Tobacco Caye Experience

Stopped by Hurricane Ernesto

It was our final week at Tobacco Caye and right in the middle of our plans came Hurricane Ernesto.  Based on numerous surveys and interviews with community members, we finally decided on four different projects to present to the community.  One major project is rodent control; rats tend to nest in large piles of and coconut husks that have not been burned.  Another project is a safe swimming area.  Tobacco Caye has many water taxis, tour boats, catamarans and fishing boats that speed into docks at a dangerous rate.

A few people have thought that a safe swimming zone would require boats to slow down as they enter the caye and protect swimmers & snorkelers from harm.  A good business project is for the availability of a tour guide training on the island.  The best option would be a subsidized project for interested parties to only pay a small fee.  The final project is a fully functional solar system so that the island does not have to use noisy and costly gas generators.  Unfortunately, Ernesto came around and the whole island was evacuated the day of our planned community meeting.  Now we have four great projects but no clear direction as to where to go next.  Any ideas?

Diving on the Belize Barrier Reef

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 1:20 am on Friday, August 17, 2012  Tagged , , , , , ,

Tarpon, photo by Jenn Craighill


This past week I spent some time under the sea.  Just 10 minutes away from Tobacco Caye is an amazing diving spot called Cuda Point.  Once I was over my initial nervousness of diving again after over two years, I had a great time.   We saw Tarpon, pictured here, from just five feet away.  This one doesn’t look so scary, however, they range from five to eight feet in length and have a mean look on their faces.  There were also a wide range of soft and hard corals with brilliant blue, purple and yellow shades.  The best part about diving is the subtle clicking sound of coral reefs, it’s calming and a bit spooky.  I can’t wait for the next diving opportunity, if only the ocean in Monterey wasn’t so cold!



Last Week on Tobacco Caye

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 8:12 pm on Monday, July 30, 2012  Tagged , , , , , ,

So, this is our last week at Tobacco Caye and we are forced to wrap up our work and take off.  We area planning a community meeting to share what we have learned here and to discuss the projects which community members have been most interested in.


We are thinking of creating large posters with each of the project ideas and presenting them to the community as potential future projects.  The only thing is that there is no guaranteed funding for these projects.  We have decided to present the ideas as potential projects for future MIIS students, for community projects, or for future grants.  Wish us luck!

Beach Clean-up 2012!

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 11:00 am on Friday, July 27, 2012  Tagged , , , , , , , ,

David, our star islander, picking up more than his weight in trash

What an amazing day we had on Monday.  We spent a week worrying about the cleanup, concerned that no one would show.   However, when we arrived at the marine station in the morning, we were greeted by a group of very excited children ready to clean up the beaches and eat a hearty barbeque.  We had plastic bags and gloves ready for these bored but inspired kids and they helped us start the day with a bang.  While the children roamed every inch of the island, the adults mostly cleaned around their homes and hotels.  We found that the kids tired easily and needed plenty of break time but by the end of the day we had picked up about 30 garbage bags of trash, 4 bags of plastic bottles and around 10 crates of glass bottles.

Anna, Jenn, Margaret and I preparing the barbeque


The barbeque was a success as well; we had about 15 pounds of chicken and a few side dishes of pasta and coleslaw.  Even though it rained off and on throughout the afternoon everyone was in high spirits and went home tired but content.  Many people had been talking about the event and were pleased with the opportunity for people of different backgrounds to work together and make a difference on the island.


Captain Fermin taking the trash to the dump site.

Yesterday morning we waved goodbye to our piles of trash and recyclables pleased at the newly clean beaches.

Sea Turtles on the Move

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 4:21 pm on Thursday, July 26, 2012  Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Baby Hawksbills leaving the nest (from

Baby hawksbill turtles emerged from the sand this past Thursday to make their way home.  Having seen plenty of documentaries on see life, I had always thought that sea turtles instinctively crept out of their sandy nests and spared no time in charging into the ocean.  These turtles were different, they came spinning out of the sand and crawling each and every direction.  On that day we had a large group of campers spending the night, and since the turtles were only about 3-4” long, they almost stepped on them.  It seamed that they were crawling back to the light instead of to the ocean, which apparently was the last place they wanted to go.  We tried to guide them to the ocean but they kept coming back, finally we led them to the mangroves and eventually went to sleep, turning off all the lights and letting them find their way out to sea.  It was an amazing thing to be a part of and I can only hope that a few of those fragile but determined little hawksbills are able to survive.

What do you think?

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 8:48 pm on Tuesday, July 17, 2012  Tagged , , , , , , , ,

We have surveyed about 15 or so residents on their perceptions of the marine reserve and have begun a needs assessment for what the community would like to see happen.




We have had several responses on projects that would benefit the island and the community including:


  • Beach Clean-ups
  • Solar power projects
  • Improved waste management
  • A swimming area with buoys visible to boats
  • Tour guide trainings


I would love to hear you all think and what might be most important to you.

Night snorkel at Reef’s End

Photo taken by Jennifer Craighill Tobacco Caye Marine Station Co-manager

Under a full starry night we slipped into the ocean unnoticed to the nocturnal marine animals.  Then suddenly we turned on our flashlights and all of their activities were revealed.  Octopus, moray eels, bioluminescent animals and an array of fish showed their colors clear only with our sharp flashlights.


Although we’re able to see so much during the day a night snorkel is an amazing way to view the Tobacco Caye reef.  Luckily we are still able to see some amazing things just walking around the island.  There are many pelicans and a few booby species that take over the skies.  We have also been lucky enough to see dolphins, terapin, and rays jumping out of the sea


Working on the reef

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 9:12 pm on Wednesday, July 4, 2012  Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Here we are working on the island, enjoying the sun and Caribbean ocean.  It can be hard at times getting to work while surrounded by tanning tourists!  We have just finished collecting GPS points of the island including:

  • sandal stake
  • conch pile 1
  • conch pile 2
  • hangout
  • two palms
  • coconut pile
  • canoe launch
  • Lana’s pier


We will continue to GPS everything we can without getting into too much trouble…


Home on Tobacco Caye

Filed under: Blog — Anja Mondragon at 4:42 am on Tuesday, July 3, 2012  Tagged , , , , , , ,

I’m now here on Tobacco Caye and loving island life.  I am lucky enough to be working here with Margaret Sands and Anna Lui.  We are slowly getting accustomed to living on such a small island with only 32 residents.  As we will be working directly with the community we are getting know the amazing people that live here and are learning how  to live like a Belizean.  So far it requires taking life very slow.  More to follow shortly..


Next Page »