Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Update from Noelle in Utila

My first two weeks on the Bay Island of Utila have far exceeded my expectations. Since starting work at the Iguana Research and Breeding Centre, I have been involved in a variety of projects and activities, some of which I have already seen the fruits of my labour, albeit relatively small.

On my first day, I participated in a recycled glass bottle workshop at the local NGO Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) with the other volunteers from the Centre, including a large group of biology students visiting from the capital, Tegucigalpa. During this workshop, we used a metal wire similar to what you would find in your typical oven to heat and cut the base of the bottles, and made drinking glasses out of them. These glasses were sold to a popular bar in town called Tranquila and we’ve already been served with them!

Last week we spent a total of 4 hours walking through a mangrove monitoring site to label trees we would use to set the limits for the iguana research area. Some of my responsibilities at the Centre include helping to take care of the Swamper iguana, a species endemic to the island of Utila, and whose habitat is in the mangroves. During my time here, I will provide support to the new mangrove restoration project by visiting various monitoring sites to assess the state of the mangroves in the hopes of protecting this valuable ecosystem.

I am also involved in the environmental education project, leading an “arts and crafts” workshop using recycled materials to raise children’s awareness about our current environmental issues and the need to reduce our waste while using our creativity to turn “garbage” into something useful or decorative. For instance, we made brooms out of a plastic pop bottle cut into strips, pen holders using toilet paper rolls and animals out of plastic cups.

We’ve held two of these workshops and this Friday afternoon, in honour of Wetland Day last weekend, we made a mangrove mural with bottle caps, cloth from a T-shirt and aluminum paper. We intend to continue this tradition with the support of local organizations including the Whale Shark Ocean Research Centre and BICA. With the beginning of the school year already started, I will help give presentations within the next few weeks on environmental themes including ecology, anthropological impact on the environment and climate change.

I’ve already had the opportunity to see the less-explored parts of the island, including the freshwater caves. We walked an hour to and from the caves, and lit up our way inside with candles, where swimming in the refreshing clear water paid off our hard work.

Within the next few weeks we hope to organize community events such as beach cleanups to raise awareness about the current waste management challenge and to get people feeling involved and contributing to making a difference.

I’ve been enjoying gaining hands-on experience in the environmental field and I look forward to seeing the rest of our projects through, learning from and contributing to them as much as I can.

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