Natural History Filming in Turneffe Atoll, Belize

Photo: Craig Hayes.
Photo: Craig Hayes.
Photo: Craig Hayes.

The M/Y Dardanella was made available between April, 21 and 28, 2013 to support a series of conservation, artistic and scientific research activities in and around the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize.

The Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) commissioned filmmaker Rupert Murray to make a documentary exploring the organisation’s extraordinary achievements over the last four years. BLUE has already created one of the largest marine reserves in the world in the Chagos Archipeligo in the Indian Ocean. The film focuses upon BLUE’s latest project – a Marine Protected Area at Turneffe Atoll in Belize, funded by the Bertorelli Foundation.

Rupert Murray returns to marine issues after his seminal feature documentary The End of the Line, made in cooperation with BLUE founders George Duffield and Chris Gorel Barnes, and journalist Charles Clover. Belize has already exceeded the standard set by the Convention on Biodiversity, providing a model for the rest of the world with approximately twenty percent of its territorial waters protected. The film focuses on how the world can follow suit.

Onboard TBA21–Academy’s research vessel M/Y Dardanella – guided by marine biologist and Director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative Dr. Melanie McField – Murray spent a week at the Atoll collecting extensive underwater footage. Documenting this extraordinary natural history, Murray created a visual baseline from which BLUE and the Turneffe stakeholders can measure the success of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Protected Area in years to come.
Belize shoot for the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE)

We will be telling the story of Turneffe from above and below the water. We will begin by spending a week on the M/Y Dardanella, filming natural history. We aim to create a video baseline, to capture a picture of the biodiversity as it stands in April 2013. We can then in future visits track how the protection has worked to protect and increase the biodiversity.

 1) General Health of the Atoll
We will dive the reef in various places and at different times to get a sense of the abundance and diversity of fish species, the extent of corals, any damage etc. We also intend to film in the mangroves and every habitat that the atoll contains.

 2) Target Species
From these general shoots we will identify key species to concentrate on, and these will most likely be the target species of the fishermen, like conch, crawfish, grouper and snapper.

3) Special Characters
We also want to capture material of the animals that make Turneffe so special: West Indian manatees (Antillean subspecies, Trichechus manatus manatus): This is the only atoll in the Caribbean that is known to have resident manatees  (population estimate – 38 individuals) and it is presumed that the low salinity in the lagoons, caused by freshwater seeps, is the reason they are able to stay there. American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) – there are estimated to be around 200 – 300 non hatchling crocodiles in Turneffe and 15-20 breeding females, the largest population in Belize. A recent report suggested that the population might be in decline. For Bottlenose dolphins(Tursiops truncatus) the atoll provides year round habitat to a population of approximately 85, which are more prevalent in spring and fall. We will also try to film Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate), roseate terns (Sterna dougallii), Nassau groupers (Epinephelus striatus) and Boa constrictors. One researcher saw a 1.2 metre Boa Constrictor consuming a black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis) on Calabash Cay. Endemic white spotted toadfish (Sanopus astrifer) and white lined toadfish (Sanopus greenfieldorum) are also of interest.

4) Spawning aggregations and Whale Sharks
There are a three known spawning aggregations on Turneffe, and March to April is the best time to see Whale Sharks, although it is not certain if we will be able to capture footage. The spawning aggregation is valuable from a fisheries perspective as this is where Caribbean fishers have traditionally focussed their efforts, now as species decline it is where marine conservation needs to be implemented.

5) Other sharks
Dolphin research records that adults and calves do not bear shark predation scars similar to those in other well known studies like Sarasota Bay in Florida and Shark Bay, WA. We are planning to speak to the Ocean Society about their shark work.”

Rupert Murray
February 22, 20.13

Resources: most figures obtained from papers on or