An incredible discovery of mine on our research trip was that Belizeans are some of the kindest people to come across. I met and spent an extended amount of time with different host families and guides in the ecotourism industry. At our first location, we were housed by a sweet local family who runs the operations at Lime Caye. Our guide at Lime Caye was George. He served as a park ranger in the area for several years before he became a guide and knows the waters like the back of his hand. He is brilliant and was able to point out some fascinating and hard-to-find species that I would’ve never found on my own. At our final location in Southwater Caye, we had several divemasters, Stacey Webber among them. What a character she is! She has a long-standing partnership with my professor and has been taking Bama students out on the waters for years. This photo is one of my favorites of Stacey holding a conch shell to her ear like a telephone. This particular morning, she took a group spearfishing for lionfish, an invasive species to the area. She is incredibly witty and a joy to spend time with but more than that, she loves the reefs and she takes pride in her job. I remember asking about her life growing up. She told me that she got her guide job as a way to pay for college. Eventually, she decided to take up guiding full-time. I asked if she ever became interested in finishing her degree to which she told me that she considers herself to be one of the luckiest humans with a job from which she has learned more than she could’ve imagined. She opened her arms to the ocean and said, “Look! This is my office!” Every morning, she took us to some of the most incredible reefs I’ve ever seen, helping us to understand the life surrounding us. She also does a ton of conservation work in her community. When asked her opinion on artificial reef building, she told us that she works with reef-restoring non-profits in coral gardening which involves saving coral from harmful environments and allowing them to grow in better waters until they are strong enough to return. She even works in some local schools to spread conservation education and awareness. I used the following quote in our final research presentation:

“I think we could work harder to preserve the reefs. Definitely. Finances have nothing to do with it. That’s what they say, but it’s just about the education. When people know the importance of the reef system to any other part of ecology then they would understand and treat it better.” 

-Stacey Webber