The 12 members of our 2011 Generation were selected from a pool of 28 candidates comprised of outstanding conservationists from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico (Quintana Roo). As members of the MAR Leadership Program, these 12 individuals will be developing projects that contribute to the promotion of sustainable fisheries and the establishment of marine reserves in the MAR region. The leaders of the 2011 cohort will also be receiving training in leadership abilities such as: strategic communication, negotiation, conflict resolution and leadership in managing teams. By strengthening the leaders of the 2011 Generation and crafting well-designed, highly-feasible projects, the MAR Leadership Program seeks to join regional efforts towards establishing a network of marine reserves that covers 20% of the territorial waters of the countries that comprise the ecological hotspot that is the Mesoamerican Reef System.
CELSO CAWICH | Belmopan, Belize |The Environmental Research Institute of the University of Belize | Celso is a professional marine biologist and received his BS in Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize. He is currently stationed at Calabash Research Station, which is part of the Environmental Research Institute of the University of Belize. From 2008-2010 he worked as a marine biologist for the Belize Audubon Society. He is a certified coral fish identifier and data collector; has knowledge on the implementation of an array of reef monitoring protocols including MBRS, AGGRA, LAMP, Seagrass Net and CARICOMP; and is skilled in sea turtle capture and tagging. In 2006, he was awarded a Protected Areas Conservation Trust Grant from the University of Belize.
His project: Identification of areas of biological importance for commercial fish for the establishment of a marine protected area within the Turneffe Atoll
Turneffe Atoll is the longest of its type in the entire Mesoamerican Reef System. Nevertheless, it isn’t under protected status. During the last decade, products from the fishing industry—specifically in scaly-fish fisheries—has diminished both in size and quantity. In an AGRRA study carried out by the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative, it was discovered that only 1.04% of the 88,354 fish observed were longer than 40 cm. This project seeks to find sites of critical importance for maintaining important commercial fish levels by utilizing the AGGRA methodology. Based on the results of the study and feedback from users of the fisheries resources in Turneffe Atoll, recommendations will be given for the establishment of a MPA and local organizations will be sought out to support the area’s declaration.
KIRAH FORMAN | San Pedro Belize | Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Carbena Station | Kirah holds a BS in Biology from the University of Belize and is pursuing an online Master’s degree in Protected Areas Management and Ecoregional Development from the University of International Cooperation. She has more than 8 years of experience working in marine research and conservation projects in Belize and the United States of America. Kirah has worked for 5 years at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where she currently coordinates data collecting and analysis for the northern marine reserves (Bacalar Chico, Hol Chan and Caye Caulker) and assists setting up reef monitoring protocols for the marine protected areas. Kirah is an animal activist and is also involved in the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development Association, which promotes sustainable coastal development and activities in the Caye.
Her project: Management of commercial species and promotion of fishermen empowerment to adopt sustainable fishing methods in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
This project seeks to collect information on areas and the most popular fishing methods utilized therein as well as information on fishing production within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This information will be used to promote appropriate fisheries management and the expansion of no-take zones in an effort to assure the permanence of commercial species that live in the reserve. It is hoped that this methodology will be replicated in Bacalar Chico and Caye Caulker.
NIC REQUENA | Punta Gorda, Belize | Environmental Defense Fund | Nicanor holds a BS in Biology from the University of Belize and has participated as a fellow in Duke University’s Marine Conservation and Coastal Management Summer Program. Nicanor has more than 10 years of experience working in fisheries management in Belize; he has participated in a variety of projects ranging from artisanal to sport fishing. He worked for several years at The Nature Conservancy as Regional Fisheries Coordinator and is currently the Project Manager and Port of Honduras Marine Reserve Coordinator at the Mesoamerican Sustainable Fisheries Initiative - a project managed by the Belize Chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund. Nicanor is married with children. He speaks very good Spanish and Q’eqchi’. Nicanor has been recognized by The Nature Conservancy for his contribution to conservation and protection of Fish Spawning Aggregations in the MAR region. He loves sports and is especially keen to soccer.
His project: Establishment of access rights for fishing in Belizean marine reserves to promote sustainable fishing and the wellbeing of involved communities
Belize has made significant progress in marine conservation by declaring a network of MPAs with the collaboration of various actors from civil society, academia and ecosystem users. The presence of MPAs contributes to the good management of the Mesoamerican Reef System and ensures that its marine-coastal resources will be available for future generations. Nevertheless, an adequate management at the level of fisheries resources must exist. In Belize, all fisheries (with the exception of the Queen conch) are free-access. In other words, there are no quotas that exact a capture limit—a reason why commercial fish populations are currently depleted. This project seeks to establish a system of quotas for access to fisheries in the Port Honduras and Glovers Reef marine reserves.
ANGELINE VALENTINE | Belize City, Belize | Oak Foundation Belize | Angeline currently works as the Oak Foundation’s Mesoamerican Program Associate. She has a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University as well as a BS in Biology and Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize. She is the recipient of several awards and honors such as an August 2005 Tuition Fellowship from the Oak Foundation to pursue studies at Duke as well as a January 2005 Fulbright Ecological Fellowship. She has extensive research experience as a Manatee Researcher for the Coastal Zone Management Institute (CZMI) and has co-authored publications and scientific posters on manatees on several occasions. Angeline is also the mother of a 10 month old baby boy named Malakai.
Her project: Media campaign to raise awareness about oil exploration and exploitation in Belize
The 150 miles of barrier reef in Belize generate around $150-189 million USD for the tourism sector and $14-16 million USD for the fishery sector. The gravest threats facing the Belize barrier reef include: overfishing, unregulated coastal development and terrestrial pollution (agriculture). Nevertheless, a new threat is manifesting itself following the authorization of concessions for terrestrial and coastal oil exploration on Belize’s coast. This project seeks to develop a communication campaign targeting secondary and primary students, tour operators, guides, fishers and communities along Belize’s coast. As its products, the campaign will obtain signatures from Belizean citizens to obtain a referendum and protect MPAs from oil exploration.
BLANCA GARCÍA | Guatemala City, Guatemala | Consultant – MAR Fund | Blanca has her BS in Aquaculture from the University of San Carlos (USC) and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Local Development and International Cooperation. She recently helped coordinate the National Fishing Census for the Atlantic coast of Guatemala – a project that helped her develop a national perspective on the challenges facing the fishing industry, ultimately giving her a vision of how to realize sustainable fishing in Guatemala. Blanca is currently working at the Punta Manabique Wildlife Refuge on the establishment of a fisheries resources management plan. She grew up in Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios where she had the opportunity to work with fishermen. She’s proud to say that she was able to win the confidence of the fishermen and communities of the region, who were not accustomed to working with women.
ANA GIRO PETERSEN | Guatemala City, Guatemala | Centro de Estudios del Mar y Acuicultura, Universidad de San Carlos | Ana has her undergraduate degree in Aquaculture and is currently enrolled in a Master’s Degree in Science and Technology at the University of San Carlos (USC). Currently, she works as an interim professor at the Center for Aquaculture and Oceanic Studies at USC, where she teaches classes on Oceanography and Untraditional Species Cultivation. Ana has also worked as a researcher. Her most recent project was on the density, abundance and distribution of the Queen Conch. She has also monitored artisanal fishing activity in Amatique Bay. Ana is married and has a daughter. Ana is also very much into sports – on one occasion her team received a silver medal in the pentathlon at the Panamerican Games.
PILAR VELÁSQUEZ | Guatemala City, Guatemala | National Committee of Protected Areas (CONAP) | Pilar has her BS in Biology from the University of San Carlos (USAC) in Guatemala. Currently, she works for the National Committee of Protected Areas as an Evaluation and Follow-up Specialist. Previously, she worked as a researcher for projects related to marine birds for the Defenders of Wildlife Foundation-USAC, USAC’s National Fund for the Conservation of Nature, USAC’s Pacific Seabirds Group Small-Grants Conservation Program and the Foundation for Eco-development and Conservation. Pilar has also worked for the USAC. Pilar spent 2009 in New York as an international intern for the National Park Service’s Park Flight Program on Fire Island National Seashore in New York. Her most recent publication includes: Nuevos registros de aves pelágicas para el Pacífico de Guatemala. Revista Mesoamericana de la Conservación YU’AM. Defensores de la Naturaleza.
Their project: Identification of priority ecosystems for the conservation and sustainable use of the Mesoamerican Reef System in the Guatemalan Caribbean
In Guatemala, there is no such category as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Strategic Guidelines for Protected Areas of the National Committee on Protected Areas (CONAP). Over the past couple of years, an official study was conducted on gaps in marine-coastal conservation in Guatemala. This study, together with the creation of the National Marine-Coastal Policy and the Master Plan for Manabique Point, have created an ideal environment for getting this category included in Guatemalan legislation and strengthening the fishing cooperatives in the Bahía de Amatique—Manabique Point zone. Our Guatemalan Fellows will seek to include the MPA classification within said guidelines and achieve the declaration of the first area under this management category in Guatemala.
YIMY CHIRINOS | Roatán, Honduras | Honduras District Attorney’s Office | Yimy received his undergraduate degree in law from the National University of Honduras. Upon finishing his studies, he was hired by the Public Ministry of Honduras as a Fiscal Assistant to the District of Roatán. In this position, Yimy kept tabs on the juridical processes related to an array of activities – from crime to illegal coastal development. This allowed him to develop a holistic view on the great threats currently facing the Honduran Caribbean, which awoke his interest in environmental law. Given his interest in environmental themes and his work to protect the natural resources of his country, Yimy was named Fiscal Specialist on the Environment of the Atlantic Coast in 2007. Under this position, Yimy is in charge of raising accusations against environmental violations in the different communities of the Atlantic Coast of Honduras. Yimy was recently appointed as a judge in Roatán. One of his medium-term goals is to be the Minister of the Environment of Honduras.
His project: Strengthening of the capacities of prosecutors of the Coastal Atlantic in Honduras with a special focus on making the region’s fishing laws and stipulations more effective
Fishing activity has been restricted on the north coast of Honduras ever since protected areas were put in place, which effectively limit the fishing area on Honduras’ Atlantic Coast. Despite these official declarations, the legislation that limits the fishing activity within the protected areas hasn’t been sufficiently publicized, which has generated conflicts between administrative organizations and community fishing groups located within and close to said areas. This project seeks to disseminate fishery legislation through workshops and forums with fishers to guarantee its adoption and establish a sense of respect for the fisheries.
KIM LEY | Playa del Carmen, Mexico | RAZONATURA Collective, A.C. | Kim-Ley Cooper received his BS in Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and has a Master’s in Marine Biology from the Sea and Limnology Institute (UNAM). He has worked for the National Commission on the Use and Knowledge of Biodiversity (CONABIO) as well as the Commission on Protected Areas (CONANP) in Mexico. He has also worked as coordinator and project adivser for the United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP), Wh-Leep, MAR Fund, Conservation International, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the Federation of Cooperative Societies of Fishery Production and the Fishermen Integrator of Quintana Roo. Presently, he is carrying out doctoral studies at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia. He speaks English, Portuguese, Italian and German. Kim is the proud father of Gioele Kai.
His project: Implementation of artificial fish refuges and lots for marine zoning, the promotion of economic incentives and the restauration of the Mesoamerican Reef System (MAR) – Banco Chinchorro
This project seeks to build on the community work already begun in the Banco Chinchorro and Sian Ka’an biosphere reserves to establish a monitoring and management program, including fishery reserves in reef and fishing zones within marine grass pastures, as a strategy to foment the natural recuperation of lobster populations, fish and their ecosystem relationships. Continuity will be giving to fisher training programs for the management and transfer of living product, the use of GPS and frameworks for population monitoring (migration, growth, etc.), registering biological data (biometrics) and the generation of useful information on fishing activity within cooperatives. Commercialization will be guaranteed through the promotion of regulated exploitation via the social organization that will apply the rules of usage for the CHAKAY collective brand and the Marine Stewardship Council principles, based on genetic studies of their populations.
GABY NAVA | Chetumal, Mexico | Oceanus, A.C. | Gabriela has her BS in Biology and has her Master’s in Science with a concentration in Marine Biology. Currently, she is finishing up her doctoral studies in Ecology and Sustainable Marine Development at the Colegio de la Frontera Sur. In 2006 she participated in the creation of Oceanus, which today develops an array of research and marine conservation projects on a global scale. Before working for Oceanus, Gabriela was the Mexican Representative for Reef Check, which has developed a set of environmental education and participatory monitoring activities for volunteers. Gaby was part of the International Coral Reef Initiative, serving as an assistant instructor in their Crime Scene Investigation for Coral Reefs Program. She also served as the Department Chief of Academic Development and Monitoring at Cozumel Reef National Park. Presently, Gabriela is an active promoter of coral reef restoration processes and techniques in Mexico – an innovative and very important subject with the potential to dramatically affect the conservation of regional coral ecosystems.
Her project: Restoration of Acropora palmata as an essential habitat for the establishment of fish refuges in Xcalak Reefs National Park
Overfishing and habitat destruction are the main threats facing the reef, since they produce imbalances in the coral reef ecosystem’s food chain and diminish ecosystem services. Therefore, management efforts must focus on restoration of the reef structure as well as the recuperation of fishery resources. Some authors consider that the topographic complexity and the coverage provided by the coral species Acropora palmata (AP) are important factors in the distribution, abundance and recruitment of some species, including those of commercial importance. Nevertheless, its population has dramatically decreased in the last couple of decades due to sickness and bleaching, and does not show signs of recuperation. This project proposes to restore AP as a part of the recuperation of the habitat essential for the establishment of fishing refuges within the Xcalak Reefs National Park. The restoration of this species can help to rehabilitate damaged zones and support the recuperation of fish species. Moreover, community participation in restoration, monitoring and enforcement activities will allow communities to receive direct benefits from the protection of the species in the long run.
CONSTANZA RIBOT | Cancun, Mexico | Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C. | Constanza has her BS in Marine Science from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and her Master’s degree in Marine Science from the Interdisciplinary Center on Marine Sciences. To receive these titles, Constanza carried out a research project regarding age and respective growth patterns of the Mako shark. Constanza currently works as Project Coordinator for COBI’s Mesoamerican Reef Program, in which she collaborates on the establishment of no-take zones along the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. One of the most memorable experiences Constanza has had to date was diving with great white sharks while carrying out research activities on the animal near Guadalupe Island.
Her project: Control of invasive lionfish populations to minimize their impact on the Puerto Morelos fishing refuge in Quintana Roo, Mexico
Fishing refuges are being promoted as a crucial element to complement the management and restoration of ecosystems and have already demonstrated that they help populations recuperate, thus increasing fishing production. In the Puerto Morelos Reef National Park, the fishing cooperative has proposed a self-restriction on its rights to declare a part of the zone as a fishing refuge. Nevertheless, there is concern within the sector and community in general about the presence of the lionfish in Mexican waters, since this species jeopardizes the success of the refuge, consequently decreasing the ecosystem’s ability to recuperate. This project proposes a capture strategy that will capitalize on the power of fishers, whose efforts will be unilaterally directed towards the capture of this species for 6 months out of the year, alternating the capture of lionfish with regular fishing activity. With these actions, it is hoped that the involvement of the fishing community in conservation measures will continue. Likewise, the project will complement the efforts being carried out by the Commission of Protected Areas and non-governmental organizations towards controlling this invasive species.
JOAQUÍN DE LA TORRE | Playa del Carmen, Mexico | International Fund for Animal Welfare | Healthy Reefs for Healthy People | Joaquín has his BA in Communications from the Universidad Iberoamericana and has a diploma in Crisis Communication from the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico. He has 11 years of experience in communications in themes such as the protection of the environment, animal wellbeing and biodiversity conservation. Currently, he is Project Coordinator at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, where he is helping the Humane Society of Cozumel establish standards and work protocols focused on guaranteeing the welfare of dogs and cats. He is also the Communications Officer for the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative. Before entering his college career, Joaquín traveled for 2 months in Australia with only $200 in his pocket.
His project: Let’s talk about the MAR
This project seeks to build a contact network integrated by social society, the media, and government & opinion leaders to develop a communications platform that leads to priority positioning of conservation themes on the public agenda through the insertion of high impact stories in mass media. This platform will also help to enrich the communication abilities of its members (MAR Fellows) with the objective of converting each member into a spokesperson for their project and allowing them to more effectively promote and publicize their project’s activities.