Travel to Belize with the Earthwatch Institute and join scientists working to protect coral reefs so that they can remain rich hunting grounds for sharks. By studying both legally protected and unprotected areas, you’ll help find out exactly how marine reserves strengthen shark populations.
When Dr. Demian Chapman and his team of researchers arrived in Belize in 2000, he rarely saw shark meat in fish markets. But, he says, “This has changed. Today, fishermen are exploiting sharks in Belize almost without any regulation.” Fueled by the high prices paid for shark fins used in soup, fishermen are overfishing shark populations on an epic scale.
Using baited remote underwater video cameras (BRUVs), his team has already determined that sharks are nearly absent on reefs where fishing is allowed. But they’ve also found a reason to be hopeful: shark populations thrive in marine reserves, where fishing is banned.
By studying both legally protected and unprotected areas, you’ll help find out exactly how marine reserves strengthen shark populations. From a boat under the Caribbean sky, your team will deploy BRUVs to learn what’s happening in the water and catch sharks to take tissue samples for dietary analysis. This work will help save some of the world’s most fascinating creatures.
You’ll stay in Placencia in the Swaying Palms rental houses. These houses have in dorm-style rooms with electric fans, showers, and refrigerators you can use to store some personal food.
You’ll enjoy three home-cooked meals a day, although we may sometimes take packed lunches out into the field. Most meals will feature Belizean cuisine, such as stewed meat or fish with rice and beans, complemented by a few nonlocal dishes.
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Being on this expedition, I was reminded of two big ideas: the first being the importance of collaboration in science, especially when it involves indigenous or local communities. The Shark and Ray Conservation project is heavily based on this collaboration, and it's amazing to see what they're able to accomplish when the scientists and fishermen and women work together. Second, I was reminded of the immense amount of work, and often discomfort, that is involved with learning more about our natural world. Behind many scientific discoveries, there are strong, committed, hard-working people that constantly have to make sacrifices for their work.
As an avid scuba diver with no formal marine science education, it was an eye-opener to be a part of the science behind efforts to study and sustain shark populations -- just how labor-intensive it is and how very basic. Relatively simple information -- if gathered in enough quantity -- will drive critical decisions and support for these shark species.