For over 30 years I have lived and worked in Belize as an aquatic ecologist, beginning my career in 1978 working with the US Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station on the lower Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. My dissertation research was on the Sibun River Watershed. Over the years I have worked on projects in the Belize River Watershed (Macal River, Crooked Tree and Whitewater Lagoon/Wetlands, Mount Pleasant Creek), Sibun River Watershed and Five Blues Lake, New River, North Stann Creek, Sittee River, Moho River, Temash River, and many other smaller watersheds and a few coastal lagoons.
My Bachelor and Master degrees are from the University of Southern Mississippi in Biology and my Ph. D. is from Jackson State University in Environmental Science with an emphasis in watershed ecology and management.
Fields of interest
Aquatic/wetland ecology, watershed restoration and management, community-based conservation
Describe your research. What was the purpose for selecting this topic?
Current research focus is the development of an integrated biological index using aquatic macroinvertebrates for application to Belizean streams and rivers, working in conjunction with Appalachian State University, and contributing to the ecological assessment of New River Watershed in order to identify and test workable and affordable solutions for reduction of nutrient inputs, riparian restoration, and to inform development of a watershed management plan draft.
What would you say is the most informative aspect of your research?
This particular project is the first time that we were able to use a taxonomic key that was specifically covering the aquatic insects of the Neo-tropics. Many of the taxonomic groups identified through keys from North America were confirmed, but there were also many new genera revealed, which shall require consideration of previous work and perhaps re-examination of old reference collections. Aquatic gastropods are very important to the ecology of our rivers, and two introduced species have been shown to be widespread throughout much of the lower portion of the watershed.
What has been the greatest source of insight towards answering your research questions?
Most of what I do is applied research undertaken in order to assess an ecological issue and promote some informed positive change—in other words conservation. One insight is that if resident and buffer communities are not informed, involved, and supportive, sustainable conservation does not happen. The second insight is the development of a sustainable society is a lifetime process that must engage all segments of our society. For a third insight, conservation and natural resource protection can only be sustainable if youth are involved. As to the source of those insights—people of Belize.
How do you see your research contributing to the design process in your field and is there potential for it to be applied in other fields?
This can provide us with an effective and affordable tool to assess our waters. Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) protocols are a mixed bag of somewhat standardized rapid assessment methodologies targeting different indicator groups (aquatic macroinvertebrates, fishes, diatoms, birds, trees). Often they include key observations checklists, weighted assessment tables, and other tools. Used in conjunction with physical, chemical, and topographical assessments, REA protocols contribute to a more holistic understanding of a stream, river, or watershed. REA protocols have become widely used in many parts of the world to assess ecological health of ecosystems and to indicate stress factors. Monitoring is routine application of REA protocols to a set of stations (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) in order to detect seasonal or annual changes. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are one of the most widely used indicator groups. Protocols are grounded in science, each being relatively easy and fast to apply and straightforward to interpret with some training. These skills can be learned by concerned community members (particularly youth) who are committed to routine monitoring of their local ecosystems and contributing to larger, often government maintained monitoring programs. These protocols offer ways for concerned and motivated citizens to become important contributors to information needed to effectively manage our local watersheds/ecosystems. Informed and involved community members spread the word to other community members.