The History of Belize Audubon Society
The Belize Audubon Society (BAS) has made Belize a model of a developing country with an environmental consciousness. BAS facilitated the early passage of legislation for the protection of wildlife and establishment of protected areas. BAS proposed areas that should be protected and lobbied until wildlife sanctuaries, natural monuments, nature reserves, and national parks were declared. The Belize Audubon Society led in the management of these protected areas. Indeed, Belize’s current enviable position as a premier eco-tourism destination is largely due to the early work of the Belize Audubon Society. Through a good working relationship with the Government of Belize we continue to preserve the country’s precious natural resources for many generations to come.
The Formation of the Belize Audubon Society
The Belize Audubon Society was formed in 1969 by a group of enthusiastic and energetic conservationists. Dora Weyer was the moving spirit behind the formation meeting. As a member of the Florida Audubon Society, Dora knew that the Executive Director, C. Russell Mason (Russ), was interested in starting foreign chapters. She had made friends with Meg Craig, Lydia and Jim Waight, and other people who were interested in wildlife and joined her on bird watching trips. Dora decided that if she could find enough interested people, an Audubon chapter could be formed in Belize. So, she got in touch with Russ Mason who arranged a Belize tour for members of the Florida Audubon Society with the intention of getting a chapter started. On February 6, 1969 a new chapter of the Florida Audubon Society, to be called the Belize Audubon Society, was organized for the purpose of learning more about wildlife in Belize and preserving it as a part of Belize’s heritage.
The first president of the Belize Audubon Society was James A. Waight who served from 1969 to 1986, whose dedication to BAS is honored by the annual James A. Waight Award for services to conservation in Belize
To many, the name Audubon is synonymous with birds. Additionally, Audubon’s conservation efforts focus on other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. During the formation, the Florida Audubon Society offered to give assistance to Belize Audubon Society in the preservation of bird species, such as the Roseate Spoonbill found at Cayo Rosario behind San Pedro Ambergris Caye, and mammals in danger of extinction, such as the jaguar. The Jabiru stork was the Belize Audubon Society’s first conservation project and in 1973 it was added to Belize’s list of protected species.
Growth of the Society
The Belize Audubon Society developed in three phases. In 1973, BAS became independent from the Florida Audubon Society. During the first fifteen years, the work of the Society was done solely by volunteers using donated materials.
After Belize gained its independence, the Government passed the National Parks System Act (1981) to initiate the establishment of protected areas. Half Moon Caye Natural Monument was the first area protected under this act. The Belize Audubon Society was instrumental in both of these actions.
By the end of 1984 some funds were obtained to support management of protected areas and establish an office with professional staff. The next five years were a volatile time for the Belize Audubon Society, with inconsistent funding, changes in the Government of Belize, and enormous developmental issues for the country.
By 1990, the situation had stabilized and the professional phase began in earnest. In 1996, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Society to manage six protected areas. In 1999, the Memorandum was extended to include two new protected areas, Blue Hole and Victoria Peak Natural Monuments. We now manage 7 protected areas and have more than forty full-time staff, based both in our office in Belize City and in the field. The BAS staff has continued to increase in number and professional skills ever since.
Learn more about the Belize Audubon Society: The First Forty Years