US$5100

Per volunteer

*Tax deductible in the US. Eligible for employer matching to reduce participant cost.
Single supplement $525

25% due upon booking

7 nights

6 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 the northern barrier reef of Belize in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. 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 biologists while helping us to 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

why2
why3
why4

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.

p2
fishes

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 seafront Sunbreeze 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 at Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the barrier reef opposite San Pedro.

Your rooms at Sunbreeze Hotel are spacious and comfortable seafront accommodations with a pool and sundeck next to the famous Blue Water Grill restaurant. Your stay in San Pedro includes breakfast, lunch and dinner for 4 of the 7 nights. Because there are so many wonderful dining choices in San Pedro, we wanted to offer you the opportunity to explore and choose your own dining experience for 3 nights. For 4 nights you will dine as a group 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 Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the Belize Barrier Reef. 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 in San Pedro and at Hol Chan Marine Reserve 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.

a2

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.

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

This quaint town, once a small, sleepy fishing village, is located on the northern barrier reef island of Ambergris Caye. It is a real beach town where the main methods of transportation are golf carts and bicycles. The eastern shore faces the barrier reef just under a mile away and visible from shore. There is a plethora of shops for finding the perfect gifts to take home, and several excellent restaurants within walking distance of your hotel. Take long walks on the beach and discover idyllic places to stop for the view at the water’s edge.

San Pedro, Belize

Day 1

Arrive in Belize – Saturday

Arrive in Belize City at Philip Goldson Intl Airport. Go to Tropic Air Counter for transfer flight to San Pedro which we have booked for you. Pay for the flight at the counter.

  • Upon arrival in San Pedro, you will be greeted by the Sunbreeze Hotel staff who will take your luggage for delivery to the hotel, and direct you to walk across the street to Sunbreeze Hotel. 
  • Check-in at Sunbreeze Hotel and unwind in your comfortable room or by the pool facing the Caribbean Sea.
  • Meet at the Hotel conference room for team introductions and orientation to the next 5 days of marine monitoring activities.
  • Setting up for monitoring work the following day. Getting outfitted and sized for dive and snorkel gear at the respective dive shop.  Although snorkel and dive gear will be available, we recommend that you bring your own gear that you have become comfortable with prior to the trip. This will minimize getting used to the gear, so that you may enjoy the tour to the fullest. If you have not been diving in more than a year, we recommend that you do a dive/scuba refresher with your home dive shop that can be conducted in a pool.  Additional support in learning how to snorkel or increasing your confidence in snorkeling will be provided before the start of work. Flotation may be required by the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in certain instances.
  • Pre-dinner with snacks. Shark, ray, finfish and turtle talk and field orientation and schedule by the MarAlliance Team.
  • 7:00pm – Group dinner in San Pedro.

Day 2

Hol Chan – Sunday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast during the meeting.  Walk or taxi to the dive center/boat.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Leave the dock, dive and snorkel activities at Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  Refreshments and lunch on the boat or near on shore. 
  • 4:30pm – 5:30pm – Participate in review of data and photos for uploading into the database.
  • 5:30pm – Review of the day and a talk by the MarAlliance Team over cocktails & snacks.
  • 7:00pm – Group dinner in San Pedro.

Day 3

Hol Chan – Monday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast on the run.  Walk or taxi to the dive center/boat.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Dive and snorkel activities at Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  Refreshments and lunch on the boat or near on shore. 
  • 4:30pm – 5:30pm – Participate in review of data and photos for uploading into the database.
  • 5:30pm – Review of the day and a talk by the MarAlliance Team.
  • 7:00pm – Group free to find dining opportunities on their own in San Pedro.

Day 4

Mexico Rocks – Tuesday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast on the run.  Walk or taxi to the dive center/boat.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Dive and snorkel activities at Mexico Rocks.  Refreshments and lunch on the boat or near on shore.
  • 4:30pm – 5:30pm – Participate in review of data and photos for uploading into the database.
  • 5:30pm – Review of the day and a talk by the MarAlliance Team.
  • 7:00pm – Group dinner in San Pedro.

Day 5

San Pedro West Lagoon – Wednesday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast on the run.  Walk or taxi to the dive center/boat.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Dive and snorkel activities at West Lagoon sites (Hol Chan Marine Reserve).  Refreshments and lunch on the boat or near on shore.
  • 4:30pm – Sunset Cruise.
  • 7:00pm – Group free to find dining opportunities on their own in San Pedro.

Day 6

Mexico Rocks – Thursday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast on the run.  Walk or taxi to the dive center/boat.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Dive and snorkel activities at Mexico Rocks.  Refreshments and lunch on the boat or near on shore.
  • 4:30pm – 5:30pm – Participate in review of data and photos for uploading into the database.
  • 5:30pm – Review of the day and a talk by the MarAlliance Team.
  • 7:00pm – Group free to find dining opportunities on their own in San Pedro.

Day 7

Caye Caulker – Friday

  • 8:00am – Meet at the conference room.  Breakfast on the run.  
  • 8:30am – Pick up at Water Taxi dock for boat transfer to Caye Caulker.
  • 9:00am to 3:00pm – Dive and snorkel activities off Caye Caulker.  
  • Lunch on Caye Caulker between dives and snorkel sessions.  
  • One hour to relax and explore Caye Caulker.
  • 4:30pm – Depart for return to San Pedro.  
  • :00pm – Participate in review data and photos for uploading into database.
  • 5:30pm – Review of the day and a talk by the MarAlliance Team.
  • 7:00pm – Group dinner in San Pedro at Blue Water Grill.

Day 8

Depart Belize – Saturday

  • Travel day – Breakfast on San Pedro.
  • Luggage gets taken to San Pedro Airport by Sunbreeze Hotel.   
  • Depart from San Pedro Airport to Philip Goldson Intl Airport in Belize City for connecting international flight.

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.
  • 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 not potable. It is advisable to drink only bottled water.

Skills Requirement

  • Comfortable in small boats in open water
  • Confident swimmer
  • Comfortable snorkeling for 20-50 minutes at a slow-moderate pace
  • Divers are required to show their certification cards.  Refreshers before arriving are advisable for those divers who are out of practice.

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 cell phone signal at the barrier reef opposite San Pedro.  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:  Belize City 223-1548 / San Pedro Polyclinic 226-2536 

Police: Tel. 206-2022

In the unlikely event of medical air evacuation, the Belize Emergency Response Team can be reached by dialing 223-3292.

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

page_icon_sunscreen

Sunscreen*

page_icon_sunglasses

Sunglasses**

page_icon_hat

Hat

page_icon_shorts

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

page_icon_3tshirts

2-3 T-shirts

page_icon_3shorts

2-3 pairs of shorts

page_icon_1and1

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

page_icon_towel

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

page_icon_snorkel-fins

Mask, fins and snorkel (test equipment before arrival). Divers can bring their own dive equipment.

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

page_icon_mosquito

Bug spray

page_icon_pill

Sea-sick? Dramamine or meclizine**

page_icon_pill-bottle

Own medicines

page_icon_candy

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 in San Pedro. $300-$400USD is more than enough if you won’t be staying in Belize after the expedition. ATMs are available in San Pedro that issue Belize dollars.

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

Yes! Note, however, that the quoted trip cost is made possible by your company’s 100% donation matching. Non-company employees would pay the quoted trip cost AND ask to make a donation for the same amount (in other words, their total cost would be 2x the company cost).

*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 if not all 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

Do I need to buy travel insurance?

Yes, MarAlliance does require participants to have travel insurance, however if your company provides travel insurance you may consider whether coverage is sufficient.

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 donors to fund satellite tags that will track the migration patterns of sharks, rays and turtles.

  • Amount $3000 (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 rooms at seafront Sunbreeze Hotel in San Pedro

Transfers

  • Sunbreeze Hotel is a 1-block walk from the San Pedro Airport. Sunbreeze Hotel Team will meet you at the San Pedro Airport to transfer your luggage and direct you to walk to the hotel.

Meals

  • All meals (breakfasts, lunches and dinners, beginning with dinner on the arrival day in San Pedro to the breakfast on the departure day. There are 3 dinner meal exceptions, whereby Expeditioners are free to find a restaurant of their choosing in San Pedro. These dinners will not be included in the cost. Please refer to your itinerary for those days.
  • 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 in San Pedro and after departure from San Pedro.
    • During the Expedition, there are 3 dinner meal exceptions, whereby Expeditioners are free to find a restaurant of their choosing in San Pedro. These dinners will not be included in the cost. Please refer to your itinerary for those days.
    • Travel, health or cancellation insurance
    • Person items and incidentals