This month your Load of Croc is hosted by Morgan Lucot, CRC’s Community Ecology Intern (https://www.crocodileresearchcoalition.org/portfolio/community-ecology-internship-leadership-position/). Morgan has been with the CRC for 5 months assisting us in biodiversity surveys, community outreach… and of course a few things croc! So how was her adventure with the CRC….
Many of you know the CRC to be a powerhouse of croc research and wildlife care here in Southern Belize. While that is true, the CRC takes on even more than you may have known. Dr. Tellez has always said that in order to study and protect crocodiles in full we must extend our efforts to the environment around them. That’s where my job comes in to play. My name is Morgan and I am the current Community Ecology Intern. I’ve spent the last 5 months living in Belize and working to collect data on the biodiversity of the local environment. My job title is simple but you’ll see, I was hard at work every day. This gig is not a glamorous one. I fished, kayaked, hiked, and spent many days out doors for the sake of science. I’m exhausted.
I led weekly surveys to assess bird diversity and abundance. The surveys consisted of hiking or kayaking a short (1-3 km) distance and recording any birds we saw. I had never done any birding before so to get started I did a couple sessions with Dr. Tellez and Melvin Arevalo, an expert birder who works at Turtle Inn in Placencia. I was surprised at how difficult and nuanced birding could be. A lot of birds look quite similar at a glance so Melvin taught me to look for traits like flight pattern, habitat, and behavior as well as color and shape. I was surprised to find that I loved the bird surveys. Finding species I have never seen before is always exciting and seeing my weekly improvement was really fulfilling. Birding is something I fully intend to take home with me. You will find me wandering around Michigan with binoculars and a bird book this summer.
Parasite abundance data
Healthy environments should have parasites, unpleasant but true. To understand parasite abundance, you first have to know where to look for them. Parasites often carry out different parts of their lifecycle in different hosts. An organism that houses a non-mature parasite (one which cannot yet reproduce) is called an intermediate host. We know that the same parasites that infect birds can be found in their immature form in snails. Given this information, every week I collected snails at the survey sites to look for parasites. I put the snails in individual compartments of a plastic case with water and a little piece of food then left them there overnight. The next day I would examine the water in the compartments for parasites and record whether or not I found them along with the type of snail and its dimensions. Parasite research is super important when determining the health of an environment so snail surveys are just as important as the bird surveys.
Manatee dissections and parasites
The CRC really does do a lot for all forms of wildlife in southern Belize. We have become to first responders for many stranded/injured marine and terrestrial wildlife on the Peninsula. Often times our role is to either take care of an injured animal until we can shuttle it to the experts or to asses cause of death when possible. In this role the CRC took on the task of performing manatee necropsies to determine cause of death of two stranded manatees. As part of these necropsies we collected parasites from the intestines and nares of the mantaees and it was my job to identify the species of parasite. I spent a couple months chemically stripping the cuticle of these parasites and examining them under a microscope, one by one. Dr. Tellez and I anticipate to publish the first descriptive article discussing manatee parasites in Belize.
Another crucial piece of any conservation effort is to involve the community. All your hard work and data collection is lost if you don’t help locals to participate in protecting the land. The CRC is dedicated to outreach and Belizean involvement in our research. As a CRC team member I participated in several school outreach events where we had the chance to talk with the kids about conservation, sustainability, and living with crocs. While I was here in Belize I was lucky enough to be involved with an art competition the CRC put on for the Seine Bight public school children. They submitted artwork aiming to encourage their community to throw their trash in the bins and keep Seine Bight clean. The winners painted their designs and hung them up around town. Later we took them on an eye shine survey in the lagoon. Seeing their excitement and enthusiasm revitalized my own love for conservation work.
Every week I was assisted in my surveys by Dr. Tellez, CRC coworkers, a Seine Bight native biologist, Kerri, as well as several rotating volunteers hoping to make a difference in their community. Here on the Peninsula I’ve found an engaged and loving community which has made leaving Belize truly difficult. I want to thank everyone who I’ve encountered here for welcoming me into this special community. I hope to be back someday, and I will miss you all in the meantime.