July 3, 2014 – San Ignacio, Belize.
USF social science researchers recently presented preliminary results of two seasons of ethnographic research on the Placencia Peninsula of Belize – a PIRE project Caribbean research site – in back-to-back papers at the 12th annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium (BAAS). During a month-long field season, USF anthropologists Drs. Christian Wells, Rebecca Zarger, and Linda Whiteford, and graduate students Eric Koenig, Paola Gonzalez, and Suzanna Pratt, continued research examining how water and wastewater management and tourism development influence local livelihoods, human health and wellbeing, and ecosystem health. The symposium came after the second phase of PIRE field research in Belize, which sought to “scale up” the scope and geographic extent of the team’s research and outreach efforts on the peninsula. In particular, our goal for the 2014 “scaling up” phase was to better understand how households, institutions, organizations, and communities of peninsula are involved in the design and development of a new centralized wastewater management system for the region supported, in part, by a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
During the “scaling up” phase, our team collaborated with Dr. Maya Trotz and Christine Prouty of USF Civil and Environmental Engineering and partners Dr. Elma Kay and Diana Seecharran at the University of Belize to build interdisciplinary and international research capacity for studying perceptions and practices regarding existing wastewater disposal, treatment, and reclamation technologies. As part of our team’s educational outreach activities on the peninsula, Paola Gonzalez also presented hands-on activities on the water cycle in Placencia and Seine Bight village primary schools.
To disseminate the findings of the team’s research on the Placencia Peninsula to interested stakeholders, Eric Koenig traveled to San Ignacio to give two presentations at the Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium. In one presentation, entitled “Technology and Tourism on the Placencia Peninsula: Exploring Context-sensitive Pathways for Sustainable Wastewater Management,” we summarized key themes and findings from our research collaborations and outreach activities, tying in preliminary results from the 2013 Pilot season of research on the peninsula. The paper explores the social, political, economic, and environmental contexts of the recent 12.5 million dollar IDB integrated wastewater project on the peninsula, executed by the Belize Water Services Limited, with the goal of identifying context-sensitive pathways by which the new wastewater system might proceed. Our key themes and findings draw upon information elicited through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and participant-observation across the two seasons of field research.
The other presentation concerned Eric Koenig’s Master’s thesis research, which investigates local conceptions of heritage on the peninsula and how they overlap with or diverge from national sustainable tourism development policy and practice for the region. In particular, the paper explores the theme of “sustainability” in a fishing cooperative’s strategies to promote fishing livelihoods and conserve coastal environmental resources in response to diminished fishing stocks, fisheries and environmental policies, and shifting seafood markets, especially with rapid tourism development and ecological change on the Placencia Peninsula.
Both papers were well received and provoked questions among the audience about sustainable tourism development and resource distribution equity. The presentations were attended by over 40 people. Attendees at the Symposium included anthropologists, archaeologists, members of the National Institute of Culture and History, three foreign ambassadors to Belize, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, and Culture, tour guides, and the interested public.