When you found yourself here today, you probably noticed the new banner at the top of the page. I like banners. They allow me an opportunity to make a little art and share it, to add a little color and something extra to my blog. I’ve used them to describe myself (“A gay Jewish storyteller speaks”), to give greetings (“Happy New Year!”), and even to make a political point (remember SOPA?). But now? Now I’m using it as a way of inviting you deeper.
Deeper into Belize, that is.
The background image is a panoramic picture of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in southern central Belize, while the blue and red are representative of Belize’s flag. The subtext “Sub Umbra Floreo” is their motto, meaning “I flourish in the shade.” Since this is the week in which most of my fundraising posts will be shared, I felt it a fitting theme for my header.
I’ve spent a fair portion of the day reading about Belize on Wikipedia (since how else would I learn about it?), and the first thing that truly surprised me was how small the country is. Measuring by square mileage alone, you could fit six Belizes in North Carolina.
That’s a pretty a small country.
It’s believed Belize was first home to the Maya. I’ve mentioned before how fascinated I was by ancient cultures when I was younger; last spring in my mythology course, we even read a few Mayan myths. What’s amazing is that it’s speculated, at the peak of Mayan civilization, the area now known as Belize supported over 400,000 people, but today, there are only about 313,000 inhabitants. Last semester in my economics class, a speaker visited and told us how ancient cultures were often able to support themselves more efficiently than we can today because their resources went to satisfying their needs only, and I wonder if it’s a similar situation here: The ancient Mayans were so adept at living alongside the natural world that it provided them with everything they needed. We’ll never truly know.
But it does bring to mind an important point: Part of the reason we’re going to Belize is to address environmental issues, and consider this for a second–is there any better place to study environmental issues than in the Central American country with the lowest population density? Here we run into more people on our way to a park, and once we’re there, we’re still inundated in people. But in Belize, the population is less dense: For every 200 people per mile in North Carolina, there’s only 34 in Belize. Thirty-four! There are more people living on my floor alone than there are people living in a square mile in Belize. Can you imagine how amazing its natural places must be? Just thinking about the open spaces is making my mouth water.
Westerners began appearing in the region in the 1700s, and in the 1800s, Great Britain formed a colony there called British Honduras; even though they gained self-governance in 1964, the name remained until 1973 when it was officially changed to Belize. Independence came in September 1981, which means Belize is technically only eight years older than I am. That’s again rather shocking. Interestingly enough, throughout its history, its neighbor to the west and south, Guatemala, has claimed parts of Belize belong to it, and even today, border disputes continue (this is not their fault, of course, but can be blamed upon another place who loves to fiddle with the world at large, and I’m not surprised: their actions elsewhere have been a cause for unrest in the Middle East for decades).
When you think about coral reefs, your mind probably jumps to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but did you know the Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest coral reef in the world? It’s also the largest in the western hemisphere. Reefs are amazing because of the vast amount of biodiversity they support. It’s estimated only ten percent of the reef has been studied so far, and already over five hundred species of plants and animals have been found there–and that’s still only in ten percent of the reef!
Reefs are cool for another reason: Corals exhibit structures that are inherently mathematical in nature, structures that could prove revolutionary in engineering if humans are able to recreate them with the same strength and dynamism that nature has. They are also popular tourists spots, and therefore economically important. It’s for neither of these reasons, though, that many coral reefs–including this one–are considered endangered and in need of protection: Although they account for less than 0.1 percent of the ocean’s surface, they’re home to 25 percent of all marine species worldwide.
That’s pretty priceless real estate, if you ask me.
The reefs aren’t the only things protected in Belize; about 36 percent of the country is considered a protected area. The rain forests are especially in danger due to deforestation. On the subject of plants, agriculture is the country’s primary industry, with national crops in sugar and bananas dominating; in Toledo, the southernmost of Belize’s six districts, they also cultivate cacao trees, and hence, chocolate.
With just these few things, I hope I’ve made it clear how much there is to learn about environmental issues in Belize–and how important it is that Belize is protected to its fullest, for all of its beauty and significance in the world. Over the coming days I’m going to talk about topics such as Fair Trade and chocolate, and at the end of the week I’ll be talking specifically about the project my team will be conducting while we’re in Belize in March.
For now, I hope you’ll consider following the link below–and if not just yet, then at least read the coming posts over the next few days and see if I can change your mind.