My research on Ambergris Caye, Belize is coming to an end. I have been performing my postdoc field research since April 2015- examining parasitism and biodiversity of the wildlife within crocodilian habitat in Belize. This research involves eco-toxicology, eco-parasitology, community ecology, translational ecology (utilizing the data for conservation management) pure organismal knowledge, and of course- all things crocodilian! My research has been successful so far, and there are various people in the community of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker who have given me a sense of knowledge, a sense of belonging, and a sense that my research can make a difference for both the community and the wildlife. So it is only appropriate to acknowledge and give thanks to those who have continuously supported and assisted my research, and who made me feel like a member of the community. So a challenge to myself- each day blog a small story about someone, or someones, in the community who have made a positive impact while performing my scientific investigations on the cayes. And I feel it is only appropriate to begin with the future environmental heroes of Belize…
My parents drilled in my head to always give back to the community- whether that’s teaching, mentoring, volunteering, donating, etc. Even in my busy schedule during graduate school, I would go to schools to present about science, or my research, or to provide some type of mentorship to at risk youth. Starting late September, I was able to provide some science mentorship to young high school students at Ocean Academy on Caye Caulker. For about 10 weeks, my Mondays were dedicated to teach 9 students about the ecology and biodiversity of crocodilian habitat. I taught how to perform bird and aquatic population surveys, and use certain scientific instruments to determine pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in the water. I taught about the interesting world of parasites, and the type of parasites they might encounter in crocodilian habitats! They learned about the life cycle of trematodes, symptoms of obtaining a nematode parasite like Anaskis sp. And lucky enough I was able to show them an isopod parasite which took over the place of a fish’s tongue! And finally, I of course talked about the American crocodile that lived around the island. It was a fulfilling moment for me to hear the students get excited about the 4-chambered heart of a crocodile, to understand the importance of crocodiles in Mayan religion, and to acknowledge the importance of crocodiles in the ecosystem. And to see their faces (possibly from both fear and excitement) when I put them in touch with conservation experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to give them advice and tips about paving the path for a career in conservation and biology (without them knowing I was teaching them a lesson on career networking).
As much science I threw at these students, in all honesty, I don’t think they learned as much as I learned from them! I was absolutely amazed and awed at the knowledge these young Belizeans had of their local environment. They were able to determine far more species of fish than I could ever identify, as well as tell me where certain species concentrated, how wet and dry season affected the populations, why certain species were important… they could tell you why the mangroves were important, why it’s bad to pollute and destroy habitat, why we need to regulate fishing, and why we need to preserve wildlife and its habitat. Some of these students spoke as they were old-time conservationists- it was absolutely amazing and breath-taking, and nothing but inspiring.
So thank you to my students at Ocean Academy, Caye Caulker. You greatly assisted me in all faucets of my research, and provided me with a knowledge that I never knew I could obtain. It is such an honor to have met and worked with the future Belizean conservationist heroes of tomorrow! (Just kicking myself as maybe I should have gotten your autograph). 😉