USF Anthropologists and Engineers Advance Interdisciplinary Research on the Placencia Peninsula, Belize; Expand Community Education, Outreach, and Partnerships

USF anthropologists and engineers recently completed a third season of ethnographic research and an initial season of water quality research on the Placencia Peninsula of Belize – a PIRE project Caribbean research site – investigating perceptions and practices of sustainable water, wastewater, and coastal environmental management, resource reclamation, and their intersections with expanding tourism development and public health. During a nine-week field season, USF anthropologists Drs. Christian Wells, Rebecca Zarger, and Linda Whiteford, MA Applied Anthropology graduate students Eric Koenig and Ann Vitous, and Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD student Christy Prouty continued exploration of these themes, with a specific focus of examining institutional relationships and strategies toward sustainable resource management.

USF anthropologists and engineers meet with local environmental NGO representatives, Southern Environmental Association rangers, and a tour guide at Laughing Bird Caye National Park.

USF anthropologists and engineers meet with local environmental NGO representatives, Southern Environmental Association rangers, and a tour guide at Laughing Bird Caye National Park.


As part of this undertaking, we conducted numerous semi-structured interviews with key stakeholder industry representatives and village leaders as well as elders in the communities on the peninsula to better assess connections between human, natural, and engineered systems and situate knowledge about water use, tourism, heritage, coastal health, and wastewater in a local ethnohistoric context. We also administered 25 extensive verbally-administered surveys using the KoBo application for smartphones to a stratified sample of residents, migrant workers, and tourists in different areas of the peninsula. Questions were iterative in design and content, informed by interviews and participant-observation from the 2013 Pilot and 2014 “Scaling up” seasons, and used to gauge resident, worker, and tourist perceptions of important issues. Finally, we continued participant observation and photographic documentation of the daily/weekly rhythms of local activities in public spaces to monitor tourism activity flows and how they impact local water resources, wastewater systems, and related environmental services.

Mall / plaza development in the heart of Placencia village.

Mall / plaza development in the heart of Placencia village.

 

Dredging off of Harvest Caye, a development for the Norwegian Cruise Line tourist village two miles south of the Placencia Peninsula.

Dredging off of Harvest Caye, a development for the Norwegian Cruise Line tourist village two miles south of the Placencia Peninsula.

Our final phase of PIRE field research in Belize also sought to extend the scope of community and educational outreach activities, and build interdisciplinary, international research partnerships. Ann Vitous, as part of her MA research investigating community perceptions of tourism development on environmental health, carried out a photovoice project from late May through mid-July. This project sought to identify how the various ways of experiencing development have influenced perceptions on the impacts to the environment, the livelihoods of local villagers, and interpersonal relationships between local and expatriate communities. Participants were given cameras and asked to photograph areas in the village that have been most impacted by development. Pictures from pre-development stages were also solicited from long-term residents of the village. Interviews were used to supplement the data collected from the photovoice project.

Landscape of Placencia village in 1999

Landscape of Placencia village in 1999

 

Landscape of Placencia village in July, 2015

Landscape of Placencia village in July, 2015

We are losing a lot of our green. We are getting a lot of the lagoons filled in because for real estate, we are like red meat. I mean, the thing is, it has driven up the cost of real estate so much that an average local family, hardworking average local family, can no longer afford to buy property in Placencia, or on this peninsula anymore. The people with money end up coming in and developing the lagoon, filling up the lagoon property. At some point I cant see our children getting land, so they will have to start moving away.

                                                                                                                                    -Mila

Christy Prouty, as a component of her PhD research in Civil and Environmental Engineering, partnered with Belizean entrepreneur, Luis Garcia of EcoFriendly Solutions to consider functionality, use, and perceptions of various household and commercial onsite wastewater systems that reclaim water and nutrients from the treated effluent. Interviews were conducted prior to water and wastewater quality testing to assess a range of the system adopters’ operation and maintenance practices. This information, in conjunction with quantitative water quality data, will be used to provide recommendations on system design(s), users’ manuals, and best practices, educational materials, and signage for organizations where the public accesses their systems.

Christy inspects Ecofriendly wastewater systems at the Gladden’s Spit and Silk Cayes                           Marine Protected Area and at Sarkiki Resort in Hopkins.

Christy inspects Ecofriendly wastewater systems at the Gladden’s Spit and Marine Protected Area and at Sarkiki Resort in Hopkins.                  Photo Credit: Annelise Hagan

Our team also continued educational outreach at the primary school in Placencia village. Ann and Christy facilitated a week-long series of interactive lessons at St. John’s Memorial Anglican primary school for Mrs. Shivers’ Standard VI students. During the lessons, they covered the water cycle, environmental health, the future of water, sources of clean and dirty water, and health impacts of contaminated water in a local context. The week culminated by playing Jeopardy to review all that was taught.

Ann Vitous (right) and Christy Prouty (left) facilitate a lesson about water and health at St. John’s Memorial primary school.

Ann Vitous (right) and Christy Prouty (left) facilitate a lesson about water and health at St. John’s Memorial primary school.

Eric Koenig and Christian Wells continued work on a community-based cultural and environmental heritage conservation project in partnership with a recently established non-profit organization called the Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation, the Village Council, local representatives of the National Garifuna Council, and the St. Alphonsus primary school in Seine Bight village. The multi-year project seeks to facilitate the transformation of a historic water reservoir in the village into a local museum of Garifuna culture and history and promote the cultural, educational, and economic aspirations of the village and the wider Garifuna community through heritage conservation, tourism development, and education programs. The main objectives for the project’s second year were to continue fundraising efforts for the construction of the exterior of the museum, plan exhibit design, and coordinate heritage educational outreach and research training workshops. As part of these efforts, Eric, Christian, and members of the Foundation are working with teachers at St. Alphonsus primary school to develop a lesson plan for Standard 5 students focusing on visualization and inter-generational knowledge exchange about Seine Bight’s cultural heritage and environment in the past, present, and future, which likely will be piloted in the fall. Also, Eric coordinated three heritage research training workshops in partnership with the Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation to build community research capacity in oral history interviews and GPS mapping in an effort to collect historical and cultural information for future exhibits in the proposed museum.

Graduate student Eric Koenig facilitates a research equipment training workshop for Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation members.

Graduate student Eric Koenig facilitates a research equipment training workshop for Seine Bight Reservoir to Museum Foundation members.

Based on the opportunities and challenges of the heritage conservation, research, and local tourism development project, Eric presented a co-authored paper (with Christian and Sarita Garcia) entitled “Reclaiming Development: Community-Based Heritage Conservation and University-Engaged Research in Seine Bight, Belize” at the 13th annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium in San Ignacio, Belize. The presentation was part of a special panel “Examining the Representation of Indigenous Peoples in Belize and the Region,” and was well received among other provocative papers in the panel.

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Throughout the nine-week field season, we continued to forge interdisciplinary, international research partnerships. In early June, Drs. Marilyn Brandt and Kostas Alexandridis – PIRE partners from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) – visited the Placencia Peninsula to meet with our team to discuss coastal human-environmental research curriculum development and seek out opportunities for dialog and collaboration on wider coral reef restoration initiatives in the Caribbean with local environmental NGOs. Dr. Maya Trotz of USF Civil and Environmental Engineering also made a site visit at the beginning of June to witness and document coral reef restoration efforts by the Fragments of Hope NGO at Laughing Bird Caye National Park. Furthermore, Christy and Ann partnered with the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) NGO to take and share water and wastewater quality samples to determine baseline values of their EcoFriendly systems’ performance, and Eric volunteered with SEA and Blue Ventures as a sorter for the annual Lionfishing tournament held during Lobsterfest weekend on June 19th.

USF researchers and UVI partners document development along the western edge of the Placencia Lagoon.

USF researchers and UVI partners document development along the western edge of the Placencia Lagoon.

Over the next few months, we will compile and analyze results from the “Winding down” field season and continue collaborations on research, education, and outreach with our international community partners and PIRE colleagues at UVI, UB, and USF.

 

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