US$7140

Per volunteer

*Tax deductible in the US. Eligible for employer matching to reduce participant cost.

25% due upon booking

8 nights

7 activity days

A unique opportunity to advance tropical marine research in Belize

MarAlliance invites you to immerse yourself in a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Lighthouse Reef Atoll’s Half Moon Caye in Belize. Join our team of marine biologists, guides and fishers for an unforgettable week, helping to research sharks, rays and turtles (marine megafauna). During this trip, you will experience the life of a tropical marine field biologist while helping us collect invaluable data on populations, abundance, density and habitat preference of a range of species of sharks, rays, turtles and large predatory fish such as snappers and groupers.

We will train you to be directly involved in each aspect of our fieldwork, in which you will experience an unparalleled underwater world. Snorkel surveys will bring you one on one with the Caribbean’s most exhilarating marine animals, including turtles, groupers, stingrays, and sharks. You will learn how to set longlines and Baited Remote Underwater Videos, with hands-on work tagging and measuring sharks, rays and turtles.

We are excited to have the opportunity to share our findings with you and the field work will be complemented by presentations by our research team during the course of the week.

The Details

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Why are marine megafauna important?

Marine megafauna, notably sharks and rays (elasmobranchs), are predators that play a vital role in maintaining healthy and functional marine ecosystems. Overfishing, coupled with a life history of slow growth, late maturity and low reproductive rates, make them vulnerable to overexploitation and in dire need of management to halt further decline. Much more research is needed on elasmobranch diversity, abundance and distribution, exploitation levels and value, habitat use, and movement throughout their life cycles, particularly near tropical countries such as Belize.

MarAlliance in Belize

MarAlliance is a dynamic NGO whose staff collectively has more than 100 years of experience with marine megafauna. Working with the government and other stakeholders we seek to promote thriving populations of sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish by undertaking annual monitoring of populations, age and growth, and assessing the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs).

While Belize still possesses much of the habitat considered essential for sharks and rays, their local populations are rapidly being damaged by overfishing and uncontrolled development in their nursery habitats. The overfishing of sharks, for example, can lead to an overabundance of secondary consumers and a scarcity of prey, both symptoms of ecosystem imbalance.

MPAs are a key means of stemming the decline of commercial fish species and Belize boasts 14 of them, seven of which are World Heritage Sites. Conservation targets urge governments to set aside 10% of the world’s seas under MPA management by 2020. This has made the need to assess MPAs’ effectiveness all the more urgent yet their benefits for highly mobile species have yet to be fully understood.

We focus our efforts at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize’s most remote coral reef site, which encompasses two high profile MPAs: The Blue Hole Natural Monument and Half Moon Caye Natural Monument.

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Travel and accommodation

You will arrive via Tropic Air to Ambergris Caye, Belize where you will enjoy one night in the vibrant town of San Pedro. You will be greeted by MarAlliance staff who will walk you to your accommodations at Sun Breeze Hotel located directly across the street from the airport. In the evening enjoy a traditional Belizean dinner with the expedition team and Dr. Rachel Graham (Executive Director of MarAlliance) who will prepare you for your coming days on Half Moon Caye. The following morning, we will have pre-arranged taxi transfers to take the team to Amigo’s Del Mar Dive Shop, where you will enjoy a continental breakfast before setting out on your journey to Lighthouse Reef Atoll.

You will lodge in modest but comfortable glamping (Glamorous Camping) accommodations on Half Moon Caye in simple but nicely laid out large “yurt” style tents, sleeping two volunteers each. Each yurt is carefully placed so you can appreciate breathtaking views of the sea, and enjoy the cool ocean breeze at night. Inside you will find two raised beds with 4” luxurious CertiPUR-US® certified foam, Eco-classic pillow and cotton/poly fitted sheets. To minimize sand entering the tent and bedding; outdoor mats will be paced in the entry way along with an outdoor foot basin for rinsing. Your stay on Half Moon Caye includes breakfast, lunch and dinner ranging from traditional Belizean cuisine, fresh caught sea food to homemade baked goods. All meals are prepared by our private chefs with locally grown fresh ingredients. In the evenings prepare to be well fed, enjoy hearty communal meals with the team, and enjoy good company discussing the amazing things you experienced during the days’ work.

Training

Your objective is to assist MarAlliance’s Belize-based shark and ray research team to undertake the annual monitoring of marine megafauna at the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. To prepare for your trip and help us collect the most valuable data we will provide you with materials in advance to assist you with species identification and size/distance estimation. On your first days at Half Moon Caye and Lighthouse Reef Atoll we will hold training sessions to review the methods and fine-tune your size and distance estimation skills (on land and in the water).

Activities

Species identification of sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish

Identifying marine megafauna by species is an important part of assessing biodiversity. Species ID will be used during in-water visual transects and in analyzing Baited Remote Underwater Video recordings. We will further ask you to familiarize yourself with species prior to the trip to improve species identification in the field.

In-water visual transect

Transects are a non-invasive method for assessing diversity and relative abundance of marine megafauna.

Each transect involves four swimmers positioned in the water and spaced 15 meters apart. Each transect is 1km in length and throughout the transect each swimmer is responsible for recording species, quantity, distance estimation, and size estimation for the sharks, rays, turtles, and piscivorous fish they see within their area.

You will learn species identification and size estimation techniques to accurately record data. Following field work you can help to transcribe data to provide indices of species diversity, abundance, demographics, and size frequencies according to the different habitats sampled.

Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV)

BRUVs are structures made out of PVC pipe or metal that contain a GoPro camera and an extended arm with a bait cage.

BRUVs are deployed at various sites around the archipelago for at least 60 mins at a time in order to record species that are attracted to the bait. These videos are later analyzed to record the species and relative number of individuals and assess diversity and relative abundance.

We will collectively review videos taken during the day and annotate these to record target species and frequency of occurrence.

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Longline capture and tagging of sharks and rays

Scientific longlining is another method to assess shark and ray diversity and abundance, especially over long periods of time.

This technique involves setting a line of 50 baited hooks in order to capture individuals and collect more specific measurements, tag the animal with a marker that will identify them in future captures or sightings, and collect a tissue sample for DNA and contaminant analysis.

You will assist with baiting and setting the longline, collecting environmental data, and will learn proper handling techniques for safely tagging and releasing sharks and rays.

Half Moon Caye – A True Island Paradise

This small, minimally inhabited, and truly remote island is located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the furthest of Belize’s three atolls located 55 miles off the Belize mainland, and one of only four such atolls in the western hemisphere. The atoll is entirely surrounded by a fringing reef rising to the surface; inside this reef, a lagoon dotted with hundreds of coral patches which is known for its high density and diversity of corals and fishes. There is no cell service or Wi-Fi on Half Moon Caye, which will ensure you have time to enjoy the islands beauty. Walking the trails on the island will lead to many species of nesting birds, including a 4000 red-footed booby colony. The Belize Audubon Society has built a series of viewing platforms to observe the many nesting sites and get some great pictures.

Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize

Day 1

Saturday

International flight arrival at Philip Goldson International Airport, Belize City, Belize.

Tropic Air transfer to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Check in at Sunbreeze hotel, located directly across the street from the airport port (no need for taxi transfer).

19:00

Dinner with all expedition volunteers and MarAlliance Executive director Rachel Graham.

NB: The cost of overnight stay in San Pedro is not included in the price

Day 2

Sunday

05:30

Transfer to Amigos Del Mar Dive Shop

05:45

Continental Breakfast and coffee/tea on the Amigos dock

6:15

Departure for Lighthouse Reef Atoll

10:30-11:00

Arrival at Half Moon Caye

12:00-13:00

Lunch on Half Moon Caye and meet the Belize Audubon Society rangers and staff.

15:00-16:00

Overview of monitoring methods and 1st size estimation exercises

18:00

Dinner at Half Moon Caye with the research team.
Welcome and full introductions.

19:30-20:30

Presentation by Dr. Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance.

Day 3

Monday

NB: Participants will be divided into three groups (A, B, C) to personalize the experience and to ensure space on the boats; each group gets the opportunity to rotate through the different monitoring techniques.

7:00-8:00

Breakfast

8:30-10:00

Size estimation exercises on land and in water.
Instruction in survey methods and data collection (recap of previous afternoon’s exercises and the evening‘s presentation).

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at Half Moon Caye or in the field.

13:30-17:30

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

18:00-19:00

Dinner

19:00-20:45

Presentation by Clara Sabal, Research Officer & Dr. Rachel Graham, Founder & Executive Director.

Day 4

Tuesday

6:00-7:00

Breakfast

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at Half Moon Caye or in the field.

13:30-17:30

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)

18:00-19:00

Dinner

19:00-20:45

Night shark work and/or review of day’s videos.

Day 5

Wednesday

6:00-7:00

Breakfast

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at Half Moon Caye or in the field.

13:30-17:30

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)

18:00-19:00

Dinner

19:00-20:45

Panel session led by Traditional Fishers & Community Field Co-ordinator Hilmar Salazar.
Night shark work and/or review of day’s videos.

Day 6

Thursday

6:00-7:00

Breakfast

7:00-12:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at Half Moon Caye or in the field.

13:30-17:30

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)

18:00-19:00

Dinner with the team

19:00-21:00

Night shark work and/or review of BRUV videos and data entry

Day 7

Friday

6:00-7:00

Breakfast

6:00-7:00

In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)

12:00-13:00

Lunch at Half Moon Caye or in the field

13:30-17:30

Recreational time

18:00-19:00

Final dinner on Half Moon Caye

19:00-21:00

Summary of week’s activities by team leaders and volunteers
Wrap-up party

Day 8

Saturday

7:00-8:00

Breakfast

8:30-10:45

Boat transfer to Belize City

11:00-11:30

Taxi to airport or overnight stay in Belize City and other adventures that may await you.

Travel tips

  • The Belize dollar is the official currency of Belize and is pegged at BZ$2 = US$1.
  • USD and Belize dollars are accepted as payment (no need to exchange US dollars for BZ dollars).
  • Tipping in generally 10-20%.
  • Porters at Belize International Airport charge $2.50 bag to carry your bags.  Note that the porters do not inform passengers of this charge ahead of time.
  • If you plan on using your cell phone, standard roaming charges will apply and rates will be carrier dependent. Most restaurants, hotels and bars are equipped with free Wi-Fi for paying customers. This applies to the mainland and Ambergris Caye.
  • There is NO internet or cellular service on Half Moon Caye.
  • Electrical outlets are the same as in the United States and typically 110V/60Hz.
  • The local time is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT – 6), and there is no time change during the year.
  • Tap water is officially potable; however, we will provide filtered 5 gallon jugs of water so that you can fill reusable water bottles.

Skills Requirement

  • Comfortable in small boats in open water
  • Confident swimmer
  • Comfortable snorkeling for 20-50 minutes at a slow-moderate pace

Safety

Safety is our top concern and MarAlliance has an emergency plan for all of our field work sites throughout Belize.  All boats carry basic first aid kits and a more comprehensive kit will be held at the field base.

There is no readily accessible internet on the island. But for safety we have a satellite telephone and a Delorme InReach satellite messenger for use in the event of an emergency.

COVID 19 Protocols

Because travel requirements for COVID vaccinations and testing are changing frequently, we ask that you consult us about the latest requirements for specific Expedition locations and dates.  Email us at expeditions@maralliance.org

Emergency contacts for Belize City

Hospital: Tel. 223 1548 or 223 3081
Police: Tel. 205 5051 or 223 3081

In the unlikely event of medical air evacuation, the Belize Emergency Response Team can be reached by dialing 90.

What to bring

If you need any of the below items, you can help sharks and rays by choosing MarAlliance as your nonprofit on Amazon Smile. Amazon donates a few cents from each purchase to help us to conduct research, education and conservation for sharks and rays and fight for these awesome animals. It all adds up and it really makes a difference. Thank you for your support!

For the sun and sea

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Sunscreen*

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Sunglasses**

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Hat

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Swim wear (at least 2 suits), for women: quick dry shorts

page_icon_rashguard

Rashguard***

page_icon_bodysuit

Lycra bodysuit/pants

socks site

Water socks

water-gloves

Hand coverage

* Make sure your sunscreen is coral/reef safe and doesn’t contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-MBC and the common preservative butylparaben, all of which kill coral.
** Polarized are recommended as they cut down the glare on the water.
*** We will have these for sale too (The tropical sun is strong; full coverage is important)

Clothing

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2-3 T-shirts

page_icon_3shorts

2-3 pairs of shorts

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One long-sleeved shirt and one pair of long pants *

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1 large regular towel (if you have space)

page_icon_quickdry

Large quick dry towel

page_icon_pareo

Pareo or wrap

* To take out on the water in case you start getting too much sun

Equipment

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Mask, fins and snorkel (test equipment before arrival)

page_icon_rain-jacket

Rain jacket/poncho (just in case)

page_icon_gopro

Underwater or splash-proof camera/GoPro

page_icon_headlamp

Headlamp with rechargeable batteries

page_icon_drysack

Dry sack for keeping camera gear and other items water-free

page_icon_water-bottle

Re-useable water bottle

Health and wellbeing

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Bug spray

page_icon_pill

Sea-sick? Dramamine or meclizine**

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Own medicines

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Snacks, e.g. hard candy‡

page_icon_book

Books to read

‡ Always good to have following the snorkel transects

**Bring a supply of Dramamine or meclizine to ensure you are comfortable while out at sea.

IMPORTANT: Enough money to cover your time before and after your time on Halfmoon Caye. $300-$400USD is more than enough if you won’t be staying in Belize after the expedition.

Can we invite others not working with our company (e.g., significant other, family member, friend)?

Yes! Note, however, that if you benefit from employer matching, the quoted trip cost is reduced by half made possible by your company’s 100% donation matching. Non-company employees would pay the quoted trip cost which is tax deductible.

*A prospective volunteer pointed out that if he pays for both himself and his +1, then the entire payment is a donation and should be eligible for matching.

I’m confused by the pricing. Is our company covering part of the trip cost?

The prices quoted are the prices that you would pay. MarAlliance is relying on your company’s gift match to cover its total costs, so if you were to sign up for a trip, you would pay 50% of the total cost, and your company’s matching gift would be the other 50%.

*Due to the purely volunteer nature of the trip (not a tourist venture), the price you pay for the trip can be considered a donation to MarAlliance (a nonprofit) and is thus (a) tax deductible; and (b) eligible for 100% gift matching.

**Non-company employees whose companies do not offer 100% gift matching would pay the full, tax-deductible. If you’re bringing a +1 and elect to pay for both trips yourself, the full donation should be eligible for gift matching.

I’ve already used my full company-gift-matching benefit for this year. Can I hold a spot?

Yes, you can either elect to forego gift matching (and make a separate donation to cover the incremental match price). Or, you can work with MarAlliance to reserve a spot on your trip of choice and hold payment until the following year, when you’ll once again be eligible for gift matching. Email expeditions@maralliance.org.

What are the main differences between the expeditions?

  • Belize, Lighthouse Reef – Very remote, on a small island with no cell service or internet. Glamping accommodations in yurt style tents, private cooks, and the focus is on sharks and turtles.
  • Belize, San Pedro – On the barrier reef island of Ambergris Caye. Full services of cell, internet, banking, etc are available. Accommodations are in the ocean front Sunbreeze Hotel, and the focus is on sharks, rays, and turtles.
  • Panama – All-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations in a remote area of Isla Bastimentos. Our primary focus is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Cabo Verde – Accommodations will be Guest house style with field work completed on a mix of large and small boats. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks, Manta Rays and small to medium coastal sharks.
  • Mexico – Accommodations will be in a more luxurious hotel by the beach with trips out to the whale shark aggregation zone on a medium sized power boat. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks and Manta Rays.

What is the day to day time allocation of volunteers during the expedition?

Volunteers will spend most of their days in boats, out on the water participating in one of three activities; typically, from 8am until sunset. Data entry & presentations will follow in the evenings.

What can I expect during my time on the expedition?

  • To work side-by-side with MarAlliance staff and local fishermen as part of the expedition team
  • To contribute to critical marine conservation and monitoring/research efforts
  • To learn new skills
  • Learn about marine animals, the reef, the countries culture, politics, and about the local fishermen’s livelihoods
  • Enjoy tropical island life for a week
  • To be well fed and enjoy good company!

What if I might be uncomfortable seeing animals in pain, such as tagging & taking samples of sharks?

The only way we can measure and tag sharks is if we catch them. We minimize our handling time and sharks have little to no feeling in their dorsal fins where we place the tag. By comparison millions of sharks are killed yearly and we are trying to reduce these deaths.

Will time be allocated for an optional dive?

No! However, if you would like to extend your stay, we would be happy to arrange your diving excursions. For optional diving, one must possess a certification card.

Can we do a night dive?

No, evenings comprise of data entry and presentations.

Can you accommodate vegetarian meals?

Yes! Most dietary needs can be accommodated.

How many spots are available per expedition & how many spots are left?

Belize, Honduras, and Panama have 10 spots allocated to each. Cabo Verde and Mexico have 8 spots.

Are teenagers welcome?

18+ years for week-long expeditions and 10+ for the Mexico expeditions.

Do I need to buy travel insurance?

Yes, MarAlliance requires participants to have travel insurance, however if your company provides travel insurance you may consider whether coverage is sufficient. We will request proof of insurance once the expedition is booked.

Note: Company provided travel insurance-things to consider

  • Does it cover medical (including evacuation)?
  • Does it provide trip cancellation insurance?
  • Does is cover me on paid leave?
  • Does it cover me on unpaid leave?

Are there other ways I can get involved?

Yes! Whether you join one of the expeditions or not, MarAlliance is always looking for volunteers with special skill sets that can help us to meet our mission or donors to fund our operational, education and field costs including the purchase of satellite tags that help us to track the migration patterns of sharks, rays and turtles.

  • Amount $3500 (covers 1 sat tag and a portion of the satellite transmission time). You’re welcome to go in on a tag with a group of friends!
  • Donors who fund tags will get to choose a name for the animal tagged and receive daily updates on its movements (tags may remain with animal for weeks, months, even years).
  • Donated tags may be deployed by MarAlliance and expedition volunteers during this years’ expedition.
  • Receive weekly updates

*Donated tags are also tax deductible

Price includes

  • On-site training from our team of expert biologists and research staff
  • Donation, which provides all the resources necessary for our monitoring and research methods and local fisher and boat captain salaries

Lodging

  • Double occupancy glamping “Yurt” style tents with unprecedented views of Half Moon Caye, where the reef meets the shore

Transfers

  • Boat transfers between Half Moon Caye and field sites
  • Ground transfer from the Radisson docks to Belize International Airport upon return to Belize City from Half Moon Caye

Meals

  • All meals (breakfasts, lunches and dinners) beginning with lunch on the day of arrival at Half Moon Caye through breakfast on the morning of departure from Half Moon Caye
  • Meals include coffee, tea and water

Other

  • Marine park conservation fee
  • Unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience and memories!
  • Swag bag!

Price does not include

  • International/domestic air 
  • Accommodations and meals/beverages prior to arrival at Half Moon Caye and after departure from Half Moon Caye
  • Travel, health or cancellation insurance
  • Person items and incidentals