We joined ReefCI for a week of marine conservation in Belize and world class diving at the Sapodilla Cayes. ReefCI focuses on marine conservation for non scientists and offers 1 and 2 week dive packages.
ReefCI headquarters is located in Punta Gorda (which locals refer to as PG) but the actual dive base lies on Tom Owens Caye wich is part of the Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve. From PG it is an 1 hour boat ride to the Island.
PG can easily be reached by air and by road. From Belize City you can fly into PG in 30 minutes, by bus it will take up to 6 hours. From Placencia you fly into PG in 20 minutes and the bus takes 2 hours and leaves from Mango Creek, Independence. We took the bus from Mango Creek and it was an easy ride.
Monday to Friday Marine Conservation in Belize
Marine conservation dive trips with ReefCI are from Monday to Friday. The boat to Tom Owens Caye leaves early monday morning so it is best to arrive in PG on Sunday.
Don’t expect a lively town on a Sunday, most shops will be closed and the locals are enjoying their weekend by playing drums and drinking rum.
There are multiple accommodations you can stay comfortably for a reasonable price. We stayed in Blue Belize which has spacious rooms and you will get a 10% discount if you come via ReefCI.
On sunday night the crew of ReefCI comes together in a bar with the guests for the coming week, this is a great opportunity to meet your dive buddies and have a drink and something to eat.
This is where we met Jo who is the marketing director and for most of us the first point of contact. It was fun to meet here in real life. After a short chat and a good meal we headed back to Blue Belize where we turned our lights down low and had a good night rest.
Time to start our Marine Conservation trip
Monday morning 9AM Polly the founder of ReefCI picked us up and brought us to the dock where the boat was waiting for us. When we got there all supplies we would need for 5 days on an island in the middle of the Sapodilla Marine Reserve where loaded onto the boat.
- 1 marine biologist
- 3 dive instructors
- 1 boat captain
- 50 eggs
- 100L water
- 25K ice
- 3 cases of beer
- 3 cases of Sodas
- 4 big coolboxes filed with food
With the luggage and the guests, the boat was full and ready to head for Tom Owens Caye. It was a clear and sunny day so it would become an easy ride. It took us a bit longer to get to the Island due to some minor engine problems. I guess that is part of the adventure.
Ready for week of Marine conservation and awesome diving?
As soon as we set foot on the Island we knew it would be a great week. On the Island you will find lots of hammocks between the big palm trees where you can ofgass in between dives or study your course manual if you enroll in one of the PADI scuba lessons.
The island has multiple cabanas and a main building where you will find a spacious living and a dining area where we would eat all together. ReefCI proves that marine conservation can be fun and relaxing at the same time.
After a short but thorough briefing from one of the instructors about the Island and the marine reserve we headed for our rooms to unpack our luggage and to get ready for the 1st dive of the day.
Since the Island is located in the middle of the Sapodilla marine reserve the dive sites are within a 5 min boat ride. From sheer drop offs to coral gardens on sandy patches we dived it all. We where diving with a small group (5 divers) and we where the only ones on the reef, it does not get better than this.
Marine Conservation programs with ReefCI in Belize
ReefCI focuses its marine conservation efforts on collecting specific data which is shared with fishery departments and different NGO’s throughout Belize.
During the dives we always had 2 spears with us and a collecting bag where we collected the speared lionfish. On an average dive we easily speared 30 to 40 Lionfish. All the caught lionfishes where measured and dissected when we came to land by the in-house marine biologist.
The data that is collected;
- Male or female
- Does the female carry eggs
- Stomach content
Planning a scuba trip to hunt lionfish? Then you should download the ultimate scuba dive checklist just like 5000+ other divers already so you will not forget to bring anything.This data is added to a central data base and is used by a Belizean NGO called Ecomar. EcoMar is working with the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network’s Lionfish Committee and the Belize Fisheries department on developing a National Lionfish Response Plan.
When the data is collected the lionfish is cleaned and the filets are served for dinner. ReefCI also managed to get lionfish on the menu with different resorts throughout Belize. Now that is what I call Marine Conservation!
Spiny Lobster Surveys:
The primary reason for surveying the continental shelf is to gain the male to female ratios and number of females carrying eggs. There are a number of specific locations where female lobsters gather in order to release their eggs. These biologically important locations require protection in order to sustain the lobster populations.
In order to monitor the migration patterns of these Conch, a number of plastic cable ties with individual numbers ar placed around each conch, and every next observation is recorded. This data probably will indicate different migration patterns of conch between diverse depths it can also record the directional migration patterns associated with the contra clockwise currents.
ReefCI works with Coral Watch who have developed a cost efficient, easy, non-invasive approach for the monitoring of coral bleaching, and valuation of coral health.
Reef Check is an international methodology used to monitor the condition of coral reefs in different of countries. There are three main categories fish, invertebrates and substrates. For each category there are a number of key indicator species that directly relate to the health of the coral reef systems.
It is all about the data
All the data that is collected by ReefCI contributes to marine conservation projects worldwide. The only reason why Marine parks and Marine protected areas are declared is because governments get data from scientists worldwide. If it was not for organisations like ReefCI, ReefCheck, ProjectAware and many more the ocean’s as we know it would not be here anymore.
We stayed only for 1 week with ReefCI but learned so much more about marine conservation then I ever had expected. Personally I believe that every diver should join a trip like this once in his/her life.
It does not matter where and with who as long as you educate yourself about marine conservation and the fragile ecosystem we enjoy so much as scuba divers. Marine and reef conservation is important for all who live on earth now and for all who will come after us.
So think about it when you plan your next scuba trip. Why not join a marine conservation project in Belize?
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This article is published by The Scuba Page, the online magazine for Scuba Dive lovers around the world. The Scuba Page is part of RUSHKULT : the online booking platform for adventure sports. Visit the RUSHKULT platform to book your next Scuba Dive training, guided trip and accommodation.