Reef Protectors diving – PADI open water training. Photo: BAS
By Dareece Chuc and Jose Sanchez / Belize Audubon Society
The Belize Audubon Society’s (BAS) Reef Protectors Program, launched in 2013, has been dedicated to educating the youth in Chunox, Copper Bank, and Sarteneja—primary fishing communities in northern Belize—about marine conservation and environmental stewardship.
The Reef Protectors Program’s overarching objectives include stimulating an enabling environment for youths from fishing families, instilling a deep appreciation for marine conservation and environmental protection. The program actively promotes engaging with the community and experiential learning, while empowering young individuals to become advocates for marine conservation, towards safeguarding Belize’s invaluable natural resources.
As part of this transformative initiative, the 2021 to 2023 cohort of 15 (4 females and 11 males) created a series of videos called “Reef Protectors in Action,” shedding light on critical topics such as mangroves, plastic pollution, coral reefs, seagrass, and climate change. The inspiring videos featured local students and Reef Protectors from Copper Bank Village, Chunox Village, and Sarteneja Village. These dedicated young individuals explored various protected areas, including Half Moon Caye and Blue Hole Natural Monuments, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, and the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. They also received crucial guidance from the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD), emphasizing the significance of mangroves in marine ecosystems.
Throughout the program’s duration, BAS actively engaged with the students both in the classroom through various workshops (focused on marine ecosystems, video making, plastic pollution, climate change, stewardship) and within their communities and protected areas. Six participants received PADI open water diver certification and three participants had the opportunity to intern with the society, further enhancing their understanding of marine conservation.
Reef Protectors on a confined open water dive at Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. Photo: BAS
BAS takes great pride in the achievements of the Reef Protectors, recognizing their dedication to marine conservation. Together, with the active participation of the youth, BAS aims to ensure the sustainability of Belize’s precious marine resources, preserving them for future generations.
To witness the impactful “Reef Protectors in Action” series, please visit BAS playlist at this link:
Under the project BMF-BZE29-2021 “Building knowledge and understanding, managing perceptions, and engaging fishing communities of the Northeastern coast of Belize towards improved stewardship of marine resources”, supported by MAR Fund’s 13th Small Grants Program Joint RfP under the Belize Marine Fund (BMF) window, not only did BAS expand its impact through the Reef Protectors, but also strengthened their environmental education program through capacity building for staff in teaching methods and video editing/ development. These newly acquired skills will enhance staff to better design awareness campaigns and be effective in community engagement. In addition to the training, some important equipment such as a laptop, GoPro camera and camping/field gear were procured for the education program. Given the training and equipment, the environmental education unit can continue to reach children, youth, and communities through immersive and hands-on experiences.