Before you guys read this I just want to let you know that this article is based on my opinions and information from talking to locals, I am not a scientist or marine subject matter expert. I just have a passion for protecting that place where I spend so much of my time and want to spread the good work of people doing awesome things as example and a motivation for others… Joe
Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. The blue waters and pristine coral reefs of Belize are impressive, some of the best diving I have ever done! So it is great to hear rumors that further expansion of the marine parks at Turneff and Lighthouse atolls off Belize were being implemented to protect these waters against exploitation and preserving them for future generations.
Half Moon Cay marine reserve at Lighthouse Atoll was the first marine protected area in Belize in 1982 Which is run by the Belize Audubon Society who’s moto is, “creating a balance between the people and the environment”. This set the stage for other marine parks to be introduced, now over 25% of Belizean land and sea is protected.
The local people of Belize are very proud of the fact they take care of their marine environment through marine parks, utilizing eco-tourism to provide a major economic resource and using the knowledge of local fisherman to help manage these areas.
After to local fisherman who have given up there hooks to work to help preserve their environment or even move to aquaculture, there is definitely a shift happening in the Belize fishing culture… It was very exciting to hear!
One of these proud Belizean people wanting to help promote his countries unique marine eco system through eco-tourism is Henry Lopez…
Henry runs a local water adventure business called Contour adventures, a great play on the words; “conservation and Tourism”. It is a great little business in the great location of Cay Caulker just a short water taxi from Belize City offering activities like windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding and surfing.
Henry came out to spend some time on the Yacht Kauela with skipper Josh Knox from Sails and Sandals and myself to do some exploring to see what Turnoff atoll had to offer… and to also do some freediving!
I had the pleasure of running some freedive training for Henry and talking to him about some new ideas to build in freediving guiding into his scope, this was very exciting because Henry has a unique opportunity to employ some expert freediving guides! There are a number of older generation professional spearfisherman who are out of work because of new marine parks popping up and because their work is also physically and financially unsustainable for them, these men would act as the most amazing guides with their years of experience diving the waters off Belize.
We took Henry’s 6.5m banana boat around to the east side of Turneff Atoll and anchored up in a beautiful little bay; no current, 40m visability, amazing coral… perfect!
After brushing him up on some freedive theory covering gear, anatomy and physiology, techniques, safety, rescue and first aid we hit the water.
Henry mentioned he has always had a passion for freediving and it really showed in his enthusiasm! Only after a few dives on the freedive line his streamlining and technique was rapidly improving and with Henry already being a Padi and Naui Scuba Instructor with over 20 year’s experience he took to the training very well.
With recues down pat and after running a few sea survival and first aid scenarios it was time to put the new skills into practice!
We found a beautiful little drop off starting at 12m and off he went, technique was great and looking really comfortable… 15m dive, great surface routine and looking relaxed! It is amazing to see someone getting hooked on freediving!
For the next 2 hours Henry, Josh and I were going dive for dive off this ledge and every time Henry surfaced and finished his recovery breathing he would let out a massive woooo hooooo! This is awesome!
Henry finished the day with a new personal best freedive of 21m, total dive time of 1m25sec! And I must say that Henry is now severely infected with the freediving bug!
Henry already had a passion for looking after his home town of Cay Caulker and the waters surrounding it, but Henry said that freediving makes the connection to the waters of this beautiful part of the world even stronger!
I am very much looking forward to coming back to Cay Caulker to run some more training for the local spearfisherman, getting them back in the water doing what they love and sharing their passion for freediving and their environment with others.
Spending some time in Placencia I met an interesting man named Nigel Godfree, AKA “Japs”. Japs was an ex local fisherman who has taken on a new profession utilizing his over 40 years of experience, he has moved onto to guiding and education scientists about the marine eco systems of Belize including spawning, fish stokes, coral health and many other topics only ,”a true Belizean local born and bred fisherman really understands”. Japs has a strong motivation to preserve the marine eco system of Belize as he understands that it is the key to economic sustainability for his future generations because fishing is unsustainable.
Japs has also moved into Seaweed farming, this was a move to help keep the fisherman in jobs but to lessen the environmental impact. Japs said that the seaweed farms form small eco systems that create a nursery for many small fishes and invertebrates and is also a food source for other marine animals like Turtles and Dugongs.
Japs said that seaweed farming is far less physically demanding than fishing and far more financially viable and is very proud of the fact that he is leading the way for the local fisherman to help create a sustainable aquaculture industry.
In two weeks Japs will be flying into Cairns, Australia to teach the Australians the secrets of seaweed farming. Amazing!
I was very impressed by the Belizean governments pro activeness in marine conservation and I believe that it is a model that other countries can learn from.