LightHawk helps with environmental flight missions in Belize

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

LightHawk February 2013-1For a number of years, LightHawk has been working with various organizations and individuals in the Central American nation of Belize to conduct flyover flights to assist with the protection of the country’s resources. On Saturday February 16th, two of their volunteer pilots engaged in a flyover to different parts of Belize including Ambergris Caye. Their missions were to provide a birds-eye view of forest areas that have been illegally cleared on Northern Ambergris Caye, and also to identify possible habits for American Salt Water crocodiles found in Belize. On board the flight with LightHawk was Vince Rose of the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES), Ben Popik of Island Films and Jorge Aldana, The San Pedro Sun Senior Reporter.

Every year LightHawk flies their small five seater plane throughout Mesoamerica, including Belize, where they conduct several flights all geared to assist organizations who are dedicated to the protection of the world’s environment. It is an organization run solely with the help of volunteers and their resources. “None of us get paid, we do it because we enjoy the flying and feel very strongly about the mission of LightHawk. LightHawk’s mission is all about protecting the environment and the ecology,” said Stephanie Wills, a volunteer pilot with the organization. LightHawk’s main mission states that they “champion environmental protection through the unique perspective of flight.”

LightHawk February 2013-3“We show them (partners) things they can see from the air having to do with the environment, the land, the water we fly over; things they can never see from the ground. We stay in the area for about three to four months and fly all kinds of partners both government and non government agencies. We feel it is important not just for us but for the countries and the world as a whole. One of our aims is to educate people in the various countries we travel to. We want to show them how valuable the land, the animals and the species are to the specific places they are living in and also how important it is to protect them,” said a passionate Wills.

On Saturday, each of the three individuals on the flight had partnered with LightHawk to look at different areas of concerns. “We had two different missions on the same flight. The first one was to go to the north end of Ambergris Caye. There is a national park located on the island and lately there has been evidence that some unclean material have been dumped into the water, and some areas of the jungle are being cleared, maybe illegally, and we just wanted to look at that,” explained Wells. The flight took the crew to various coordinated points (provided by the Hol Chan Marine Reserve office) in which suspected illegal logging and hunting of wild animals had been reported near the Bacalar Chico National Park. Aerial photographs show some level of clearance and will be submitted to the relevant authorities for consideration as support documents.

LightHawk February 2013-2
“We went to Cangrejo Caye and along some atolls near the Blue Hole and Turneffe Caye. Our goal there was that we had some people from ACES looking for habitats for these crocodiles that are becoming more rare and endangered in this area. ACES is making sure that there is still a good habitat for these animals to live in,” detailed pilot Wills. ACES’s Vince Rose carefully analyzed the general landscape and topography of the area while film producer Popik helped to document the area through his lens. According to ACES, Popik has donated numerous hours of filming and editing ACES’ work. The time dedicated by Popik and his wife Joanna has helped to spread ACES’ crocodile conservation efforts in Belize and LightHawk February 2013-4globally through social media. On the mission, Popik was documenting American Crocodile habitats on Ambergris Caye and two potentially important cayes to crocodile nesting at LightHouse Atoll, Northern and Sandbore Cayes. “The flight was part of ACES’ ongoing crocodile population surveying funded by The Rufford Small Grants Foundation,” explained ACES in a short statement.

Wills explained that the success of LightHawk’s work in Belize and around the world is measured, to some extent, by the progress achieved by the different partner organizations and LightHawk’s involvement in achieving on-the-ground conservation goals. Those goals include, but are not limited, to assisting their partners in gathering as much knowledge possible to help legislative protections enacted, acres of habitat protected or even media articles published all geared to promote the protection of the environment.

During their stay in Belize, LightHawk also conducted other missions with several other partners to areas in the Corozal District, western and southern Belize. Following their missions in Belize, LightHawk moved to neighboring Guatemala on other environmental missions.

Photographs and story possible through assistance of LightHawk.

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