Shortly after graduating from the MES program in the Spring of 2018, I set off on my biggest adventure to date. From July 2018 to January 2019, I participated in the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). IYIP offers Canadian post-secondary graduates the opportunity to gain professional experience through international development work, and to support sustainable international development initiatives. The program is funded by the federal government, and is administered by Memorial University.
While IYIP has placements all over the world, I was fortunate enough to land in Belize, where I worked with the University of Belizes Environmental Research Institute to conduct field work in fisheries management and marine conservation. Over the course of my placement, I collected and reported on fisheries data in the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, located 40 km offshore along the Mesoamerican barrier reef. The Atoll contains three distinct habitats: mangrove forest, seagrass beds, and coral reef, all of which contribute to the spawning, development and maturation of commercial species, among others. My work involved days spent weighing and measuring fish, lobster, and conch on sailboats, skiffs and fishing camps around the Atoll, and surveying fisherfolk on their fishing practices. The data that I collected and the report that I produced is being used to asses trends in catch over time and to inform future management decisions for the reserve. In addition to fisheries work, I assisted with other projects at the field station, including coral surveys and restoration projects, tourism impact studies, mangrove surveys, and water quality work.
Through my work I gained a deeper appreciation of where our seafood comes from the image of industrial fishing operations with large-scale equipment simply does not hold true in Belize, where most of the fish are caught by hand, one at a time. I had the opportunity to see most of the Atoll and learned about the people, the product and the environment. I learned how to tell the sex of a lobster, how to assess the maturity of a conch, and all about the different species that make up the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The fishermen and women taught me about the various aspects of their profession and even let me dive for lobster with them. Numerous times, I stopped at a fishing camp or alongside a sailboat and in addition to the data, I left with a full meal, freshly caught. My time living and working in Belize provided me with invaluable professional experience, as well as opportunities for personal growth.