MEEKER I Nine students from Meeker High School recently completed a research and conservation expedition to Belize under the auspices of Ecology Project International. While in Belize, the group participated in a wide variety of educational and cultural projects.
During the first four days of the trip, the students assisted an international team of researchers at Turneffe Atoll, helping collect data on the behavior of an indigenous population of bottle-nose dolphins.
The group helped locate groups of dolphins, identify individuals in the groups, monitor their behavior and collect acoustic data correlating the dolphins’ vocalizations to their behavior.
The group also assisted in locating and capturing lion fish, which are recent invaders on the coral reefs in Belize and are damaging other native fish populations on the reefs. The students also helped dissect the stomach contents of captured lion fish to determine their prey.
While at the research station, the group also participated in a service project removing trash from a nesting beach used by loggerhead and hawksbill sea turtles. As a final project, the students completed original research projects and presented them to the instructors and to the team of research assistants.
One research team correlated sea grass density to boat traffic near two piers at the research station, and the other team studied the correlation between water depth and dolphin sightings on the reef.
Returning to the mainland and traveling west across the country, the MHS group encountered the diverse ecosystems of Belize, from the mangrove and marsh lowlands through savannah to the highland rainforest
From the base at a rainforest lodge, the enormous diversity of plants, insects, birds and other animals was studied. On the second day in the rainforest, the group visited the Mayan ruin of Xunantunich and learned some of the essentials of Mayan architecture, culture, cosmology and mathematics. The next day, the students toured the Mayan underworld at Che Chem Wa cave, loaded with ceremonial artifacts, pottery, and intriguing rock sculpture.
The final day in Belize brought a visit to a local high school in the town of San Ignacio, where the MHS students swapped stories with the Belizean students who had also participated in the EPI program. Each group of students presented activities demonstrating aspects of their particular culture, and we held a spirited game of volleyball.
We are grateful for the instructors in Belize, Jaen and Corey, who provided their time and care and expertise.
Also, many new friends were made along the way, especially with the tour guides, research staff, facilities staff and the students at Saint Ignacius school.
Many people and organizations are to thank, Meeker expedition leader Dr. Bob Dorsett said.
“Special thanks to the Freeman E. Fairfield Trust, Meeker Lions Club, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners and the Meeker Regional Library District,” Dorsett said. “Our group is planning a program later in the summer, to be announced, to show pictures and tell more stories about the trip.”