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Conservation from Reef to Ridge: An Experiential Learning Excursion in Belize

Conservation from Reef to Ridge: An Experiential Learning Excursion in Belize
Every year, students from the New York and Pasadena campuses embark on a journey to tropical Belize. They spend two weeks exploring the country’s varying landscapes, embracing its culture, and learning how to safeguard marine life.

ALT TEXT To begin the trip, our students headed to TREC – Tropical Research and Education Center, in San Pedro, Belize to study coral reef and marine life conservation. There, students explored marine protected areas dedicated to preserving biodiversity with a “no touch no take” policy. This means tourists can’t take shells, and locals can’t fish. To understand the area better, students had the opportunity to see the ecosystems firsthand through snorkeling and were shown how to identify different species of coral and fish. With this new skill, students can observe the delicate balance between these marine organisms that call the reef home.

This trip granted the students many “firsts,” including befriending an affectionate octopus that emerged from among the corals to greet them.

Preceding coral reef exploration, our group traveled over to the rainforests, where they participated in ecotourism that directly impacted the conservation of Belize’s natural parks. Through zip lining, canoeing, and tubing in cave ecosystems, our students generated income that would directly contribute to rainforest conservation.

ALT TEXTTraditionally, when individuals think of conservation, they think of protecting nature, wildlife, and living organisms. However, our students quickly learned that it is also applicable to the protection of culture and tradition.

For the second half of the trip, the group traveled to the west side of Belize, into the mountains. Here, one could find the archaeological sites of Xunantunich and Lamanai. They toured the Mayan ruins and had a guide to educate them on the details of their culture. For example, the individuals who live on these sites use everything in their surroundings as natural resources – such as pulling “glue” right off the trees!

While there, the group also visited the Mayan Women Co Op, a group of women whose goal is to preserve Mayan culture through traditional cooking, embroidery, and pottery techniques. Students quickly understood the value of maintaining these traditions and even created their own pottery and tortillas from scratch.

ALT TEXTThis trip was planned together with EF Educational Tours to ensure a perfect balance of immersive learning and exhilarating activities. Our EF tour guide, Herbert Eagan, left us with a bit of wisdom to wrap up the trip: “If you’re abroad, and it feels like home- you haven’t traveled.” Herbert reminded us that when trying to experience another country’s culture, it’s important to immerse yourself in that region through people, food, language, and tradition. It’s okay to go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You might just fall in love with a new place and an appreciation for the people that live there. ALT TEXT