Program Details

Location: Belize City, Belize

Dates: Summer 2020: June 24–August 6, 2020

Accommodations: Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge

Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Language: English instruction

Courses: ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C

Prerequisites: One college level course of ecology or similar,
18 years of age

Program Costs

Belize Summer 2020
$    150    Application Fee
$ 5,550    Program Fee
$ 3,100    Estimated In-Country Fee
$    900    Estimated Airfare
$    800    Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$10,500  Total Estimated Cost
Summer 2020: Program fees due by May 1, 2020 


The Program

Team members will have a unique opportunity for hands-on field investigations of environmental challenges facing Belize today. Because of Belize’s rich biodiversity and its relative isolation, little is known about much of the nation’s flora and fauna, and that which is known is incompletely understood. The opportunity for discovery awaits us on many levels.

In Belize, team members will conduct key ecological research monitoring, including scientific observations, animal identification and wildlife transects. Traversing the country from mountains to the coast, we will examine animal populations in Belize’s principle terrestrial ecosystems (rainforests, coastal mangroves, lagoons, and riparian zones) and assess the effectiveness and long-range sustainability of resource management strategies in Belize’s protected nature reserves.

Off the Belize coast exists the second largest barrier reef in the world. Studded with mangrove and coconut palmed cayes, and guarded by atolls to the east, the 180 mile long reef is ecologically complex and intimately tied to the rainforests through its many water courses that deliver nutrients to the sea. In this system, dazzling numbers and varieties of plants and animals are supported, including thirty coral species, sea turtles, manatees, and over 250 varieties of fish, living in and along the reef system.

Snorkeling through the reef environment we will closely study the ecology of the system, collect evidence of human disturbance and assess the impact of increased human use. Belize’s cultural geography will be a third focus of our field studies. Belize is a land inhabited by an extraordinary mix of peoples. Our studies will take us to various cultures, and at times we may find ourselves as their guests. We will conduct informal interviews with local people, collecting personal histories and perceptions of the country from the various ethnic groups living within its borders. In this manner, we will develop a sense of how the different cultures see themselves in relation to the land, and how the concepts of conservation and stewardship vary across cultural lines and through time. We will also consider the effects, both environmental and economic, of Belize’s vast protected nature reserves on local communities, as well as the enhancement or degradation of their cultural senses of history, place and home.

By the end of the project all of us will have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of Belize's unparalleled environmental and cultural diversity, and we will have developed the ability to employ scientific field methods, evaluated firsthand a variety of conservation management techniques and explored the human element in wildland and wildlife stewardship.

Program Photo Gallery


More Details






Matthew Zylstra

Lead instructor

PhD in Conservation Ecology/Transdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Sustainability, Stellenbosch University, 2014

Matt is a conservation ecologist with experience in facilitating action research approaches for collaborative landscape restoration and stewardship in South Africa and Australia. His research interests lie in coastal-marine ecosystems, naturalist mentoring and community-focused outreach. Matt’s PhD research drew on integral ecology, psychology and education to explore how meaningful nature experience supports transformative learning for sustainability. Matt has led programs for almost a decade for Wildlands Studies, establishing our programs in Australia, Tasmania, and South Africa, and now leading our Belize Program.


Alejandra Vargas

Lead instructor

DVM, National University, Costa Rica, 2003
PhD in Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, 2019

Alejandra is a veterinarian and marine mammal researcher from Costa Rica. She has recently completed her doctoral research in South Africa on the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin as an indicator species for marine protected area effectiveness. Alejandra established our Australia and South Africa programs in 2012, taught our New Zealand Program in 2018 and will co-lead the Belize Program in Summer 2020.