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The UB Environmental Research Institute celebrated its tenth year on March 4th, 2020 with a short ceremony on the Belmopan main campus, to highlight its outputs and achievements and recognize its partners over the last ten years. In attendance were University leaders, members of the UB Board of Trustees staff, NGO community, government and private sector partners.

January 2010, the UB ERI was inaugurated as the university’s first research institute and since then it has been working to achieve its mission to continuously build national scientific capacity for the effective management, sustainable use and conservation of Belize’s natural resources. UB ERI has helped the national University meet its mission of relevant and quality education and research programs, through three programmatic areas: Research & Monitoring, Fellowships & Training, and Communication & Outreach. There have been numerous successes over the last decade.

Under Research and Monitoring, there has been significant progress in our understanding of biodiversity and the impacts of various threats and uses on this biodiversity across Belize.

  • Our wildlife research in the Maya Forest Corridor (MFC) in central Belize, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and other terrestrial protected areas has helped to inform management with at least 24 peer-reviewed publications.

  • Research in collaboration with Panthera and others produced significant new information on the longevity and behavior of jaguars in the wild, tracked impacts to wildlife and their recovery following large wildfires and a hurricane in 2010, and produced a countrywide assessment of game meat consumption and the potential impact on wildlife, as well a deeper understanding of hunting and the illegal wildlife trade.

  • Based on this research, the UB ERI along with government, NGO and community stakeholders, worked to achieve the formal designation of the Maya Forest Corridor, which consists of protected areas and private lands.

  • We have had great success in establishing a bird banding program to monitor the survival of migratory birds, with 3 years of data, and in another two years will be able to inform management on changes in ecosystem health and make predictions on future impacts from climate change.

  • Our marine research focuses on the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. Nine years of long-term data has tracked the health of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses for the Atoll. Our research has also provided scientific data to guide managers on the state of commercial fish populations in Turneffe, the marine reserve as a fishery replenishment tool, and the status of the queen conch populations in Turneffe.

  • Our research on sea cucumbers has led to establishment of a closed season for the sea cucumber fishery along with a socioeconomic assessment of the fishery and sea cucumber mariculture pilot project.

  • In partnership with the Belize Forest Department, we have built national capacity for long-term forest monitoring through training in permanent sample plots and have conducted initial monitoring and assessment of key areas.

  • In collaboration with national partners and the Ministry responsible for the Environment, the UB ERI has developed a National Biodiversity Monitoring Program to track Belize’s biodiversity health and state of its protected areas.

  • We have published work that has also contributed to an understanding of the plant diversity of the country’s lowland savannas and the impacts of logging on plants that are important for regenerating forests. We also re-curated the National Herbarium housed at the Forest Department and updated the botanical database for the country.

  • The UB ERI has enriched the undergraduate degree programs in the faculty of science and technology, through the experiential learning of our students who have gained critical field skills and applied knowledge. This has been demonstrated through the numerous jobs that our past volunteers and students have gone on to, after benefiting from our various programs.

  • We trained over 130 university students in various research and field techniques through internships, thesis projects and volunteer programs and annually delivered five (5) field and modular courses within the Natural Resources Management Program to over 800 students.

  • We have established an internationally recognized scientific diving program which gives our students and staff a competitive edge in their career and for graduate studies. This program has produced a total of 15 scientific divers and 18 student divers-in-training and certified at least 20 staff and 20 students as first aid/CPR providers.

  • We successfully implemented two research fellowships on jaguars and small mammal populations and on Belize’s sea cucumber fishery. The Research Fellows, Dr. Bart Harmsen and Dr. Arlenie Rogers authored more than 30 publications.

  • Our Research Fellows have been instrumental in inspiring our university students and bringing added quality to the university’s academic programs through teaching in their areas of expertise as well as mentoring students through thesis projects and internships.

  • In partnership with the National Protected Areas Secretariat and PACT, we developed and implemented a National Training Program for Protected Areas Management: with a total of 11 courses offered under the pilot phase of the program. So far, we have trained 132 participants from 23 different organizations across Belize engaged in the management of protected areas.

  • We have been instrumental in paving the way for graduate education offerings at the University through a regional collaboration with University of the West Indies (St. Augustine), University of Guyana and Anton de Kom University Surinam, the University of Belize first offered an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development with UB ERI as the coordinator for this program. Our staff supervised and directed 12 graduate students and their projects over the past 6 years as part of this program.

UB ERI staff have also provided technical input and support services over the years for coordination, data management and policy development through various national networks, national committees, task forces and national databases.

Through country-wide consultations with co-managers and organizations managing our natural resources, we developed a National Environmental and NRM Research Agenda in 2010 to guide needed research for Belize. This agenda was updated in November 2015 and is a reference resource for government agencies, NGO managers and PACT.

In summary, UB ERI has made significant progress towards it mission of continuously building Belize’s scientific capacity through its research, fellowships, teaching, training, outreach and partnerships with the environmental community. Our research and capacity building outputs and input into national policies, have brought increased recognition to the University and its role in building scientific knowledge and bringing meaningful change to the management of Belize’s biodiversity and natural capital.

As we move into our second decade, our focus is to build upon our successes and work to expand graduate research within the national university and by extension, Belize. These graduate programs will harness the existing and future research capacity of the UB ERI, as well as its current access to long term data sets in wildlife, fisheries management and marine ecology. Through these expanded graduate programs and research, UB will be elevated as the leading academic institution in the area of research on the environment. This will result in more consistent research outputs that will inform policy but additionally will leverage private sector contributions to education, research and sound natural resources management.

The UB ERI looks forward to continued partnerships as we journey into the future, further building Belize’s scientific capacity and enhancing its most valuable asset, our people.