Belize Expedition: Day 9
January 14, 2011
Belize Audubon Society: St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park is small—just 575 acres—but jammed packed. 280 species of birds have been documented within its boundaries; it contains an expansive network of caves and a bright blue sinkhole famous with divers; and hosts about 10,000 schoolchildren a year.
This last number, the number of students visiting the park, is central to Belize Audubon Society’s mission: educating Belizeans about the importance of conservation, what’s worth protecting in Belize, and how it directly impacts their lives. By focusing on young people, Belize Audubon Society is trying to change the culture around conservation, to get kids—and their parents—excited about what’s in their backyard. Culturally, people believe that wildlife and nature are there for their use. “They say, we’re poor, we don’t have anything to eat,’ so they use the land to provide for themselves. We have to show them that it’s not always going to be there,” said Junior, a park ranger at St. Herman’s Blue Hole. And, “many Belizeans don’t even know the value of what we have here,” he said. Junior works side-by-side with his dad, Israel Manzanero, or Senior, another ranger in the park.
Because St. Herman’s Blue Hole is the most accessible of all the National Parks, students come from Belmopan and Belize City, a valuable experience for students who otherwise might not interact with nature. Kids come to see the park, see a cool animal for the first time, and learn that they must be part of the effort to ensure that animal keeps living. After school at 3:30, kids used to go outside to shoot birds with slingshots, said Junior. It was a game—killing the birds. Now, they’re excited to see a Toucan, to watch the birds, and they take this excitement home to their parents.