The tiny Central American country of Belize punches well above its weight in terms of wildlife. Just offshore a large population of West Indian manatees make their home in the warm coastal waters, a habitat that forms an important part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. These gentle herbivorous creatures live their entire lives (up to 50-60 years) in the water and have no natural predators, yet are all too often injured or orphaned by irresponsible fishing and boating accidents. This project gives you the opportunity to rescue and rehabilitate manatees while educating local populations about the animals’ threatened existence. It also gives you the chance to get to know the diverse Belize culture, where English is the official language but Spanish, Creole, and an assortment of other languages are also widely spoken.
You will work with a Manatee Rehabilitation Centre (the only one in the Region) founded in 1998 to care for orphaned or injured manatees found in Belizean waters. It was here that Belize’s first rehabilitation of an orphaned manatee took place, and ‘Woody’ was successfully released back into the wild after more than 2 years of care. Volunteers played a critical role in Woody’s rehabilitation, and that of all his successors, helping provide the 24-hour intensive care in the early days, and then sharing the duties of feeding and pool cleaning as he grew. With the assistance of grants from donor agencies the Centre’s facilities have been upgraded significantly. Three concrete pools and a lagoon enclosure provide the space and housing options to suit the needs of manatee calves at various ages. The Centre generally has one or two manatees in care at any one time, but with increasing boat accidents, numbers needing such care are unfortunately likely to increase. You can help nurse these impressive creatures back into the wild while helping raise awareness in the Belizean community.
Work is shared among volunteers, and involves all aspects of manatee care. This includes food preparation of the milk replacement formula, bottle-feeding in the water, clean-up, support during transfer between pools, regular weighing, medical check-ups, etc.. Carers also spend time working with the calf, providing companionship in the water in the early developmental stage, and monitoring behaviour. Other essential activities include emptying, cleaning, filling and maintenance of the pools to ensure a clean environment for the calf or calves.
As the manatee grows older, it is led out into the open lagoon to be taught how to find and eat sea grass and learn the many other skills needed for life back in the wild. As these skills are acquired, and care becomes more hands-off in the approach to release, there are also public awareness activities that you can get involved with, increasing interest and knowledge among locals towards support for conservation of this threatened species. This includes visits to schools in the idyllic local fishing community, one of the stakeholder communities of Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, established by the Government of Belize for the protection of the West Indian Manatee.
You may also be asked to help respond to calf strandings, should they occur elsewhere in Belize whilst you are stationed with the Rehabilitation Centre – which may involve helping release calves accidentally caught in fish-traps, or capture of injured or orphaned calves in need of rehabilitation.
Travel & Accom.
You will be given easy to follow instructions on how to get from Belize City International Airport, to the project HQ. You will be met at the bus station, port or local airstrip by the project coordinator.
Accommodation is basic, with shared thatched, screened cabanas (sorry – no air conditioning or fans!), with adjoining bathrooms. However, there is generally a breeze coming off the lagoon and temperatures are lower than further inland. Food preparation and consumption are both social occasions with everyone contributing towards cooking and washing up. Both vegetarians and non-vegetarians are welcome.
- Min age 18
- Minimum 1 month commitment – 30+ hours a week.
- Enthusiasm and interest in working with Manatees and their conservation
- Basic English
- Full travel & medical insurance
- Necessary vaccinations
- Necessary flights & visas
Discover the natural wonders and rich cultural history of Belize. This laidback paradise is packed full of lush jungle, spectacular ruins, long sandy beaches and first-class underwater attractions – and on this trip you’ll sample them all. From the buzz of Belize City, through the magic of the jungle-clad Tikal ruins and to the beachside island paradise of Caye Caulker, discover the best of Belize and Tikal on this epic adventure to some of Central America’s little-known gems.
- Discover the creative energy of Belize City
- Uncover the secrets of the San Ignacio ruins
- Embark on a jungle adventure in San Ignacio
- Experience the thrill of climbing the Tikal ruins
- Laze on Caye Caulker’s sandy shores
- Swim off the warm coast of Belize
- Listen to howler monkeys bellow through the jungle
Day 1 Belize City
Get to know Belize’s former capital on a guided walking tour of Belize City, where remnants of British colonial rule have fused with the tropical climate to form an intriguing and colourful creole culture. Head for one of the museums or art galleries for a versing in Belizean history, or pop down to the Newtown Barracks district, where a cluster of restaurants and bars cater to a lively all-local crowd.
Days 2-3 San Ignacio
Travel to San Ignacio, a lush jungle region brimming with waterfalls, warm swimming holes and intricate cave systems of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Gain insight into ancient civilisations on a trip to the impressive ruins of Cahal Pech, the oldest known Mayan site in Belize, or to the Mayan ceremonial centre of Xunantunich. Back in town, chow down on the range of barbecued delights sizzling away at the street stalls.
Day 4 Tikal (Guatemala)
Wake early for the chance to catch a golden sunrise from the top of the majestic Tikal ruins. Spend the day exploring the towering Mayan temples, keeping an eye out for howler monkeys, brightly coloured toucans and macaws sweeping through the jungle canopy. Spend a night camping under the stars, and fall asleep to the spirited sounds of the surrounding jungle.
Days 5-8 Caye Caulker
Discover a laid-back Caribbean paradise on the balmy Belizean island of Caye Caulker. Whether the goal is absolute relaxation or adventurous aquatic activities, Caye Caulker has all bases covered. Head to the nearby reef to snorkel among schools of multicoloured fish, or dive Caye Caulker’s magnificent Blue Hole and admire the marine life and stalactites. Celebrate the end of this ‘unbelizeable’ adventure with a fresh lobster feast at one of the many fantastic beach-side restaurants.
8 nights Budget/tourist class hotels
An experienced regional tour guide plus there will be the services of local guides at some sites. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing as indicated.
What’s Not Included
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, meals, entrance fees, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
From £500 (approx. $840 USD) for 8 days trip. Get an exact price with us when enquiring.
$1100 USD / £650 GBP Fee for the first month, $550 / £350 for each month thereafter
Programme Fee ($600 p/m) includes all food, accommodation, 24 hour support, project activities and transport from the local town to the project HQ.
We charge a flat, one-off Placement Fee of $500 USD / £295 GBP per person per project (included in the fee). This covers our costs for promoting the project and providing our services. We offer full pre-departure support (for all necessary flights, visas and vaccinations) and ongoing assistance throughout your placement.
We also offer additional 24/7 emergency support for an extra fee – £195. You will have access to an emergency phone number and priority support throughout your placement.
What’s not included:
Flights, insurance, visas (if applicable) and vaccinations. Full assistance will be provided in getting all these sorted.
“I just completed my internship at the Manatee Rehabilitation Center in Belize! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget; working with manatees has been my dream for a long time! Thank you Global Nomadic for finding me this placement. ”
Jordan Smith – 2011
“Upon my arrival in Belize, i had no idea what to expect. I couldn’t wait to arrive at at the house where i would be living for the next month. After a long, long journey to Sarteneja i was greeted by Paul and Zoey in the village. Myself and three other girls, who had also just arrived, piled into the back of their truck and we were off down a long, bumpy dirt road. The sun had just gone down so it was dark with not much to see, but the stars were as bright as ever. We walked into the house to see girls sprawled around the living room doing eachother’s hair and some even had baby monkeys sitting on their head. Everyone was very friendly and pleased to see some new faces added to the group. “Watch out for rattlesnakes, if you step on one you will die” Zoey jokeingly said as she walked me and bunkmate, Lauren, to our cabana. “what have i gotten myself into” i thought as i unpacked and settled in.
Baby manatee Kahleesi had arrived a few days prior to us and the night shifts were long and tiring. All the newbies jumped right into work the next day, with lots of help and support from the vetrans who had been there weeks and even months longer than us. Each day started bright and early with the first monkey feed at 6:30am. We all met in the manatee house and would chop fruit and prepare their breakfast. Monkey feeds were four times a day, 6:30, 10, 2 and 4:30. Though some of us had signed up for the manatee part, we all helped out with both the monkeys and manatee feeds and cleans. It was my job to take care of the 3 howlers, Sparticus, Coffy, and Paz. Though at times i resented doing the monkeys, in the end i really did fall for them. working with them was a great hands on experience i would never get anywhere else and i am thankful for getting that unexpected position.
When we werent feeding the monkeys, our other responsibilites were with the manatees. Rameses, Duke and baby Kahleesi. Rameses would be fed everyday at 8:30am, 12:30 and 5:30. his tank also got drained and scrubbed daily. Duke had to be tube fed and that was once a day as well as his daily tank scrubbing. Kahleesi was still being bottle fed by Paul and Zoey. Working with the manatees was my favorite part. Rameses found a place in my heart and i am determined to make it back in a year to watch his release. Seagrassing was also an important task we had to do. Neto, the man in charge, would take us out on the boat in the lagoon and we would get buckets and fill them with seagrass. Returning with buckets of seagrass in hand, we would then fill each manatees square with seagrass so they could munch like in the wild.
This experience was probably the hardest and most memorable thing i have ever done. I met the greatest people from all over the world who gave me great laughs and support through the whole month. I learned alot from myself and realized i can really do anything as long as i put my mind to it. Coming out of this experience i am more independent and open to more things that i never thought i could do. Once you live without running water or properly flushing toilets, (even vegetarian meals) you realize you can pretty much do anything life throws at you. I will never be afraid of another bug again, thats for sure. A big thanks to Paul and Zoey who have opened their house, lives and hearts to all the volunteers coming in as well as all the animals they care about dearly. The project is a diamond in the rough. I would also like to thank Global Nomadic for helping me find them and giving me the experience of a lifetime.”
– Tara Hamlin 2013
“My experience at this project is one that I will surely never forget. The journey in Belize to get there was full of winding roads with an amazing view of Belize. With the sun coming to an end, two other volunteers and I arrived in the small town of Sarteneja. There waiting are arrival where Paul and Zoey, with their white pick-up truck. Are journey did not end there; heading to what seemed to be in the middle of the jungle we reached the establishment. The thousands of stars lit the sky, where the mirror image was reflected from the waters of the lagoon.
The early morning rooster alarm was my indicator of a completely new and exciting day. The monkey feed where the first on the to-do-list, where chopping fruits became part of the norm. While chopping fruit everyone would engage in conversation from our night into town, to the new insect we discovered in our cabana. The only difficult question I had to ask myself was “what monkey do I want to feed”? Ramses the Manatee was the next to feed; it was always a pleasure to jump in his pool, and give him a belly rub. Swimming with him and Duke (another manatee) where my forms of daily exercise; not to mention lifting Ramses which seemed like 200-300lbs, in and out of Dukes pool for interaction.
From the morning monkey feed to the manatee feeds, everyday there was something to do. In between there is a period of relaxation, where I was determined to finish my novel. I would have to say that my favorite part of the day was walking around with livy; a howler monkey with a dislocated arm. She would calmly lie on my shoulders, and we would walk around to her favorite sites. They have done surgery on her arm, and it looks like she will have full function of her arm. I thank everyone for the donations and the support, it fills be with such happiness to know that one day she can be released.
I would, in a heartbeat recommend anyone who wants to work with primates and/or manatees; whether it is for school, or for the sole interest of working with these amazing creatures. You learn so much, have a great time, and meet wonderful people. It is one place that feels like home without actually being home.”
Deandra Chipilliquen – 2013