Nicodemus Wilderness Project
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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Turneffe Atoll, Calabash Caye Field Station, Belize City, Belize

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Turneffe Atoll, Calabash Caye Field Station, Belize City, Belize
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Registered: December 2017
City/Town/Province: San Jose
Posts: 1
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Have you ever wondered how much impact a small fish could have on our entire ecosystem? My name is Rhea and I recently traveled to Belize to find out. It all started about 12 years ago when my family and I would always go visit various aquariums and beaches. I stood quite fascinated and intrigued by the little colorful rock-looking plants in the water called coral. Coral reefs are not only beautiful in the water, but they also have a huge role in the lives of many sea creatures and living things in the water. They provide shelter for little fish as well as nutrients for others. They also protect coastlines at times of storms and other natural disasters.
One day at school, I found out that these coral reefs were being destroyed by destructive fishing as well as many invasive species, one being lionfish or scientifically known as Pterois. Lionfish are often found near the reef areas and their population is getting out of control. The problem is that these fish are quite aggressive and violent towards the other smaller native species who also near the coral reef to obtain food and shelter. Since the lionfish are superior to many other sea creatures who are currently in a symbiotic relationship with the coral reef, it forces the native species to move away from the reef and directly reduces the biodiversity in the waters. Because of this, the coral reefs are disappearing which also means there is a decline in the fish population as they are not able to survive without a good food source and shelter. The effect of this is not only losing jobs in the fishing industry, but also our source of food. Call it being selfish or trying to help my community, I knew it was important to end the vicious cycle of overpopulating lionfish being superior to other fish and ruining the coral reef ecosystem which is why I decided to take part in the Apprentice Ecologist project on behalf of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project and be a part of the solution.
My school decided to take part in a program in Belize with the help of a few students to go help in this cause and help the coral ecosystems that so many things are dependent on. I decided to take it upon myself to go and help out too so we all flew out to Belize and landed in Belize City. From there we took a 2 hour boat ride to Calabash Caye Field Station where we stayed for a few days. This field station was 10 minutes off of Turneffe Atoll which contains one of the major coral reefs called the Belize Barrier Reef. My main goal was to eliminate as many lionfish as I possibly could to try to create a significant change. Every day, I went out and I would research the fish and the coral reefs to see their symbiotic relationship and how they both needed each other to stay healthy. Amongst those fish were of course the plethora of lionfish with small reproductive cycles making them abundant compared to the other fish. I would go out and hunt as many as I could and encouraged others in the group to find them too. As we were hunting, I soon realized that lionfish weren't only hurting sea life, but they are also deadly for humans as their pointy spines are venomous so we had to be very careful when capturing them. As a group we caught lots of them, maybe 15-20 each day, and also dissected them discovering that many of them had eaten over 5 or 6 little fishes each. It was a sad sight, but it felt good to actively go out and protect the reef as well as many fishes and sea creatures that depend on it.
Now the question comes to how capturing a few deadly fishes is helping my community and as I mentioned before, we depend largely on seafood for snacks and meals while the fish that we eat depend on the nitrogen and nutrients that come from the coral reef. If we don't slowly go out and try to help, sooner or later, we won't have any fish in the ocean to eat. As the coral reef slowly dies so do the fish. Getting rid of the invasive species is helping the environment and promoting biodiversity. Belize heavily relies on their fish industry as a way of making money and promoting a strong economy. According to the Reef Resilience Network Case Study, "The wild-capture fishery sector contributes significantly to the country's economy, bringing in approximately $29 million in 2012 and employing 3,000 Belizeans, according to the Belize Fisheries Department". If bigger countries like the United States stop interacting with smaller places like Belize for fish and the seafood industry, their economy will suffer big time which directly affects jobs in Belize and their biggest source of income.
Conducting this project in Belize was quite eye opening and such an inspiring experience to snorkel in the huge reefs and see the millions of sea creatures that live there. Just take a moment and imagine you were in the position of a tiny fish that only needs food and shelter, but has to live every day with the fear of a lionfish capturing you. Then you need to move away, but now you lost your only source of food and shelter. It is very sad that we have 7 billion people living on this planet but about 99% of people probably don't even know about these problems because everyone is so caught up in their own lives. Not only is it important to go and participate in these projects, but awareness is also key. I decided that once I came back from the trip that my next goal would be to create awareness to the couple thousand people at my school which is exactly what I did. I took the initiative to spread the word about my research in Belize and instructed others in the group to post all of our pictures on Facebook to explain the situation in Belize, specifically about the coral reef and how it is affecting the fish population and us. We also presented this topic at our school's club, Conservation Action Association to stimulate students who are deeply interested in conserving to act on this issue and together we can create an impactful change.
Looking forward, I will definitely continue to spread the word by talking to more conservationists in my community and creating awareness at places like science museums and libraries. My long term goal is to motivate others to go out and help reduce the lionfish population and if not that, at least try to keep oceans clean as that also affects the ocean and coral reef ecosystems. The cleaner the ocean, the better the lives for fish and us. I am really looking forward to a time where the lionfish will no longer be a threat to fish and coral reef. This great start definitely would not have been possible without the Nicodemus Wilderness Project.
Date: December 30, 2017 Views: 4129 File size: 10.5kb, 904.7kb : 3118 x 2078
Hours Volunteered: 800
Volunteers: 10
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 13-26
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