Skip to content

SAVE THE NEW RIVER!

Project Description

The Story of the New River Pollution Crisis

 

In early 2017, the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) began hearing reports of dead fish and ill, white or pink crocodiles along New River around Orange Walk Town in northern Belize. Community members were concerned of a contaminant in the water affecting the health of the river ecosystem. During nocturnal eyeshine surveys and capture surveys in March and April 2018 in conjunction with the countrywide Morelet’s crocodile population survey, CRC witnessed the concerns of community members. We observed many lethargic crocodiles of all sizes illustrating “white” skin patches or skin with a metallic bluish tint, in addition to pockets of dead fish and eutrophication. Crocodiles near Orange Walk Town illustrated “white patches” on their skin and illustrated a bluish tint, as if something in the water was causing the skin to slough off easily. Besides lethargy, some crocodiles were also “star-gazing,” a neurological symptom that paralyzes crocodiles from moving. We informed the government immediately.

CRC conducted necropsies on 2 Morelet’s crocodiles that were captured near along the New River near Banquitas Bridge and Maracas Restaurant in Orange Walk Town. The CRC team conducted necropsies immediately to obtain the most accurate samples for future heavy metal analysis, however collecting of samples proved difficult given upon opening up the thoracic cavity, the organs were already disintegrating in both crocodiles (especially the kidneys and liver). This is very abnormal, and given the state of some of the organs these animals have been chronically exposed to a contaminant and dying slowly for a few months (this was confirmed with fellow colleagues from the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group). CRC is unaware of any disease to cause such disintegration of organs as observed in these crocodiles. Given the state of organ decomposition (even while they were alive) and the white skin of these crocodiles, CRC has given the names of these crocodiles as White Walkers.

The CRC has been asked by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change under the authority of Forest Department to further our investigations to identify the root of the pollution issue to help save the New River, in addition to hopefully provide information to prevent such a catastrophic pollution event to happen elsewhere in-country. We intend to conduct monthly surveys of New River, utilizing the population and health status of crocodiles as an indicator of the state of the environment. Water and soil samples have been taken, and we will continue to collect tissue samples for heavy metal and pesticide analysis to monitor pollutant levels.

We understand it may be a lengthy process to clean-up the river, but the CRC hopes that our research can provide government and the communities along New River the data necessary to ensure the long-term survival and health of this important ecosystem not just for the wildlife, but also for the multiple communities that depend on this river for their livelihoods.

Local Film Maker Daniel Velazquez created a short documentary about the issue and its impact on the health of the river. Head to YouTube to check out this 3min film! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07AGmSOfjFs&t=5s

You can help the CRC and our partners in Saving the New River!  Any financial donation will greatly assist us in our monitoring program.

 

Research Update

1 Dec 2019: During the September 2019 survey, the CRC caught 1 juvenile White Walker (Viserion) and took it back to the CRC facility for rehabilitation and monitoring. Although this crocodile did not have any white patches, it illustrated the whitish-bluish tint skin on its head and parts of its back, which we hypothesize is the beginning of the lack of keritanizing or sloughing of skin, in addition to a distended belly. Per recommendations of vets from the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group veterinary subcommittee, we conducted daily observations of the rehab croc, exposing this animal to clean water, food and a stress free environment. It has been suggested that in this basic clean environment, the animal may be able to metabolize any contaminants itself, and could illustrate signs of normal skin tone and texture within the next few months.

However, Viserion succumbed to the pollution. The bluish tint and white patches of the skin may be a sign of “It’s Too Late.” Rehabilitation may not be a solution for White Walkers, and euthanization may be the most humane action to prevent these crocodiles dying a slow painful death. CRC will continue to gather data to further understand the pollution event and its effect on crocodiles, in addition to assisting government and communities in saving the New River.  

 

More Projects

Placencia Peninsula Citizen Science

PLACENCIA PENINSULA CITIZEN SCIENCE Project Description A year-round citizen science program to collect data on the behavior and activity of the American and Morelet’s Crocodile around the Placencia Lagoon. Dangerous. Pests. Vermin. Man-killers. Useless.  These are some of the words used to describe crocodiles given the many false beliefs and misguided facts about these creatures,…
Read More

Placencia Peninsula Monthly Trash Clean-Up

PLACENCIA PENINSULA MONTHLY TRASH CLEAN-UP Project Description In recent years, more scientific studies are illustrating the harm and negative impact trash has on the health of the environment, the wildlife and surrounding communities. A clean environment is beneficial to the entire ecosystem, and who doesn’t love a clean beach or community! We understand that every little…
Read More

Placencia Avian Health Survey

PLACENCIA AVIAN HEALTH SURVEY Project Description In late 2015, the CRC began observing during their weekly biodiversity surveys around the Placencia Lagoon various water birds ill, dead, or having issues with flying or walking.  We then began to observe a pattern of a high rate of ill or dead birds in various locations around the…
Read More

Wildlife Triage & Rehabilitation

WILDLIFE TRIAGE & REHABILITATION Project Description After years of responding to injured wildlife in southern Belize, which included manatee, pelican, iguana, raccoon, and snake rescues, the CRC quickly recognized their role as a wildlife rescue responder in the area. With increasing responsibility to respond to wildlife calls from community members and various partners throughout the country,…
Read More