Strong ties between fly fishers lead to MSU, Belize collaboration

From Montana State University News

BOZEMAN – Strong connections between fly fishers in southwest Montana and Central America have led to new research at Montana State University.

The project is focused on conch, a sea snail that’s known for its delectable meat and large shell. The research is spearheaded by one of the managers of Turneffe Flats Resort who is working on his master’s degree in fish and wildlife management at MSU and could someday – if his fans are right – become prime minister of his country, Belize.

Alex Anderson, 27, not only served two years as student body president at the University of Belize, but he helped drive two major projects that promote conservation in this country along the Caribbean Sea. One created Belize’s largest marine reserve. The other led to the protection of bonefish, permit and tarpon as catch-and-release species in Belize. Anderson comes from a family of fly fishing guides and worked seven years at the internationally known Turneffe Flats Resort. Although he grew up in Cotton Tree, a town of 600 people and three streets, he is known all over Belize.

“There are a little over 300,000 people in the country, and 200,000 know Alex,” said his faculty adviser, Al Zale, leader of the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in MSU’s Department of Ecology.

Anderson also has a heart for Belize, and it’s currently beating for people who are trying to make a living selling conch.

The conch industry in Belize supports about 2,800 fishermen and 10,000 others, but it’s threatened by over-fishing, Anderson said. From 2004 to 2009, the conch harvest from Turneffe Atoll declined by more than half.

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In an April 15 press release that made the rounds of Belize newspapers and blogs, news about the passing of marine conservationist Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia had an impact, especially on those within the movement. Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, wrote:

Oceana is saddened by the news of the passing of one of Belize’s first Marine Conservationist, Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, who was a true Belizean patriot contributing immensely to the protection of marine resources, especially the manatees.


In 2012, Oceana presented “Chocolate” its Ocean Hero Award for his outstanding work spanning over five decades as a conservationist when that term had not even become popular or even considered a career field.

“We must celebrate the life of our brother Chocolate and always remember him as a role model because even though he has parted this earthly life his works and contribution to this nation remain with us. And it is his work all of us in the conservation community must continue as we stand on the shoulder of this conservation giant,” said Oceana V.P. Audrey Matura-Shepherd.

A brief History:

Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia spent much of his adult life in and around the sea as a fisherman and later as a tour guide. He built up a healthy respect for the environment, knowing how important conservation was without even knowing what the word meant. Chocolate had known about the manatees near Swallow Caye for over 50 years. In the 80s he started to bring tourists there to show them the beautiful manatees of Belize.



In the early to mid-90s more and more tour guides were found visiting the area. Everyonewas getting in the water with the animals and Chocolate came to realize how important it was to set up a protected area around Swallow Caye. In 1996 he and other concerned individuals from all over Belize formed a community-based conservation association called Friends of Swallow Caye. It was set up to promote the designation of this area as a Wildlife Sanctuary.

Success came in July 2002, when the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources signed the Statutory Instrument declaring the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected area is now co-managed by Friends of Swallow Caye and the Belize Forest Department.


Rest in Peace our friend!