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Protecting Groupers in Belize

Dr. Jacque Carter is no stranger to San Pedro and has definitely played a major role in creating awareness to protect the reef and assisted in making Hol Chan the first marine reserve in the Caribbean back in the early 1980’s.

Dr. Jacque Carter is currently the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of New England. In addition to his responsibilities at the University of New England, Dr. Carter is a research conservation fellow with the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society.) He has published numerous articles in national and international journals, serves on editorial review boards, has delivered several invited lectures on the topic of reef ecology and conservation, and is currently at work on a book entitled, “The Coral Reef And Coastal Fishes of Belize”, a companion to the book “Fresh Water Fish of Belize”.

His newest project on Ambergris Caye is Aqua Ponics which involves raising fish that were traditionally common in these waters including the gray snapper, prized hog fish and especially the Nassau grouper because of the history of the fish in Belize.

The Nassau grouper, a large, colorful fish known for its spectacular spawning ritual, has all but disappeared in much of the Caribbean, although there is a lot of pressure from environmental organizations to protect the species. Belize has agreed to protect 11 spawning sites from commercial fishing in a move to save the fish from extinction.

The grouper, which can grow up to three feet and weigh up to 55 pounds, is a highly prized food source and a commercially valuable export whose spawning ritual makes it an easy target for fishermen. Each year, at the winter full moons in December and January, thousands of groupers congregate at sites off the coast of Belize to mate.

Local commercial fishermen are well aware of their tendency to “group” at the same time each year. So like the Nassau grouper, the fishermen gather at the spawning sites ready to reel in their big catch. The problem was that they where dinner before the groupers had time to reproduce. Scientist have documented an 80 % decrease in grouper populations since the 1970’s. There used to be about 15,000 groupers that aggregated at Glover reef during the winter full moon. Today, there are about 3,000, at most.

Surveys conducted by scientist at Glover’s Reef show that if fishing Nassau groupers continues at the current rate, groupers there will disappear, too, completely vanishing by 2013. With this in Mind Dr. Jacque plans to raise the fish in a contained environment, repopulate the Nassau grouper in protected marine reserves and even breed enough to supply local restaurants with fresh fish. He hopes to develop a system that can be franchised and used on other islands like Ambergris Caye.

Unlike other systems which disturb the eco-system this sustainable aqua culture system will not affect the environment and they will even be able to raise seaweed and oysters. While on the island Dr. Carter conducted a survey at the restaurants to see how many fish are in demand. The project will include a visitor center that will be located behind the Belize Legacy Resort which is working in collaboration with Dr. Jacque Carter.

The project seems very promising thanks to The University of New England, Green Reef, Belize Legacy Resort, The Charles and Ann Lindbergh foundation and Dr. Jacque Carter who is making it possible for the Nassau grouper be around for generations to come. If you would like more information about the project contact Dr. Carter at

The Reef is Their Classroom

As the years go by more and more schools are discovering that Belize is the perfect place for educational field trips, especially when it comes to Marine Biology Courses. In collaboration with Green Reef a group of 26 students from the University of New England made their way to Belize from Maine, U.S.A for an eight day field trip which is part of their 15-week course for their Coral Biology class.

Accompanying the students were Professor Jacque Carter, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of New England, and their teacher Dr. Jeri Fox along with her two children. Although the weather was a little cold and rainy for the first days of their trip, the students did get to enjoy some beautiful sunny days.

At night the students sat through lectures in their classroom on the beach by Tranquility Bay close to Bacalar Chico Reserve. The lectures where given by Mito Paz from Green Reef and Guadalupe Valentin Rodado. During the day the students did field work out at the reef such as identifying fish, corals and making a species list of the natural habitats found in the water.

Mito Paz commented to Ambergris Today that Green Reef is trying to market the Coral Reef Ecologic Class to other schools as it would create an alternative form of income for fisherman; other than commercial fishing they could assist with guiding and touring the groups. If more schools were to participate it would create great financial assistance for Bacalar Chico.

To go along with the Coral Reef Ecologic Class Mito is also planning on working on a field guide booklet which would contain a history of Bacalar Chico, an intro to Coral Reef, and species identifying including terrestrials found at Bacalar Chico and the natural Mayan history of the area. The Coral Reef Ecologic Class would build awareness to students of how the reef eco-system works and how important it is to preserve if for generations to come. If you would like to assist or get more information about the Coral Reef Ecologic Class contact Mito Paz at

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