CROCODILE RESEARCH COALITION
The Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) is a Belize-based nonprofit, established in January 2016, that seeks to preserve crocodiles and their environments throughout Central America and the Caribbean to ensure the long-term sustainability of biodiversity in the region. We believe the success of our conservation efforts parallels the involvement and support from local communities, thus we are continuously working alongside with local communities and partner organizations to empower people with the knowledge of co-existence and sustainable practices to ensure the survival of crocodiles and well-being of the communities that live beside them. Our outreach also incorporates working with the local and national governments, utilizing our research to better inform policy decisions regarding wildlife and their habitat (= translational ecology).
Although crocodiles are our flagship species in pursuing regional conservation efforts, the CRC recognizes that the conservation success of crocodiles is not only dependent on direct conservation efforts of the focal species, but also understanding how crocodiles interact with its environment and other wildlife as thriving and long-lasting conservation management is dependent on preserving the integrity of ecological interactions. Thus, through our research center in southern Belize, we facilitate research projects investigating crocodiles, as well as the surrounding flora and fauna.
The CRC is currently accruing further funding to build a state-of-the-art research facility on the Placencia Peninsula, however we do have the space and lodging to accommodate interested researchers and small academic groups nationally and internationally who wish to pursue wildlife and conservation research.
MEET THE TEAM
Dr. Marisa Tellez
Executive Director & Co-Founder
“If a woman loves a crocodile, she takes on its character.” — Ancient Egyptian Proverb
At an age when most girls were playing with dolls, Dr. Marisa Tellez was developing knowledge of the world’s top predators as she knew at a young age she wanted to be an advocate and leader in the conservation of the world’s apex predators, particularly crocodiles. Books, television, and local wildlife facilities were the only outlets for her to “experience” crocodiles given she was growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. After receiving a BA in Cultural Anthropology and a BS in Zoology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2005, Marisa finally got her hands-on experience with crocodilians at the Eco-station in Culver City, California, and soon after began working at the Los Angeles Zoo. It was working at the zoo that she realized she wanted to head back to school and truly pursue scientific research with crocodilians, particularly investigating their interaction with parasites.
Marisa received a Master’s (2010) and PhD (2014) from the University of California, Los Angeles studying the interaction between parasites and crocodilians, publishing a book and various scientific publications. Her work, knowledge and passion for crocodile conservation was quickly acknowledged by the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission-Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG), and was soon initiated into the CSG, as well as appointed as the Vice Regional Chair of Latin America for the CSG for her fieldwork in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize which began in 2008.
After receiving a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship through the United States government to research the health and biodiversity of crocodilian habitat in Belize, Marisa soon called Belize home. Observing the difference her research and outreach was making in the local communities, Marisa and her husband created the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) to further promote crocodile research and community involvement to assist in the conservation of crocodilians and their habitat.
Karl Kohlman grew up hunting and fishing on the gulf coast in Southeast Texas. He went on to the University of Texas at Dallas to receive a BA in Arts and Technology, leading him to a career in visual effects for film in Los Angeles. He spent 6 years working on summer blockbusters like Oblivion, TRON, Enders Game, Transformers 2, and many more. He spent a great deal of time outdoors surfing and hiking, trying to find balance with the long hours spent inside working, but was unable to do so. He moved to Seattle in hopes of finding a better equilibrium, working in video games on Halo 5, surrounded by a much more lush environment.
After only a year, his wife Marisa proposed that they move to Belize for at least a year for her work. In no time at all, they sold off their stuff, packed up what was left and moved to the Jewel of the Caribbean.
Over the next 6 months, working as a research assistant for his wife, Karl fell in love with the plethora of wildlife surrounding him and the crocodilians that they were researching. Seeing the positive difference he and his wife were already making among the local communities through their outreach and research, he and his wife Marisa decided to start the Crocodile Research Coalition, in hopes of learning more about the crocodiles and their environment, while educating locals and tourists alike about these incredible creatures and their importance to the surrounding environment.
Gliselle Marin was born and raised in Ladyville, Belize before moving to Belize City in her last year of high school. Her early interest in natural sciences and the environment led her to obtain an Associates Degree in Biology from St. John’s College Junior College. She received a BSc. in Wildlife and Wildlands Management from Purdue University in Indiana, U.S.A. where she was a member of the Williams Herpetology Laboratory. There she worked as a field and laboratory technician for 2 years, studying woodland salamanders, timber rattlesnakes, and eastern hellbenders. She then worked as a Research Coordinator for Texas Christian University on a project with Nextera Energy on the effects of wind turbine operations on bat and bird mortality in Meunster, Texas. Her passion for research continued later in the Manu National Forest of Peru, where she spent 6 months as a research assistant for the Manu Bird Project, a joint long-term study with the University of California, Davis, the University of British Columbia and the University of Florida. She returned to Belize for a few years to gain some practical job experience before applying for graduate studies. She recently completed a Master of Conservation Biology from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand where her thesis focues on the survivorship of the endemic Hihi (stitchbird) within a translocated population. Gliselle hopes to bring her research experience to Belize to provide vital scientific information on native species than can serve to inform better management and policy for Belizean wildlife.
Darcy Uclez was born in Honduras but raised in Belize since she was 5 years old. She received her teaching degree and works part-time in an architect/construction business as a draft architect, yet spends a lot of time volunteering in the community. Having great passion for the protection of wildlife and habitat (coral reefs) in Belize, Darcy has demonstrated her passion by volunteering her time with the Placencia Humane Society, Fragments of Hope, and was volunteering with the CRC for over a year before joining the team officially as our Program Coordinator.
Orange Walk Representative
Jonathan Triminio was born in Chetumal City, Mexico on April 16th, 1996. He grew up in the small town of Orange Walk “Shuga City” in northern Belize where he became fond of the great outdoors. As a young boy Jonathan enjoyed being outside observing his backyard’s wildlife and appreciating his natural environment. In 2013 he went on to pursue an Associate’s Degree in Natural Resource Management at Muffles Junior College. His relationship with nature grew as he started getting more involved in outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling and fishing all over Belize. Jonathan decided to continue his education and attended the University of Belize where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resource Management in 2019. In the midst of his Bachelor’s career Jonathan developed a genuine interest in crocodilian science and conservation so he based most of his academic work on crocodiles. As part of his Bachelor’s Program, Jonathan had the great honor to carry out his Internship with the Crocodile Research Coalition which significantly helped him further his career in wildlife conservation. Since then Jonathan has volunteered his time and has been heavily involved in research and outreach with the CRC.
My name is Kerri Zuniga. I was born on July 15, 1995 in Belize City. I lived in Belize City as a young child and moved to Seine Bight as I grew older. I am proud to call myself Garifuna. From a young age, I always knew I wanted to work outdoors and advocate for our environment. As I got older, I lived that dream. I presently hold an Associate degree in Environmental Science. My ultimate goal is to become a primary school teacher. I plan to use my teaching abilities to teach young children why they should protect and preserve mother earth. A huge Thank you to Marisa and CRC who gave me many opportunities to live my environmental dreams.
Miriam Boucher is a Canadian native who earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology at Wingate University, North Carolina, and completed a Master’s degree in Wildlife Management from West Virginia University in 2016, for which she investigated the behavior and acoustics of Crocodylus acutus in Belize. She became involved with crocodylian conservation efforts in Belize in 2014, assisting with ongoing population monitoring, parasitology research, and community engagement projects with Dr. Marisa Tellez. From March 2017 - June 2019, Miriam worked with the CRC as their Research Coordinator, assisting in the initiation of projects in Nicaragua in addition to the CRC satellite tracking program. Although she now works as an Environmental Consultant for a company in Canada, Miriam is continuing to work along with CRC as a colleague and associate with various projects in Belize and Nicaragua.
Matt Sparks is from Wales in the United Kingdom (UK) and obtained a BSc in International Wildlife Biology and an MSc in Conservation and GIS from the University of South Wales. While studying for his Master’s degree he investigated the potential of drones to aid in conservation management plans by mapping habitats. He has over 3 years of experience flying a variety of consumer drones and even holds a commercial license to fly them in the UK. With the CRC, Matt has assisted the CRC in initiating a drone survey project of manatee and crocodile distributions within the Placencia Lagoon and surrounding areas and continues to volunteer his time as a consultant for the drone surveys of the Placencia Lagoon and mentor to the Next Gen Croc program.
I honestly never thought I would be working with crocodiles, let alone falling in love with working with them. Yet here I am, still working with crocodiles in Belize, but now as a 2019 NSF-GRFP funded Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa working as a research associate and colleague alongside Marisa and the CRC. Although Marisa fostered my start in parasitology, she encouraged me to make my own path and to ask my own questions. Currently, my research goal is to understand hybridization in two species of Central American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus andC. moreletii) from both a genetic and phenotypic perspective. Using a genome-wide association study, I am investigating genetic markers from physiological stress in hybrid zones, for which I aim to use this research to promote effective conservation/management strategies in Belize alongside with the goals of the CRC, as well as fill in knowledge gaps in crocodilian biology and evolution.
Shawn Heflick has a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Wright State University, and a Masters in Conservation Biology/Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology. He has worked around the world on crocodylian conservation, both in situ and in captivity, and is a member of the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group. Shawn is the founder of Crocodile Conservation International, the director of Crocodile Manor and Crocodile University, and founder of CrocFest International.
His field and captive work has allowed him to work with all but a few of the world's crocodylian species. His passion is conservation and educating people about the amazing intelligence of crocodylians, their importance in their associated ecosystems, and how it is possible to coexist with these amazing apex predators. Shawn continues to assist the CRC in husbandry practices and field techniques.
Flavio Morrissiey has been working with crocodilian since 1989. He got his start at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida where he worked there for 17 Years. During that time he had developed behavioral management techniques for reptiles, specifically crocodilians. After leaving Gatorland as the General Curator he continued to assist over 30 facilities in Zoo Management. Co-creator of CrocFest, Flavio has volunteered his time for 10 years to bring people together for fundraising in crocodile conservation. CrocFest has raised nearly $500,000 for Crocodile researchers all over the world. He continues to develop techniques to find solutions to conservation problems with on going Human Crocodile Conflicts. Dr. Marisa Tellez has encouraged such ideas and with the Crocodile Research Coalition these ideas and techniques are being put to the test.
Recently the techniques have been applied to American Crocodiles and Morelets Crocodiles in Belize. Using negative reinforcement and aversive stimuli. In the case studies thus far the program seems to work with problematic crocodiles that pose a threat to human populations. At the same time these techniques are designed to teach crocodiles to avoid humans and their dangerous motives as well.
A former British military officer, but now armed with graduate degrees in Marine Science, Tropical Ecology, and Conservation Biology, and as a PADI Divemaster, David Hilmy is the founder and currently Chief Science Officer for the KEEP, a Belizean non-profit conservation NGO which is based inside the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve in Stann Creek District. The primary focus of the KEEP is translocation, working in collaboration with CRC and Forest Department to rehabilitate and relocate even the largest of crocodiles in one of their two KuTunza Translocation Facilities, and with Belize Bird Rescue and other NGOs releasing endangered parrots back into the wild. Other projects include mangrove restoration (their five-year total to date is 26,750 seeds/seedlings planted); OCS, the orchid and epiphyte conservation and salvage project; Great Curassow, Crested Guan, and Ocellated Turkey breeding programmes with the Belize Zoo; and soon they will be adding small mammal rehabilitation and release projects, in particular with tree porcupines and kinkajous.