With a heavy focus on programme development, refining of monitoring and research objectives, and active leadership in lionfish market development nationally, 2013 has been a defining year for Blue Ventures’ conservation programmes in Belize.
The year began with the lease of a new office space in Sarteneja, providing a suitable location for the growing number of volunteers to conduct science training and prepare for community-based activities. January also saw the first volunteer expedition to not have a coral reef and diving focus: instead volunteers learnt about and participated in the monitoring and conservation of bird and manatee populations in Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (CBWS) and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park (BCMRNP). This expedition served as a pilot, and provided the basis for the development of a comprehensive manatee monitoring programme, for implementation in 2014.
Partnership with the Placencia Producer’s Cooperative Society Limited in February led to the establishment of a facility certified to export invasive lionfish to the USA. The first export was sent to the USA in July, however prohibitive costs using FedEx put the project on hold. The Northern Fishermen Cooperative (NorFiCo) similarly began stockpiling lionfish in July 2013 initially offering BZ$8 per pound, but dropping their price to BZ$5 per pound in December 2013, dis-incentivising fishers from delivering lionfish fillets to NorFiCo. Meanwhile, domestic trade for lionfish increased, with fishers able to sell lionfish fillets for up to BZ$15 per pound in popular tourist locations. Further opportunities for export will be explored throughout 2014, as demand for export exists year round, and is more dependable than the fluctuating, seasonal demand that currently exists through tourism. Building the domestic demand for lionfish also forms part of the strategy to build a fishery for lionfish in Belize.
Blue Ventures also provided technical support and assistance to the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD) to complete monitoring and research objectives, primarily within SACD’s manatee, bird and water quality monitoring programmes.