station is that everything is located close by. The reef is about five hundred feet away from the pier. There is sea grass here; there are mangroves there. So, you don’t need a boat to actually go out like other research station where you have to take a boat and go out for fifteen minutes to go and find the reef. Everything is close by. Everything is centralized, as well. So, whenever you come here, we take good care of you. You don’t have to worry about boats or anything. We have a full service kitchen with cooks. So, everything is actually well taken care of.  The station is powered by ninety-five percent via green energy. We have solar panels and a win turbine. We have twenty-four hour power here at the station. For some people, whenever they hear caye, they think it is rustic and there is camping. All rooms have fans, lights and we try to keep the place as comfortable as possible. And if the system fails, if there is no system, we have a back-up generator. We also have our own set of compressors and dive tanks and so we offer compressors and refills and do different things like that for the guests.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

 

If you have conservation or marine research projects you’d like to do, you can contact the Kenneth Gale at Glovers Reef Research Station at 532-2153 or email at kgale@wcs.org


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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