In 1997, a group of Belizean environmentalists was determined to prevent the destruction of Toledo’s incredible ecosystems. The local manatee population, in particular, was being devastated by intense hunting and gill net use along Belize’s coast.

 

With support from The Nature Conservancy, they formed the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). TIDE rallied the local fishing community and successfully petitioned the Government of Belize to establish the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, bringing 100,000 acres of marine habitat under legal protection and safeguarding some of the healthiest coral reefs in the entire Mesoamerican Reef, as well as important fish nursery grounds, sea turtle nesting beaches, critically endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, and, of course, the manatees.

 

Because local fishers were no longer allowed to use destructive gill nets in the new reserve, TIDE organized a net buy-back project and retrained 60 fishers as tour guides, taking advantage of the area’s potential as a world-class fly-fishing destination.

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TIDE quickly gained a reputation as an organization that gets results, and in 2001, was selected to manage 11,000 acres of forest under the terms of a “debt-for-nature swap” between Belize and the USA. TIDE has since expanded these holdings to 22,000 acres that form an important wildlife corridor. In 2002, TIDE won the United Nations Development Program’s prestigious Equator Prize for sustainable development.

 

In 2004, TIDE officially began co-managing Payne’s Creek National Park with the Belize Forest Department. Wildfire is by far the greatest threat to the savanna ecosystem in Payne’s Creek, and so TIDE sought out the assistance of the US Parks Service and Everglades National Park to develop a fire management program. As a result of over a decade of diligent fire management, over 14,000 acres of pine savanna is regenerating.

In 2007, TIDE’s founder, Mr. Wil Maheia, handed over the reins to the current executive director, Mrs. Celia Mahung, an innovator in community participation and environmental education. Under Mrs. Mahung’s leadership, TIDE has won international acclaim for its environmental education initiatives, the flagship of which is the “Freshwater Cup”. This is a football tournament with a twist – each participating school team must first complete a mini project to protect freshwater ecosystems and the Belize Barrier Reef downstream.

 

The tournament empowers girls and boys by making them realize what can be accomplished when we work together! In 2008, the Freshwater Cup won TIDE the Experiences in Social Innovation Award from ECLAC and the Kellogg Foundation, from over 800 nominations worldwide. In 2012, the competition was recognized again, this time with the International Olympic Committee’s Award for Integrating Sport and Sustainable Development.

 

Pioneering new innovations again in 2012, TIDE joined forces with the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy and University of California at Santa Barbara to pilot Managed Access fisheries management in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, a first for the Caribbean! Managed Access has resulted in increased catches for fishers and proven so successful that the Fisheries Department decided to roll it out to the entire territorial waters of Belize, a landmark step toward sustainable fisheries in the region!

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TIDE has done some great work, yes, but in the face of ever growing environmental threats, will it be enough to realize the organization’s vision of healthy ecosystems supporting biodiversity and a prosperous, sustainable green economy in Toledo?

 

This is where Ridge to Reef Expeditions comes in. TIDE has always made great use of volunteers, both foreign and Belizean, and the volunteers have always had an amazing experience so in 2012, TIDE decided to establish a structured volunteer program to make the most of the talent out there. After two years of development, Ridge to Reef Expeditions was launched in 2014.

 

The research and monitoring carried out by Ridge to Reef participants contributes directly to the on-going, programmed activities at TIDE. Participants work with our scientists, rangers, and field staff to gather and analyze data, assist in the protection of vulnerable and endangered species, and to achieve sustainable conservation results in protected areas of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor. The work of Ridge to Reef participants makes an invaluable contribution to fulfilling the mission of TIDE.

And the manatees?

 

Tour guides and rangers have said for some years that the population is recovering and in 2014 TIDE obtained the first empirical evidence that it is! A study showed that 10% of manatee sightings were calves, indicating a healthy reproductive and growing population. Alison and Hannah, Ridge to Reef individual volunteers, joined our researchers and scientists on field surveys to record manatee presence and behavior in Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Now we know where they breed, where they feed, and their general behaviors.

 

In response to our findings TIDE will continue its’ efforts in manatee protection by installing ‘no wake’ zones in areas of high manatee presence, researching sea grass beds in order to protect their favored habitat, and with future plans to obtain satellite tagging devices to attach to individuals to record their movements.

For almost 20 years TIDE has remained committed to the conservation and management of Toledo’s beautiful ecosystems. And over the years we’ve made great progress in protecting Belize’s natural resource, which we’re proud to champion and lead, but it’s the manatee who humbly reminds us that conservation is not a temporary effort with an end date. It is through the commitment and passion of researchers, scientists, rangers, and volunteers – people like you, who drive conservation progress and impact forward.

 

We have big plans for the future – to empower communities to manage fisheries, forests and watersheds sustainably; to educate Toledo’s people to understand and appreciate just how special this place is on a global scale; and to develop a green economy that enables people to escape from poverty while protecting the natural capital on which their livelihoods depend. If there was ever a time to join in the efforts of natural resource management and conservation it is now, and Ridge to Reef Expeditions can lead you into action so join us in the field and let’s protect this beautiful corner of the world together.