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CERMES Student Shares Research Experience

We have supported extensive field laboratory work for a contingent of students, faculty and support staff  from the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), UWI Cave Hill over the past ten years. The field laboratories are held in Belize, one of the region’s most diverse ecological settings, and afford the students an opportunity to put into action the range of tools they are learning, and observe the relationships between scientific theory and the measurement of critical variables and parameters. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre looks forward to welcoming the 11th contingent of students in 2015!

Below is a summary of current CERMES MSc student Ryan Zuniga's reflection on his research experience. Ryan is now interning with the Centre.
Ryan Zuniga (left) interviewing two farmers

Ryan Zuniga (left) interviewing two farmers

After fulfilling the classroom requirements for my degree, I was anxious and excited to enter the world of
research. My topic; “Developing a Forest Fire Indicator for Southern Belize”, was selected after nine months of deliberation and several disregarded potential topics.

My research was to be carried out in conjunction with the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, an NGO that has been working in my study area (southern Belize) for several years. This NGO has been making numerous efforts to address several terrestrial environmental issues including poaching of endangered species found in their management area (Maya Golden Landscape), the sustainable use of forest resources by buffer communities and incidences of forest fires as a result of escaped agricultural fires known as milpa burning.

The data collection process commenced almost immediately after the proposal was approved. It was supported by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) who had an interest in the research topic, and therefore gave me the opportunity to conduct my research as an intern at the Centre. Dr. Ulric Trotz , Deputy Director and Science Advisor of the Centre, was the overhead supervisor, and Mr. Earl Green, Project Manager, was my immediate project supervisor at the Centre.

The data required to carry out the study consists of three main parameters, meteorological data (humidity, daily maximum temperatures and precipitation), records of fire incidences and climate projections and modelled data for southern Belize.

The data collection process was filled with many “give up” moments and just as many “I can do this for the rest of my life” moments. However, what stood out to me the most is the hospitality that was shown to me by the people during the interview process. My interviews were focused on the farmers of the Maya villages in Southern Belize, namely Medina, Golden stream, Tambran and Indian Creek. By societal modern standards these farmers can be described as poor, or living at one step away from poverty. However, the farmers will tell you that difficult times or “hard life” as they refer to it are few and far in between for them. While working with them I was more often than not greeted with a smile, and a cup of home grown coffee, that welcomed me into their humble homes. Generally consisting of hammocks, a few plastic chairs and a wooden table these homes were filled with laughter and happiness. This experience I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of my career.

In the end I was only able to gather a fraction of the data that I had proposed, so much for that ground breaking research! However I was able to adopt an index that is identical to what I had hoped to achieve. The index was implemented by The Nature Conservancy (TNC)  in Trinidad and Tobago and was shared with me by TNC’s Director of Fire Management. Ya’axche has already pledged to provide the communities with the necessary equipment needed for the index to be used properly and be effective in reducing the incidences of escaped fires.

 Peruse the October 2014 edition of the CERMES Connections here.

Credit: CERMES Connections

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