BELIZE CITY–On Saturday, September 27, Oceana Belize formally recognized coral researcher Lisa Carne and manatee expert Jamal Galvez as ocean heroes. Being an ocean hero can mean many things, but mostly, it means deciding that you are ready to take action to help to protect our marine environment for people and creatures of today and for future generations.
In 2006, Ocean Hero Lisa Carne was a young biologist who had witnessed the devastating impact of Hurricane Iris in Southern Belize and was deeply troubled by the vulnerability of Belize’s marine environment to climate change through rising sea temperatures and stronger storm surges.
Using the Laughing Bird Caye National Park as a natural laboratory, Carne established a coral “nursery” in attempt to restore critically endangered Acropora corals.
Today, with support from the communities of Independence and Placencia, her “Fragments of Hope” project has more than five thousand out-plants in more than eighteen sub-sites.
“Laughing Bird Caye is a high traffic area; it’s very close to Placencia. It’s a no-take zone which means there is no fishing allowed and it supports a real crucial ecosystem within the reef so that there is a good balance between the fish, the corals and the invertebrates,” shared Carne. “I have a lot of help from the tour guides and fishermen, because they see that it is working; that these corals provide habitat for lobster and other organisms.”
Ocean Hero Jamal Galvez has been a self-proclaimed “manatee protector” since age eleven. Today, Jamal is a recognized expert of these slow moving mammals and his affection for the gentle herbivores has propelled the need to protect manatees into national consciousness.
On average, manatees can live as long as 50 to 60 years in the wild, largely because they have no natural predators. But manatees are an endangered species due to threats like boat collisions, destructive gear like nets, and even poverty.
“Manatees aren’t just cute. They are in trouble and they need our help. I’ve dedicated my life to conserving these creatures,” says Galvez. “Belize has one of the healthiest populations of West Indian manatees in the world. I just want to inspire other Belizeans so that the interests of manatees will always be safeguarded.”
Guest speaker for the Ocean Hero event was Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts, the Administrative and Science Director (Marine) of the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute. The marine ecologist maintained, “As an educator, I can discuss, teach, test and encourage, but it is a real privilege to be able to reward people who are making a difference on the ground. Our award winners have demonstrated a vision and determination in embracing marine conservation. In honouring our Ocean heroes, I hope we can all take some inspiration from their example and do more to contribute to the good of all mankind.”
Oceana’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona, summed up the event this way. “Our challenges are many: our precious marine environment is still at risk from offshore oil concessions; our charismatic species and juvenile fish are still at risk from both destructive gear and disregard. Sensitive habitats along our coast and on our islands are still at risk from unjustifiable development projects. And on top of it all, the marine environment we all depend on for our food, our jobs and our very cultural identity, is at risk from the global crisis of our generation, climate change.
“Our challenges are many but our collective passion is deep. Lisa and Jamal exemplify the type of heroism we all need to strive for. And like them, Oceana is working fervently to help consumers become informed citizens on environmental issues so that you can help to determine the quality of your future; your family’s future; Belize’s future.”
The Ocean Hero award began in 2009 as a way for Oceana to recognize and celebrate exceptional accomplishments in ocean conservation, advocacy and education taking place globally. Past Belizean recipients include Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia and Dr. Melanie McField.