I am now back in the UK reflecting on what has been a successful expedition, trying to adjust with a dramatic drop in temperature, being on solid dry land and wearing shoes. Since returning I have processing vast amounts of data and attended a course for multivariate analysis in ecology and environmental science for complex designs which will be invaluable for analysing the data I have collected. Lots of desk time ahead… As with most of the other sites we have surveyed, our final two sites (Pelican Cayes and Utila) could not have been completed without the help of the following:
- The staff from the Belize Fisheries Department based at South Water Caye Marine Reserve
- Andrzej Narozanski at Utila Centre for Marine Ecology (UCME) for assistance with logistics and personnel for the survey work
- Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) for their advice and permission to conduct research around Utila.
These last two sites certainly were interesting as they had some major differences to the others.
Pelican Cayes mangroves
The Pelican Cayes are part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System – World Heritage Site (BBRRS-WHS) and are linked to the main reef by a series of deep channels. They have a unique habitat - fringing reefs around mangrove cayes - the root systems of which contain rare species of tunicates and sponges. The biodiversity of the mangrove habitat certainly seemed to be greater than that of the other sites but the full scale of the dissimilarity and if it is reflected on the reef as well will have to wait until the data has been fully analysed. However, a report after a UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission conducted in March 2009 concluded that the property (BBRRS-WHS) is faced with specific and proven imminent danger, and should be considered for immediate inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The area around the Pelican Cayes was specifically sited due to extensive mangrove deforestation, dredging and development. After a stunning small aircraft flight down the reef to Honduras, some busses, taxis and a ferry we finally made it to Utila. Blessed with a couple of days of fine weather we were able to get around the northern side of the island which is predominantly undeveloped and more typical of the system. Unlike most of our sites there are no patch reefs and the island is essentially surrounded by a fringing reef with mangrove and seagrass habitats found within inlets and lagoons. As with all the locations up to date the we were able to engage the help of local NGOs we obtained valuable knowledge of the area from the staff at BICA. Along with the diving assistance from UCMS and the charter of a local dory and captain, the data collection ran like a well-oiled machine. It was great to hear about the work Andrzej is spearheading in Utila including Lionfish competitions between the dive centres and fishermen, the production of a responsible seafood guide and many other projects and campaigns he has on the go. I again want to extend my thanks and appreciation to all those that made this expedition possible and contributed to its success. As I sit here processing and analysing the data we collected I am already thinking towards developing more projects for the conservation of coral systems around the world and can’t wait to get back under the water again. Matthew Jasinski
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