by Thomas Rainwater
We just completed the second of our two Hicatee (Dermatemys mawii) Survey and Monitoring Workshops in Belize. After several days down south for the first workshop, this time we were up north on the New River Lagoon and associated tributaries. New River Lagoon is an approximately 27 mile long lagoon located in north-central Belize and is the largest body of freshwater in the country. Like the southern workshop, we had an outstanding and diverse group of attendants at the northern workshop, including representatives from the Belize Audubon Society, the Belize Fisheries Department, the Belize Forestry Department, the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), and Lamanai Field Research Center (LFRC).
We all met at the LFRC on Thursday afternoon, and after a brief orientation and dinner we headed out onto the New River Lagoon to conduct net surveys at the confluence of the lagoon and New River where Dermatemys has been observed by local fishermen. No turtles were captured that night, but workshop attendants got experience with our netting procedure, and in between net checks we had great conversations about issues regarding Dermatemys status and exploitation in Belize. These talks were one of endless examples of the critical knowledge that Belizeans have regarding the realities (including politics) of Dermatemys conservation in their country and how important it is for different groups to work together for effective conservation.
The next two days we shifted our field operations to Irish Creek, a remote tributary feeding the New River Lagoon from the west. Over the next two and a half days, trainees learned net survey techniques, as well as the methods for processing captured turtles and recording data on standardized data sheets. As in the workshop down south, when we began the northern workshop I asked for a show of hands of individuals who had ever seen a live, wild Dermatemys up close. And, as in the workshop down south, very few had. Thus, the group was quite excited when we landed the first turtle of the workshop, an adult female. In all, we captured 4 Dermatemys during the workshop, and all trainees received repeated hands-on experience with both survey and data collection techniques. Equally as valuable, I think, they made new contacts and comrades in “hicatee” conservation.