It has now been over a year since I returned from Belize. As long-time followers of this blog may recall, the whole reason I went to Belize was to look for opportunities to conduct my master’s research there.
When the journey began, I was dead-set on studying the human dimensions of jaguar conservation. That is part of the reason why I met with jaguar experts like Dr. Bart Harmsen and Jamal. Of course, I also genuinely wanted to learn about jaguar conservation in Belize.
The solo portion of my trip proved incredibly fruitful. Nearly everyone pointed me in the same direction: the Central Belize Corridor (CBC). They all agreed that deforestation, particularly within the corridor, was one of the primary threats to jaguars in Belize.
Though brief, my conversation with Dr. Elma Kay of the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) turned out to be the most influential. She indicated that it would help the ERI if I could figure out why landowners within the CBC (much of which is privately owned) were clearing their land.
As such, that is what I decided to focus on for my thesis. I spent nearly all of the Fall semester of 2017 trying to design a research project about the drivers of deforestation within the CBC. But the deeper I got into it, the greater the logistical challenges became – especially time.
Returning to Belize to study deforestation within the CBC would have required me to stay in my master’s program for at least a third year, if not longer. When I began working on my master’s degree in 2016, the prospect of taking three years to finish did not bother me. By Fall of 2017, however, I wanted out.
There were other concerns as well, but this is not the time or the place to delve into them.
Furthermore, I had long felt that my primary contribution to wildlife conservation would not come through research; my strengths and interests seemed most suited to communications and public outreach. My time in Belize only affirmed this belief.
So when it became clear that the CBC research project was no longer the best option, I decided to use my master’s thesis to learn more about environmental communication. At first, I wanted to do a simple literature review about how to write most effectively about the environment for public audiences. But that is not what happened.
A series of unforeseen events led me to focus on a communications medium that I had never anticipated: wildlife television.
While I never expected to take my thesis in this direction, it is strangely appropriate. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to divulge many details about my project or the story behind it just yet. I have an extremely short timeline in which to complete this thesis, so I cannot take many breaks from it.