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Passionate about the environment, education and nature…

July 25, 2017

Anxious to get started on our Belize adventure, we found it difficult to sleep last night. We were looking forward to getting to know the other educators selected to travel. The flight from Fort Lauderdale provided beautiful view of the Mexican coastline. The beautiful turquoise waters below were inviting, even from an altitude of 36,000 ft.
As the plane made the descent into Belize, many of us were amazed by the number of trees and limited amount of built-up areas.
After clearing customs and immigration, we were thrilled to see that our luggage had arrived with us. Happy to finally meet the two Belizean teachers selected to join us, and our guide and our driver, we set off for the bush.
Getting acclimated to the change in temperature and humidity created little worries for us, probably due to the excitement of being in this tropical environment.
Upon arriving at the Baboon Sanctuary, a beautifully prepared lunch was presented, all cooked by the wife of our guide Nathan.
Happy to jump into the culture, we enjoyed a lunch of roasted chicken, beans and rice, plantains, fresh avocado, potato salad, watermelon and orange juice. We were introduced to the way to eat avocado. Squirt a little fresh lime juice and sprinkle lightly with salt. We were also introduced to Belizean pepper sauce, which has a little more of a kick than NC produced, Texas Pete.
After lunch, a walking tour provided views of Howler monkeys, and plants native to Belize. The Howler monkeys, known to Belizeans as baboons, make the most incredible sound in the forest. We were able to see the monkeys up close, making this walk a dream come true for many. We found in intriguing that Belizeans are very aware of the medicinal benefits of many of the plants that were observed on our walk. This of us teaching plant behaviors were thrilled to see tropisms in action, particularly thigmotropism. The sites and sounds of our surroundings abounded.
Heading across Belize through a varied landscape of lowlands, valleys, and hills, we stopped when animals or plants native to this area came into view.
After several hours, we came to a tranquil place nestled deep in the jungle, which would be accommodations for the next three nights. Welcomed by a special beverage and a buffet of Belizean dishes, we compared notes from the day and enjoyed time at the dinner table together. We quickly found out that we are all passionate about the environment, education and nature.
Following our meal, we donned our headlamps and did some exploration for nighttime creatures, which were plentiful. As we write in our journals and reflect on the end of our first day in this tropical environment, the sound of the rain gently taps a soft tune on the roof. Thankful for this experience, we looking forward to the next 8 days together.

(pictures coming soon!)

First flight!

July 25, 2017

Michelle celebrated her very first airline flight with us this morning and the flight attendants made it memorable! Happy first flight Michelle!

In our way!

July 25, 2017

We are  enjoying a second cup of coffee and  lots of laughs as we await our flight! We look forward to getting your questions during our trip!

Thirty Years

July 19, 2017
MAB and Belize

Mary Ann with our Belizean Educators, and co-leaders Liz Baird and Bill Hasse circa 2000


In 1987, Mary Ann Brittain launched an incredible initiative to take teachers from North Carolina to Belize, to explore tropical ecology and understand the way North Carolina is connected to the tropics. Nearly every year since then, a group of outstanding educators has traveled to Belize, where they are joined by their Belizean counterparts, for a nine day trip exploring the country from the mountains to the sea. Belize has changed in those thirty years; North Carolina has changed in that time too. But what has not changed is the passion and excitement these educators bring to this experience, and then back into their classrooms.

Across North Carolina and Belize, there are teachers who have been changed by this institute. For some it was their first airplane flight, or first trip out of the country. for others it provided a reawakening of their commitment to their classrooms, or a rediscovery of their excitement of being immersed in the natural world. Each one comes away with new knowledge and understanding of tropical ecosystems and the interdependence of humans and nature. They also come away with so much more – a sense of awe and wonder about the world, a curiosity about their surroundings and a deep understanding of what it means to stretch and grow as a learner. They do this surrounded by other educators of excellence from Belize and North Carolina, and those friendships last far beyond the length of the trip.

It is an honor to continue the legacy started by Mary Ann thirty years ago. Many thanks to all of you who have supported this project both here and in Belize.  Please follow along as we continue the Educators of Excellence Tropical Ecology Institute.

Heading home

July 27, 2016


After a fabulous day of snorkeling on the reef and on the mangroves, and a delicious final dinner, we begin our journey home.

final blog coming soon

Some photos from snorkeling

July 26, 2016
The view from the porch.

The view from the porch

Getting back on the boat after snorkeling

Getting back on the boat after snorkeling.

Jason and Nathan snorkeling.

Jason and Nathan snorkeling.

Jeff snorkeling.

Jeff snorkeling.

Freddy snorkeling with a Go Pro camera.

Freddy snorkeling with a Go Pro camera.

Yellow stingray.

Yellow stingray.



Day 582: Southwater Caye, Belize

July 26, 2016

Today we learned that eels get very upset when you wake them up at 10:00 pm. Actually, we learned a lot of things. The day, once again, was full of new adventures and unexpected activities: an island walk about, a visit with the researchers at the Carrie Bow Smithsonian Research Lab, snorkeling around a patch coral reef, a whopping 3 hours of free time, snorkeling again off our island home in the late afternoon and then again after dark! Whoa! How do you fit that in to 16 hours? Very carefully, friends.

Even though we are on a little piece of paradise, we are not on vacation. Well. That’s a half truth. Waking up for a 6:00 morning walk kicked off our first full day on the tropical island.   Everyone was surprised to learn that our local Belizean friend, Ryan, could crack coconuts on a coconut post. Trust us, it’s harder than it looks. Of the 300 coconuts that a tree produces each year, Ryan effortlessly cracked one for us. It is kind of unsettling to see signs that warn us to “watch for falling coconuts.” We also learned that the pumice under our feet is in fact from a volcano in Guatemala. All of this before 8:00 a.m.

Our first boat ride landed us on Carrie Bow, the home of the Smithsonian Research Institute here in South Caye. Zach, the site manager, met us and introduced us to the latest research going on, focusing on the CO2 impacts on salinity and urchin menu preferences. Who knew sea urchins were picky eaters?! We were expecting extensive research tools when we found the research was being done with a plastic slotted spoon and a spatula. It just goes to show that scientists don’t need fancy items to conduct research. In fact, the research tools at the Smithsonian lab could actually be found in many regular 5th grade classrooms! What an epiphany! Also, did you know that the color on the coral is called photosynthetic zooxanthellae? Put that in your spell checker! Many of us were shocked to learn the brilliant coloration found on the coral is actually an algae that forms on the coral and creates a symbiotic relationship. If the algae dies, the coral becomes bleached (white), and thus loses its ability to thrive. It all made sense when we realized why the research on CO2 levels was so important: it directly impacts the life of the coral. Crazy, right? High fives to all of those using alternative energy: you’re helping the oceans maintain life! Also, thanks to our friends at Carrie Bow — keep up the great work.

Shortly after our Smithsonian research center tour, we hopped back on our boat (a 25-foot fiberglass v-hull with twin 200 hp engines) to scoot over to a patch reef. Belize it or not, we really are getting the hang of snorkeling! Those of us who never snorkeled before were diving down to get a closer look at the brain coral. Amy was stoked to see the stoplight parrotfish (which she insisted was a spotlight parrot fish). She was also excited to see the yellowtail damselfish. We put our waterproof field guides to use when we explored these unknown reefs, all before lunch.

Everyone can likely agree that the most unexpected aspect of our day was when Liz revealed that we would have 3 hours of discretionary time to explore the island as we pleased. Lauren said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!” as she realized she would have time to paddle board, kayak, lie out in hammocks (reflecting on our research, of course), journal, and try some yoga. Freddy got an up-close and personal look at a piece of conch in his foot — what a trooper. In fact, we notice a theme with this trip: stretching ourselves while traveling helps us experience new things. During reflection, Sheret made a great point: if we never do things outside our comfort zone, we’ll never have new experiences. Try things that scare you, be vulnerable, snorkel after dark, find that moray eel — and follow him to see where he swims! (Yes, this actually happened).

We are officially in the final lap of our trip, and it continues to be filled with unexpected surprises and experiences. Every minute of this adventure is intentionally planned by our wonderful leaders. They have made us feel so safe and comfortable that we are all quite confident to try at least one new thing each day.

Once we get home we will flip through our journals and there will be no way to capture the excitement, laughter, and pure joy that has prevailed throughout our journey. The inside jokes (fart fart, kill the baby!), the developed trust, and the act of falling in love with the surrounding ecology has been the product of our daily adventures.

We are thoroughly enjoying your comments, questions, and jokes, so please continue to send us more for us to answer as we wrap up our adventure. Mom: the water temperature is perfect (88 degrees) and I can’t wait to show it to you. Although we are really excited to come home, leaving this tropical paradise is going to be a bigger challenge than dodging scorpions in the Cockscomb Basin.   However the friendships we have made will be with us forever, and the experiences we have shared will strengthen our relationships with ourselves, our family, and our students.

(photos coming soon)