Gales Point, Belize
Gales Point peninsula and the surrounding landscape comprise the 9,100-acre Gales Point Wildlife Sanctuary and a coastal community with a population of nearly 500 residents. The peninsula of land, approximately 2 miles long and several hundred feet wide, is isolated from the majority of the country, accessible primarily via a ninety-minute boat ride from Belize City, Belize. The Gales Point community consists of an indigenous population of Creole peoples descended from African slaves that came to the area with logging crews and Maroon settlers (runaway slaves from the Eboe nation in Africa) who took up residence on the peninsula in the 1800s. This community is the only one known of its kind anywhere in the world outside of Nigeria that has maintained the customs and cultural practices from the inhabitant's original African roots, including drumming and drum-making, dance, and food unique to the population.
The peninsula is the main residence area for the village's population, yet is only part of the Sanctuary, which includes four surrounding lagoons (Sapodilla, Western, Southern, and Quashie Trap), and a portion of the Manatee River. The main peninsula juts north into the Southern Lagoon, which is separated from the Caribbean Sea on the east and backs up to the base of a chain of large remnant karst towers riddled with caves to the west and south. The area is home to 22 ecosystems, including 20 terrestrial and 2 aquatic, and over 20 threatened or endangered species, including one of the world's largest populations of the West Indian Manatee. The socio-environmental connections in this area are complex, wherein human and land use practices are causing further degradation to the environment as the population continues to grow with limited natural and economic resources. Activities like ecotourism, agriculture, and trade have become the staples of the livelihood of the Gales Point populace, but the isolation of the area and the potential threat of storms are making it difficult to persevere toward a sustainable existence.
To assist in overcoming ever increasing threats to the people and ecosystems of Gales Point, Hoffman Institute members are actively working to develop multiple research, education, and service projects in the region. In particular, working with members of the community, they have assisted with installing a UV water purification system to provide clean water to the local school, helped to establish standard operating procedures for treating water and testing water quality parameters, and are developing a multi-year, multi-proxy research project to measure and characterize the modern hydroclimatology of the Gales Point region, and establish a study of storm event variability on karst water resources. For this project the team is using multiple meteorological, climatological, geological, and hydrological data parameters to identify the modern watershed dynamics by delineating the drainage areas, create a calibration of storm-event influences on groundwater resources using isotope hydrology, and develop a hydrologic characterization of the contributions and impacts of precipitation variability on groundwater resources.