This month’s A Load Of Croc is written by Matthew Sparks, M.S.c., a drone specialist from Wales, United Kingdom who as assisted the CRC in setting up a research project surveying the manatee and crocs of the Placencia Lagoon using drone technology.

I’ve spent the last 6 months of my time with the Crocodile Research Coalition in Belize as a Research Associate. I came out here with the CRC in 2018 for 2 weeks as an intern and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d come back for longer and do some research.

While in Belize for 6 months, I assisted the CRC in initiating their Drone Survey Project of the manatees and crocs in the Placencia lagoon in order obtain a better understanding of the parts of the lagoon they like to inhabit- the “hot spots. This information is key as manatees and crocs are in danger of being hit by boats and caught in illegal gill nets, hence knowing where they are will help us promote awareness of the animals in those areas. During my time conducting the drone surveys I managed to capture over 40 manatees and saw lots of other awesome wildlife such as dolphins, cownose rays and various other fish and birds. The crocs were a bit too shy (which I wouldn’t blame them given the continue harassment and illegal hunting of crocs that continue to happen). The drone is a useful tool to survey wildlife as it can cover larger areas than we can and having a bird’s eye view means we see so much more. The CRC received funding to carry on the drone project for the next few years by the Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF)– the CRC is the first croc organization and first croc related project ever to be funded by MCAF!

Now back in not-so-sunny Wales, the CRC Next Gen Croc students will be taking over from me and reporting their findings at the IUCN/SSC- Crocodile Specialist Group Working Meeting next year in Mexico. I have been given the amazing opportunity to mentor these bright young scientists as they carry on the drone study.

Aside from the drone work I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Belize. I’ve met so many wonderful people and made new friends for life. While I’m back in Wales I will continue to miss the blue seas, sandy beaches, expansive jungles and the odd Belikin stout by the lagoon. I’d like to thank everyone at the CRC for making by stay in Belize as amazing as it could be! They’ll definitely be seeing me again soon (lucky/unlucky for them) and I plan on having many more adventures in the what I believe to be the greatest country on Earth – Belize! If you don’t Belize me (see what I did there?) then here’s a few pictures from the drone I took to show how good Belize is!