Ridge to Reef Expeditions (R2R) was launched in 2014 by the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). TIDE is a non-profit, non-governmental organization in southern Belize that co-manages three protected areas – two terrestrial and one marine – in partnership with the Government of Belize. TIDE works with local communities to raise environmental awareness, build capacity to manage natural resources and foster sustainable economic development.
The Maya Mountain Marine Corridor in southern Belize is home to over 48 endangered species, and communities that depend on natural resources for the livelihoods. This important landscape faces pressures such as poaching, land degradation and climate change, posing a threat to the ecosystems and life they support.
In 1997, a group of Belizean environmentalists was determined to prevent the destruction of Toledo’s incredible ecosystems. The local manatee population, in particular, was being devastated by intense hunting and gill net use along Belize’s coast.
With support from The Nature Conservancy, they formed the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). TIDE rallied the local fishing community and successfully petitioned the Government of Belize to establish the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, bringing 100,000 acres of marine habitat under legal protection and safeguarding some of the healthiest coral reefs in the entire Mesoamerican Reef, as well as important fish nursery grounds, sea turtle nesting beaches, critically endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, and, of course, the manatees.
Because local fishers were no longer allowed to use destructive gill nets in the new reserve, TIDE organized a net buy-back project and retrained 60 fishers as tour guides, taking advantage of the area’s potential as a world-class fly-fishing destination.
TIDE quickly gained a reputation as an organization that gets results, and in 2001, was selected to manage 11,000 acres of forest under the terms of a “debt-for-nature swap” between Belize and the USA. TIDE has since expanded these holdings to 22,000 acres that form an important wildlife corridor. In 2002, TIDE won the United Nations Development Program’s prestigious Equator Prize for sustainable development.
In 2004, TIDE officially began co-managing Payne’s Creek National Park with the Belize Forest Department. Wildfire is by far the greatest threat to the savanna ecosystem in Payne’s Creek, and so TIDE sought out the assistance of the US Parks Service and Everglades National Park to develop a fire management program. As a result of over a decade of diligent fire management, over 14,000 acres of pine savanna is regenerating.
In 2007, TIDE’s founder, Mr. Wil Maheia, handed over the reins to the current executive director, Mrs. Celia Mahung, an innovator in community participation and environmental education. Under Mrs. Mahung’s leadership, TIDE has won international acclaim for its environmental education initiatives, the flagship of which is the “Freshwater Cup”. This is a football tournament with a twist – each participating school team must first complete a mini project to protect freshwater ecosystems and the Belize Barrier Reef downstream.
The tournament empowers girls and boys by making them realize what can be accomplished when we work together! In 2008, the Freshwater Cup won TIDE the Experiences in Social Innovation Award from ECLAC and the Kellogg Foundation, from over 800 nominations worldwide. In 2012, the competition was recognized again, this time with the International Olympic Committee’s Award for Integrating Sport and Sustainable Development.
Pioneering new innovations again in 2012, TIDE joined forces with the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy and University of California at Santa Barbara to pilot Managed Access fisheries management in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, a first for the Caribbean! Managed Access has resulted in increased catches for fishers and proven so successful that the Fisheries Department decided to roll it out to the entire territorial waters of Belize, a landmark step toward sustainable fisheries in the region!
TIDE has done some great work, yes, but in the face of ever growing environmental threats, will it be enough to realize the organization’s vision of healthy ecosystems supporting biodiversity and a prosperous, sustainable green economy in Toledo?
This is where Ridge to Reef Expeditions comes in. TIDE has always made great use of volunteers, both foreign and Belizean, and the volunteers have always had an amazing experience so in 2012, TIDE decided to establish a structured project to make the most of the talent out there. After two years of development, Ridge to Reef Expeditions was launched in 2014.
Why Ridge to Reef?
Because we’re a relatively small operation, we connect with each and every one of our volunteers. We’re grateful for the support of people who share our passion for the future of our planet, and we make all our volunteers feel at home.
Another thing that sets Ridge to Reef Expeditions apart is the mixture of serious conservation work and pure adventure. On weekdays, we do conservation research and action in remote wild locations. At the weekends, it’s time to relax and you’ll find yourself wandering around Maya temples, learning to make chocolate (and eating it!), jumping off waterfalls, or zip lining through the jungle tree tops. Toledo, Belize’s “forgotten district”, has very few tourists, so we usually have these places to ourselves! TIDE Tours has 15+ years of experience and knows all the best spots and guides.
R2R is excellent value for money because we do not have to support an office or staff outside of Belize. We have low overheads because our administration and infrastructure is shared with TIDE, and we spend little on marketing. For these reasons, our price is one of the most competitive on the market. When you consider everything you get – SCUBA training, scientific training, conservation activities, weekend excursions, comfortable lodgings, meals cooked by local chefs, airport pick-up and drop-off, and support while you prepare for expedition – we don’t think you can get any better value.
Safety & Health
Yes. Compared with other Central American countries, Belize is extremely safe and peaceful. The Toledo district, where R2R is based, is especially safe and friendly with very low crime rates. You should use common sense and take care when out and about to keep your personal belongings with you.
When you first arrive into Belize we collect you from the international or local airport so you will have no need to navigate the city yourself. If you travel overland to Belize City, we will meet you off the bus at the terminal. So from the moment you arrive, a member of our friendly R2R staff team will be there to take care of your onward journey. Please note that whilst R2R take care of you throughout your expedition, volunteers are responsible for their own safety if travelling before or after your expedition.
All our activities and fieldsites are reviewed and a series of risk assessments carried out to ensure that participants are safe at all times. Our expedition staff undergoes first aid training and our emergency action plan and pre-expedition briefings mean that our team is prepared for any situation that arises. Expedition rules and regulations are in place to ensure the safety of all involved, and must be adhered to.