Minimal dangers given the terrain of the accommodations and coastal beach area. Wear closed-toe footwear (e.g.not flip flops) to avoid cuts. Tevas and Chacos are ideal for both island and boat conditions.
Sand flies (also known as “sand fleas” or “no-see-ums”) and mosquitoes are nuisances throughout the year. Sand flies are believed to be a vector for leishmaniasis in some regions. Some find them to be only irritating, but occasionally people have very bad reactions to the bites. Please come prepared with an oral antihistamine that you know you can tolerate, as well as a topical anti-itch cream. Those traveling from outside the Americas may have a more severe reaction to bites. To avoid sand flies, wear lightweight long pants and socks in the evening (they generally bite from the knees down). Mosquitoes may transmit a number of diseases, including malaria and zika virus, which are present in Belize (see the Safety section for more information). Repellents containing DEET work well against mosquitoes. To avoid them, also wear lightweight long pants, shirts, and socks in the evening.
Marine Animals/ Plants
Working with sharks and stingrays alongside or in a boat is inherently dangerous. All sharks and stingrays we work with are hooked in the mouth and are secured prior to the workup. Teams will be heavily supervised during this activity and will not touch sharks forward of their dorsal fins. Stingray spines will be removed by staff both for safety and for use as a scientific sample. The staff members have years of experience working with sharks and stingrays without incident.
Potentially dangerous animals that could be encountered while snorkeling include sharks, stingrays, sea urchins, lionfish, and jellyfish. Although rare, saltwater crocodiles have been seen. Staff will train you to identify dangerous species and to avoid touching any organisms. Those with a severe allergy to bee or wasp stings may have a similarly dangerous reaction to corals and jellyfish, and must carry an EpiPen at all times and notify staff of its location.
The Caribbean sun is very intense. Please bring plenty of good-quality waterproof sunscreen at several SPF levels. You will also want to bring after-sun lotion to soothe your skin after a long day in the sun. Some volunteers have found it helpful to bring long-sleeved, lightweight, quick-drying shirts and long pants to wear when not in the water (including on the boat between snorkels). A hat with a wide brim and a neck gaiter or loose scarf are recommended, as are polarized sunglasses and a chord to secure them around your neck. With the sun comes heat and risks of overheating and dehydration. Both can lead to illness. Drinking water frequently and minimizing exposure to the sun will help make your experience more enjoyable. Brief periods of intense rain are not uncommon during the field season so a sturdy rain jacket is mandatory. More extreme tropical storms and hurricanes traditionally occur from June through November with late August, September, and October as the most active periods. A hurricane plan exists and will be followed in the case of an extreme weather event. Because of the high humidity, people who use a hearing aid may find it doesn’t work properly. Consider purchasing a hearing aid dehumidifier.
For teams arriving in January, warmer clothing is necessary. Volunteers will be reminded each day about appropriate clothing requirements. In extremely windy/stormy weather, field activities will cease until weather improves.
Project Tasks/ Equipment
We will be working with some sharp items (hooks) and bait (spines). Volunteers will be issued gloves and will be trained in the safe handling of these items.
Working on a Boat
Working aboard a small boat poses risks. Bouncing or jostling can be quite uncomfortable for volunteers with chronic back problems or a history of seasickness. Boat surfaces are wet and can be slippery, putting one at risk of falling and injury. You must be able to keep your balance on a rocking boat. Unplanned immersion in the water from falling overboard can also put one at risk of injury and/or cold related illnesses. The boats are equipped with appropriate safety equipment including life jackets for each person. Volunteers will be trained how to move around the boat safely. Sensible footwear (shoes, sandals), but not flip-flops, will be mandatory on the boat at all times.
Be aware that swimming may be possible during recreational time and typical water-related risks will be present, such as strong currents, jellyfish, etc. A certified lifeguard is unlikely to be available. A provided dive flag is required to be displayed from the dock or floated behind you.
There are inherent risks to snorkeling, including the effects of environmental conditions, nitrogen (for those who’ve recently been scuba diving), barotrauma, boat traffic, marine life, and other risks specific to your own physical/medical history. When snorkeling, it is important to learn to properly control your breathing to reduce the risk of hyperventilation and blackout. You need to bring and maintain your own mask, snorkel, fins, booties, and exposure protection (e.g., rashguard). Snorkel vests can be provided for those that either prefer them or are required to use them. It is critical that you ensure that all gear is in good working order and you are fully trained in appropriate response if a failure occurs while in the water. All snorkeling will be optional and conducted in groups, with rigorous practice of the buddy system. Each buddy pair will trail a dive float and our small research vessel with at least one Field Staff besides the captain will follow the group during the activity. If volunteers choose to snorkel during their free time on the island, they must do so in designated areas approved by staff and understand there is no lifeguard on duty. They should also practice the buddy system and take a dive float out with them. Typical in-water hazards include fire coral, sea urchins, jellyfish, occasional boat traffic, strong currents, dangerous bottom conditions (drop-off, mud), biting or territorial animals.
You are required to bring your own snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, and fins), should you choose to participate. Please check your gear for functionality prior to your arrival as there are no dive shops at the field stations. Avoid bringing short swim fins; proper snorkeling fins are essential.
Distance from Medical Care
The nearest hospital is from 22–35 kilometers (13–21 miles) away from the project site by boat (depending on base location), and it may take up to two hours to arrange transport and reach the hospital. If you have a chronic condition which could require immediate medical care (e.g., heart conditions, kidney problems, severe asthma, etc.), or if you are pregnant, please discuss your participation on this expedition with your physician.