Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Environmental Conservation in Paradise


Anja Mondragon (MAIEP/MBA '13) spent the summer in Belize working with tourism and environmental protection.

September 6, 2012

The moment I stepped onto Tobacco Caye, I felt like I had found a small slice of paradise. The vibrant, yet small fishing community off the southern coast of Belize is amazingly beautiful and astounding.

I came to the Tobacco Caye Marine Center as a fellow with the Center for the Blue Economy (CBE). I was working on what I hope will be my future career: to better understand community members' perspectives about protected marine areas and to promote the direct socioeconomic benefits that come from the protection of them.

Two other students from the Monterey Institute and I began by talking with people on the island and discovering what was most important to them.  Through these discussions, the idea came together for a beach cleanup, which addressed waste and community collaboration. Witnessing individuals working together to benefit the island as a whole gave me great pride in my program.  I also realized that I can have a positive influence in other people’s lives while working toward environmental protection.  During our time on the island, we also addressed other concerns such as coconut tree waste, solar energy, safe swimming areas and tour guide trainings.

Being a CBE Fellow showed me that international conservation is a much more difficult task than I once thought.  There are many challenges such as poverty, corruption and disempowerment.  However, because of my fellowship, I was able to better understand these challenges in an educational and safe environment. This experience also showed me that I am capable of building solutions and new opportunities out of those challenges.

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