Joel Verde was born in Belize City but grew up in one of Belize’s largest fishing communities: Sarteneja, a village of around 3,000 people located in Corozal District that remains largely unspoiled by tourism.
The son of a local fisherman, with nine brothers and sisters, after finishing high school it seemed likely that Joel would follow his father’s footsteps. Although he did for some time, Joel left his job as a fisherman to become a tour guide and later a dedicated conservationist.
“Since I was a young kid, I was always very attracted to the environment,” said Joel, 30, explaining that as a child, when he went fishing with his father he would spend hours admiring the corals.
For the last four years, Joel has been the Executive Director of the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD). SACD’s mission is to “bring people together for conservation” and focuses on natural resource management, educational outreach and sustainable development using a community –oriented approach.
Joel explained that rather than fighting local fishermen to protect the area’s endangered species, which include the goliath grouper, hawksbill and green turtles and manatees, SACD aims to respect the traditional users of Corozal Bay waters, collaborate with them to achieve their conservation goals and educate them about the importance of conservation to preserve their livelihood. SACD looks for alternative jobs for fishermen, such as chicken farming and aquaculture, so that they may receive an income during off-fishing season and eventually year round.
SACD also collaborates with other organizations, such as Blue Ventures Marine Conservation Expeditions, to further their conservation goals in the area. In 2010 the Sarteneja Homestay Group was established through which local families provide homestays for Blue Ventures Expeditions participants. Through a micro-loan system, local families can obtain funds to prepare their homes for these visitors. SACD also provides scholarship funds to assist high school students in paying their tuition fees.
In 2012 Joel won the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program MAR Fellowship to support his project for system level planning and collaboration for improved resource management in the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, considered one of four priority protected areas of the Belizean Mesoamerican Reef.
Joel has also worked as Coordinator of the Sarteneja Tour Guide Association (STGA).
For more information on SACD or to contact Joel, send him a message at [email protected].