UB have ambitious plans for Calabash Caye Field Station

vlcsnap-2013-02-18-19h09m12s79The press were hosted by the University’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on a field trip to the Calabash Caye Field Station in the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, located 33 miles east of Belize City. It is UB’s oldest property, started in 1995 under the University College of Belize. It was opened to host environmental research, projects and visits from marine specialists studying everything from fish populations to corals to other oceanic activity. Its management was taken over by the Institute in 2009. Marine Science and Administrative Director for the ERI, Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts, told reporters today  UB has big dreams for the Institute.

Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts – Administrative Director for the ERI:
vlcsnap-2013-02-18-19h06m17s120We’ve invested a lot in the soloar system, in facilities, in upgrading those and getting equipmemt such as dive equipment, the equipment you saw in the labs, to build operations and the capacities here, so we can attract more groups.  Since the three years we’ve taken over management of the station, it’s gone from running in the red to almost breaking even last year.  This year we’re confident that we will break even in terms of operations.  We’re also looking at offering study abroad courses to foreign universities, because all across the region they pay to go to places like these, and to study in these places, because they don’t have those resources, that environment.  So here at UB we were saying that we should be able to do this, we can do this, and so we’re offering two Marine courses this year, that we want to bring as another means of income generation.

Dr. Ricketts said that they will continue the work they are currently doing.

Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts – Administrative Director for the ERI:
The Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve is a recently declared reserve. We’re been monitoring the Eco-systems here and their health fom the past three years.  That information allows us to know what’s happening.  So we know what’s happening with the reefs.  We know the state and the health of the reefs. We always monitor for coral bleaching.. We can detect and note when corals are bleaching, when they’re being stressed by high temperature. We’re monitoring lobster and conch populations, especially during open and closed seasons, to see how fishing may be impacting that, how the populations are doing.  We look at fish populations like  Nassau Grouper, and spawning.  At the end of February we’ll be monitoring the spawning site, to see if populations are coming back.  So that’s the kind of monitoring we’re doing, and all of that tells us important information on the health of the atoll and its resources.

An important aspect of the field station itself is its sustainability. Station Manager Kenneth Gale says the wind and solar energy powering the installations at Calabash will be expanded:

Kenneth Gale – Field Station Manager:
vlcsnap-2013-02-18-19h23m39s67We do have plans to get another inverter, and we have plans actually to expand the system, whereby we’re going to get more batteries and more solar panels.  There’s a lot of plans when it comes to infrastructure, because we want to develop the facility to accommodate more students and more visiting researchers.  We plan to expand the Lecture Hall, and to actually build staff quarters for our people as well, and do some other work. There’s actually plans in the making for this year to actually construct a new front pier.  We’ll have a brand new pier in the next couple of months.  We’re also going to have a new pier to the back, where our students can access the lagoon and other resources back there.

The Coast Guard maintains a base on the island as well.

Another mechanism for getting the latest atmospheric data to researchers was installed at Calabash Caye. It is the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS), a project of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts of the University of Belize describes the intent of the project.

Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts – University of Belize:
It’s been donated by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, and the buoy is for Oceanographic Monitoring and Research.  We’re already in discussions with NOAH about what kinds of research we can do. For example, they’re interested, and the buoy can give us information on ocean acidification.  As you know, as more and more greenhouse gases go in the air they’re absorbed in the ocean, and it makes the ocean more and more acidic. It has a lot of bad effects on organisms that produce shells, because acid breaks down carbonates.  so it’s that type of research and many other areas of research that we want to start getting into with the use of that buoy. Also we’ve been talking to other partners about research  needs for Turneffe.

Project consultant for NOAA and the CCCCC is Jonathan Fajans. He offers more details.

Jonathan Fajans – Project consultant:
vlcsnap-2013-02-18-19h03m32s21The first of six buoys will be going in right here in Belize off Calabash Caye, directly in front of the University of Belize Field Station. We’ve just arrived and we hope to have the buoy in place and transmitting by the 20th of this month. Once that buoy is in place, the data will come to shore via a radio frequency, and then be collected here at the Research Centre and transmitted via the internet back to Five Seas, to the University, and to NOAH back in the United States, where it will be accessible on the internet to people all over the world, that are monitoring climate change.

According to Fajans there will be little disturbance of the marine life in the area.

Jonathan Fajans – Project consultant:
The technique that were using to install this buoy is relatively minimally invasive. Whereas many navigational buoys are traditionally kept in place with giant concrete anchors or old wheels from train cars, we actually go down and find a suitable piece of dead coral, and drill a hole in it, and then put in an anchor pin, and cement that in place.  So it’s virtually non-destructive and it’s doesn’t disrupt any of the living organisms in the area.  Then we hold the buoy in place with a mooring line.  As for the instruments themselves, none of them will actually be doing any active transmissions under water.  So there’s no risk of danger there to irritating local marine life.

Cost to install the buoy is US$200,000. A second buoy will be installed in the South in the South Water Caye area off Dangriga, and others will be installed around the Caribbean joining existing stations.

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