Of the 35 candidates who completed their application and were interviewed in person during a highly competitive process, 12 outstanding individuals were selected for their personality, skills, commitment and passion for the MAR. Over 18 months, the 2012 MAR Fellows received individual and group trainings and worked to design and implement projects in order to establish a network of multifunctional marine reserves with emphasis on mangrove protection, evaluation and expansion of fisheries replenishment zones, and establishment of new marine protected areas.

ADRIEL CASTAÑEDA | Belize City, Belize | Fisheries Officer | Belize Fisheries Department

Adriel was born in the village of Santa Clara, in the Corozal District of Belize. He holds a Master’s Degree in natural resources and rural development that was funded by the Mexican Embassy. Adriel was a recipient of the WWF Prince Bernhard Scholarship for Nature Conservation as well as a Russell E. Train research grantee. His current work centers on Fisheries Management, Development of Innovative fisheries management tools as well as development of new fisheries. As part of his work at the Belize Fisheries Department, he coordinates the implementation of rights-based fisheries management tool in Belize. To Adriel, his work with local fishermen communities is a big challenge and a source of motivation. Every step forward means a professional and personal satisfaction for him.

His project: Empowering Fishermen to Achieve Sustainable Fisheries Management in Belize.

Traditional fisheries management in developing countries has historically been one-sided, focusing largely on the resource at hand. Modern fisheries management is starting to incorporate social, economic and ecological factors into ecosystem approaches for fisheries management. Belize, with its new fisheries Law, has based its laws on a precautionary ecosystem approach, allowing a more holistic approach to fisheries management. Several fishing communities in the country appreciate this effort and want to be involved in the management of fisheries resources. A community that has shown resistance is Dangriga, in the Stann Creek District. This project seeks to strengthen the capacities of fishermen—empowering them with tools and knowledge that will transform them into informed stewards of the resources they depend upon for their livelihoods. This project’s vision is that fishers become a central part of fisheries management in Belize.

 JOEL VERDE | Sarteneja, Belize | Executive Director | Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD)  | Age: 29

Joel was born in Belize City. He is the son of a fisherman and has 9 siblings. He grew up in Sarteneja and after finishing High School became a fisherman, and later a tour guide. He has been a leader in his community for quite some time, working to secure his community’s welfare through the conservation of its natural resources and the development of alternative livelihoods. Joel coordinated the Sarteneja Tour Guide Association (STGA) and afterwards was chosen as the Executive Director of the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development. He enjoys fishing, deep-sea free diving, soccer, guiding tours, meeting new people, and has a deep love of nature. His goal is to contribute to conservation strategies in Sarteneja for the rest of his life. Joel wants to become a successful leader in his community with skills to improve the wellbeing of his people by conserving their natural resources and developing alternative livelihoods.

His project: System Level Planning and Collaboration for Improved Resource Management.

The Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is a major component of the largest estuarine system that flows into the Belize Barrier Reef System, has been identified as a national and ecoregional conservation priority, and is one of four priority protected areas of the Belizean Mesoamerican Reef. This project seeks to create a mechanism for strengthening management efforts aimed at all conservation targets housed in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary—as well as those of other MPAs included in the project site. The project will provide a framework for identifying pertinent issues in the larger seascape as well as broader conflicts and challenges common to Belize’s northern MPAs and adjacent regional ones.


  LEONEL REQUENA | Belmopan, Belize | Coordinator | United Nations Development Programme – GEF / SGP – COMPACT Programme

Leonel was born in Punta Gorda Town, Belize. He has worked as a researcher for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on monitoring and data collection of spawning aggregation sites in Belize. He was an Assistant Marine Biologist for the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). He taught at Claver College Extension High School in Punta Gorda Town in 2005 and worked as a research assistant for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Sharks, Rays and Goliath Grouper Project in Southern Belize. In 2007, he was employed as a Project Officer at the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT). He is scheduled to complete a Master’s Degree in Protected Areas and Eco-regional Development in June 2014. He is enthusiastic and is fully committed with his personal and professional goals.

His project: Private Protected Areas as a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Potential Tool for Mitigating the Impacts of Climate Change in coastal communities.

Private Protected Areas (PPA) can significantly contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of Belize’s natural resources by contributing to the effective management of priority conservation areas and involving the influential private sector. The goal of this project is to enhance and showcase Belize’s network of coastal PPAs as a tool in the fight against climate change. The primary objectives of the project are 1) to mitigate the risk of climate change-induced natural disasters on select northern coastal areas; and 2) to explore and develop a payment scheme for the ecosystem services provided by mangrove forests. This project seeks to secure sustainable methods for financially compensating participating PPA owners through a blue carbon offset program.

 SELEEM CHAN | Punta Gorda, Belize | Marine Manager | Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE)

Seleem was born in the town of Orange Walk, Belize. His past work experience includes positions as field assistant for Earth Watch’s Belize manatee project; an environmental educator at the Toledo Association for Sustainable Tourism and Empowerment (TASTE); a field biologist in the Belize Fisheries Department; and as park manager in Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM). Seleem has held the position of Marine Manager at TIDE since April of 2008. He is a proud Belizean. His goal is to continue work with fishermen from within Belize and the MAR Region towards sustainable harvesting of marine resources.

His project: Evaluation & Implementation of No Take Zone Amplification in Port Honduras Marine Reserve.

The Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2000 by the Government of Belize. A co-management agreement was signed between the Belize Fisheries Department and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) on May 31, 2001. This legal management structure was backed by the Belizean Government and gave TIDE the authority to manage the protected area, which covers 414 km2. This project aims to improve fisheries management in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. This will be accomplished through the extension of the reserve’s ‘no take zone’, which will improve recruitment, abundance, and diversity in economically important fisheries. Community consultations will engage fishers, guide the management process and promote awareness and compliance with no take zones and best practices in sustainable fishing.

 ANGELA MOJICA | Guatemala City, Guatemala | Coordinator | Inception Phase of the Caribbean Marine Conservation Program, WWF |  Age: 31

Angela was born in Bogota, Colombia. In the year 2000, she moved to Guatemala, where she got her B.S. in Biology at the University of the Valley of Guatemala (UVG). In 2006, she was awarded a scholarship to do her Master’s degree in Marine Ecology at Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA. The scholarship was financed by the United Nations University and the World Bank as part of the project “Coral Reef Target Research Project: Capacity Building and Connectivity Component” for the Caribbean region. As a researcher, Angela has worked on monitoring and conservation projects related to coral reefs, crabs, the Caribbean spiny lobster, sponges, and sea turtles in the MAR region, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico (USA). She has worked as a professor of biology, limnology, marine ecology, and environmental science at Old Dominion University, Tidewater Community College, Rafael Landivar University, and the UVG. Her most recent professional interests include climate change effects and adaptation in marine and coastal ecosystems and the use of environmental economics and valuation of ecosystem services as sustainable conservation tools. Currently she works as a researcher and environmental consultant. Angela loves travel, water sports, yoga, photography, and dancing.

Her project: Economic valuation of mangrove carbon sequestration and payment for environmental services, vulnerability, and adaptation to climate change as a strategy for sustainable conservation in the Guatemalan Caribbean.

The objective of this project is the conservation of mangrove forests in the Guatemalan Caribbean through economic valuation of some of the ecosystem services mangroves provide, especially carbon sequestration, coastal protection from storms, and potential adapatation to climate change.

The carbon component focuses on measuring the current carbon stock in the area (Río Sarstún Multiple Use Area and Punta de Manabique) and giving an economic value per hectare, thereby opening the door to explore options in the carbon market or a system of payment for environmental services in the voluntary market. The component of coastal protection, vulnerability, and climate change seeks to estimate the economic value that mangrove forests provide to the local population by protecting the coast from climatic phenomena, erosion, and flooding, and the value these services have as a means of adapting to the effects of climate change. This part of the project has a strong social component, since it includes approaching local communities to identify the uses and services mangroves provide for them, as well as threats to mangroves and the best conservation options based on the socio-ecological reality of these communities.

I propose the use of the MarineINVEST software created by The Natural Capital Project. This program allows the mapping of environmental services, threats, and carbon stock, and the creation of different scenarios based on these services and their expected permanence.

 CLEOPATRA MÉNDEZ | Livingston, Guatemala | Sub-Coordinator of the Marine-Coastal Chapter/Coordinator | FUNDAECO/TRIGOH |  Age: 30

Cleopatra was born in Livingston, Guatemala and became a social worker in 2007. She received several grants, diplomas and awards throughout her academic career and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resources from Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, USA. She is a certified diver and has served as a cultural agent for the BALABALA Foundation, where she supported a number of Guatemalan communities in human rights endeavors. She has also accompanied communities living in Livingston, Guatemala with project development administration. Cleopatra has worked as an environmental educator in the coastal/marine unit at FUNDAECO, where she is now Sub-Coordinator. Cleopatra is fluent in English, is married and has kids.

Her project: Designing a Participative, Community-Based Coastal/Marine Reserve in Cocoli Bay.

Cocoli Bay is a privileged RAMSAR wetland located within Amatique Bay, which is in the northern part of Guatemala. It has been under protected status since 2005 and is recognized by the Guatemalan Department of Fisheries as a “Class One” fishing area. Some time ago, the area’s fishermen decided to divide the greater Amatique Bay into 3 fishing zones to facilitate rotational fishing. In Zone 1, the open fishing season lasts from July 15 to October 31, with trawling permitted during the rest of the year. This season has been criticized by a number of communities, who attribute the depletion of fish resources to its provisions. This project seeks to map the shallow areas of seagrass inside Cocoli Bay and ban trawling in the area. In addition, the project will foster the protection of two mangrove sites that are crucial both to the development of keynote species and coastal protection. The project will attain its goals by involving the area’s fishermen and women groups.

 GIACOMO PALAVICINI | Roatán Island, Honduras | Executive Director | Roatan Marine Park |  Age: 34

Giacomo was born in Mexico City. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Oceanology in Baja California, Mexico. He is a dive instructor and has completed several courses in scientific diving. He has collaborated with NOAA on a shark project and with Stanford University on the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) project. He has worked as a diving instructor, photo manager, Tae Kwon Do instructor, and as the operations manager of a tour-guide company. In addition to being the Director of the South Side Office at Roatan Marine Park, he runs a diving company known as Barefoot Divers and is research director at the Shark Legacy Project. He recently married his wife Christi.

His project: Building the Foundation for the Establishment of Cordelia Bank as a Marine Reserve.

Cordelia Bank is a biological hotspot that houses healthy fish aggregations and extensive coral reef patches that include endangered species such as Acropora cervicornis and black coral. It has been calculated that each of the area’s sharks generates an income of approximately $47,000 USD per year for the shark diving industry. Cordelia Bank is also of economic importance due to its proximity to Roatan Island’s two cruise piers. If tourism is managed in a sustainable way in Cordelia Bank, the economic value of the site could potentially increase. This project seeks to generate awareness in local communities concerning the importance of preserving the area’s marine resources by gathering information and hosting workshops to demonstrate the economic and ecological importance of the site and show users how to conserve it.

 MARIELA OCHOA | Guanaja Island, Honduras | Community Fisheries Specialist | Centre for Marine Studies | Age: 31

Mariela was born in La Ceiba, Honduras, and received her degree in Ecotourism from the Regional University Center of the Atlantic Coast – National Autonomous University of Honduras. Her work experience includes collaboration with the Mesoamerican Reef Fund in establishing no-take zones in the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and information collection to make a diagnosis on artesan fishing in the The Cayos Cochinos Archipelago NaturalMarine Monument. She has also served as a consultant for WWF in identifying ecological attractions for the development of ecotourism, which has been instrumental in providing economic alternatives for coastal communities. In 2010, she collaborated with CoopeSoliDar on a project related to “Best practices for sustainable tourism in the Caribbean protected area: Esmeralda de Honduras”. Mariela has also performed research using lobster traps to monitor artisanal fishing. She supports the initiative of small communities to create schools and has been helping them to sell and market their handmade traditional musical instruments. She has been successful in securing international markets for their products, including ones in the United States.

Her project: Enhancing Local Participation in the Decision-making Processes of the Bay Islands Marine National Park Management Plan.

Many local stakeholders involved in the use, management, and conservation of the marine resources within the Bay Islands Marine National Park feel excluded and negatively affected by decision-making processes involving development and conservation. This feeling of exclusion creates an atmosphere of indifference in communities, which in turn creates a barrier to the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of legislation and policy. Negative feelings can even result in the upwelling of anti-conservationist attitudes. This project represents a way to address this problem within Honduran legislation. By consolidating the Community Forest Consulting Councils (both municipal and departmental), the project will tackle community doubt and mistrust by establishing a more horizontal and equitable relationship between involved actors. Furthermore, the project will establish alliances with organizations already working towards sustainable development within the National Park.

 PAMELA ORTEGA | Utila Island, Honduras | Honduras Field Representative | CORAL | Age: 32

Pamela was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is an Environmental Science Engineer. She has experience with initiatives concerning animal welfare, solar energy use (as a way to provide water to remote communities), and has worked as an assistant at the Action Against Hunger (ACF) project. Since 2009, she has worked at the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), where she is a technical assistant. Her current projects include the implementation of a Protected Area Management Plan in Utila and the development of marine turtle conservation projects. Pamela is a strong believer in the importance of community involvement when undertaking projects that strive to make a difference for the environment.

Her project: Involving Local Communities in the Regulation of Utila’s Special Marine Protected Areas and Identifying Alternative Livelihoods for Residents of Turtle Harbor-Rock Harbor and Raggedy Key-Southwest Key, Utila.

 This project is focused on the ecosystem conservation in protected areas and the identification of alternative livelihoods for residents of these zones. In Utila, marine ecosystems are subject to constant pressure—both anthropogenic and natural—that have serious repercussions on their health and stability. The establishment of a monitoring baseline along with data analysis will permit managers to assess habitat loss and justify the importance of conservation actions to the members of the community at large. The main objective of the project is to promote community involvement in protection issues, to identify alternative livelihoods for fishermen—including conch and lobster divers—by harnessing the impetus of BICA, tourism participation, and the creation of a new market for local handmade products.

CARLOS PONCE | Playa del Carmen, Mexico | Consultant | Sustentabilidad Turística |  Age: 32

Carlos was born in Mexico City. He studied biology at the Autonomous Mexican University (UAM). His professional career as a biologist was sparked by his work as a bacteria researcher. Afterwards, he began lecturing on environmental education and volunteering in a laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). In 2006, he contributed to the development of a crocodile and turtle project, studied exotic birds at a local aquarium and conducted a research project on nopales (edible cacti) in Mapimi, Mexico. In 2007, Carlos contributed to at least 4 projects that focused on the conservation of different species including forest mammals in Chiapas, crocodiles and whale sharks in Contoy Island, as well as avian assemblages in Oaxaca. Carlos has also served as a soil expert and dolphin trainer and is currently the Operations Manager for the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

His project: Private Natural Reserve Network on the Coast of Quintana Roo.

This project aims to conserve mangrove forests, coastal dunes and the Mesoamerican reef using a climate change incentive strategy. This strategy will give private conservationists legal tools that will enable them to protect their mangroves and mitigate the environmental impacts provoked by land development. Any conservation agreement made between landowners and the initiative shall be established for a minimum of ten years and certified by the Mexican National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). CONANP will also be in charge of monitoring and protecting the private reserve throughout its legal life. The project will target high priority conservation sites using a mapping analysis of the area and field studies will help validate conservation priorities, site condition, and the project’s impact. Hotels and resorts that choose to designate private conservation areas will not only be contributing to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases; they will also qualify for participation in the low-impact carbon initiative currently being developed in Quintana Roo.

YUSELF R. CALA | Chetumal, Mexico | PhD Student | College of the Southern Border (ECOSUR) |  Age: 33

Yuself was born in Granma, Cuba and has been living in Chetumal, Mexico for over 3 years. His areas of expertise include integrated planning and management, biological conservation, marine protected areas, aquaculture and marine ecology. He has published several papers inspired by his various research and management projects and over the years has participated in several management and conservation projects in Cuba. Yuself has received several grants and scholarships to undertake a number of courses. He is completing his PhD and is a current CONACyT (Mexican Department for Science and Technology) grant holder.  Yuself is a very enthusiastic and committed individual and has excellent experience negotiating with government entities.

His project: Application of a Regional Framework for the Management of Quintana Roo’s Coastal and Marine Protected Areas.

This project aims to contribute to the conservation of marine biodiversity—including important fragile ecosystems and fishing resources found in the coastal region of Quintana Roo—by increasing protected area coverage and strengthening local capacities for improved regional management of protected areas. The project will also address ecosystem coverage gaps and promote both connectivity between and successful management of protected areas. In addition, this project will promote the creation of a Coordination Board/Committee and a monitoring system that will permit managers to assess and follow-up on the population trends of economically valuable species in the area.