Last month, I got the opportunity to take the class Tropical Field Biology (EBIO 319) and travel to Belize, a country that boasts an incredible amount of biodiversity both underwater and in the rainforest. I learned a lot about what it takes to become a field biologist, however there were larger lessons about conservation biology that I encountered first-hand, making them even more personally salient.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know some of the consequences of overexploiting natural resources, or at minimum, easy everyday lifestyle changes that could greatly reduce your negative impact on Mother Earth. I remember hearing once from Professor Schneider-Mayerson during a lunch on campus that in some respects, education is overrated for many of us, since we already know how we can become more environmentally mindful. We just choose to continue our inflexible, resolute lifestyles.
As a result, places like Belize suffer. Colin A. Young from Galen University predicted 6 major conservation issues in 2008: high deforestation rate, soil and liquid-waste management, rising poverty, rapid coastal development, ineffective institutional and legal frameworks, and the oil industry. Because Belize’s economy is inevitably tied to its wide array of natural resources, management policies are crucial. But when the government has little funding to support, sustainability and efficiency, there is little that can be done to even begin addressing the complicated sociopolitical issues.
You’ll never be able to find the name Boris Arevalo to an appreciable extent, but his work with the Friends for Conservation Development cannot be overstated. This nonprofit organization has played many of the roles that would usually be relegated to the government, but low efficacy and mismanagement led to FCD having to step up to the plate . Boris has put himself in numerous life-or-death situations in order to protect the Chiquibul Rainforest from destruction, and has only recently collaborated with the Belizean Forces to begin any sort of significant border control to address the Guatemalan encroachment from the west.
So while Belize is the second smallest country in Central America, failure to respond to ongoing threats to the rainforest and marine ecosystems can result in the permanent loss of incredible biodiversity. If we treated the health of the Earth like we do people, prescriptive measures like the ones below would be taken with more severity. Here are some simple, everyday choices you can make to keep our tropical ecosystems alive:
1. Shop smart! Try not to buy items that come from the rainforest, specifically mahogany, pine, and palm products. The illegal harvesting of Xaté, or fishtail palm, is very much due to U.S. consumption of these leaves for flower arrangements. It’s quite shocking that such a small, niche market caused an incredible amount of destruction in the Chiquibul Rainforest. The same goes for seafood - make sure that the fish you buy were sustainably caught!
2. Replace driving with walking and bicycling as much as possible.
3. Keep exotic animals where they belong - birds like scarlet macaws continue to be poached from nests to be shipped to places all around the world. Sometimes even certified animals come from sketchy, illegal activities.
4. Reduce plastic and styrofoam usage - a lot your Smoothie King cups and grocery bags end up in the ocean, where they never biodegrade and then end up in gyres of trash, suffocating many marine organisms.
5. Don’t be passive about conservation! Encourage friends and family to lead more sustainable life.
Elaine Shen is a sophomore in McMurtry College at Rice University
Young, C. Belize's Ecosystems: Threats and Challenges to Conservation in Belize. Tropical Conservation Science. 2008, 1, 18.