We offer two research directions in the UCF Community Geography and GIS REU Site in Belize. Both research directions are part of ongoing projects in Belize led by the PI and Co-PI. Each team will have between 4 and 5 students, but the teams will be part of the broader REU cohort and work together across teams on shared learning activities about research design and community-based scholarship.
Research Direction I: Mapping disparities in flooding and disaster management.
Primary Mentors: Dr. Timothy Hawthorne and Dr. Hannah Torres (University of Central Florida) & Mr. Antonio Cano (University of Belize).
Situated in a developing country with high poverty rates and poorly planned infrastructure, seven town councils in Belize are completing strategic plans to access financial assistance from The World Bank. The Institute of International Urban Development (IIUD) has been working directly with town councils and GIS practitioners in Belize to build capacity for long-term planning efforts. PI Hawthorne, Co-PI Visaggi, and one of their students worked closely with IIUD, Dangriga Town Council, and residents in 2013 to develop a geospatial pilot study of land use planning and flooding hotspots (Skelton, 2014). Geospatial training workshops were also conducted to support Dangriga Town Council staff. Research Direction I will expand this work. Students will answer Research Question 1: Where are the most vulnerable land uses and populations in relation to potential environmental disasters? As increasingly strong storms and flooding events occur in Belize due to climate change, researchers and town leaders are interested in creating a GIS-based flooding and disaster mitigation plan. REU students will use mixed methods (including qualitative sketch mapping with ArcGIS Collector and GIS analyses) to understand where flooding hotspots are located after periods of heavy rain and identify which culverts overflow afterward. Qualitative sketch maps will allow students to collect detailed local knowledge of flooding hotspots. Boschmann and Cubbon note that “sketch maps have been used in participatory and qualitative GIS to develop cartographies of group and individual spatial narratives” (2014: 237). Using a participatory mapping application in the ArcGIS Collector application developed by the PI and students, 50 participants in 6 focus groups each year will: a) map locations where flooding commonly occurs; b) annotate where and why they perceive the town to be safe or unsafe during floods; and c) annotate where they see culverts overflow from floods. During a Week 2 partners meeting with UB, Smithsonian, and other local community organizations identified by UB mentor Cano, students will lead the co-design of the database and Collector application (10 hours) and focus group questions (10-12 hours). Each focus group will last around 2 hours, mapped data from the field will be synchronized instantly into the database when re-connected online, and students will transcribe notes from the focus groups (Weeks 3-4, 10-12 hours per focus group). Having students create and implement the ArcGIS Collector application for community-based fieldwork is feasible given that the team has used it in the previous REU and BGX program. It is advantageous as a mapping platform for tablets and smart phones because it allows multiple stakeholders to use touch screens in off-line fieldwork to collect geographic information, annotate maps with participant local knowledge of a location, and attach photos and videos to a location. Tables attached to geographic locations in GIS will provide details from each participant’s perceptions. Such data will be overlain and analyzed with existing land use data to identify hot spot areas (especially large residential and commercial districts) most vulnerable to flooding events. Community-collected knowledge attached to locations will show aggregate views of flooding hotspots, areas of high/low safety, and areas of overflowing culverts from Belize residents and community groups. This yields a community-driven database inclusive of Belize voices, rather than being collected only by U.S. researchers with less local knowledge. GIS hot spot analyses of data from six focus groups will take around 12-15 hours in Weeks 5-6.
Students will also address Research Question 2: Where are optimal locations for disaster management services to serve the largest populations? Utilizing baseline land use and flooding data collected with community members above, students will perform site suitability analyses and street network analyses to identify optimal locations and evacuation routes for medical support services and temporary disaster relief centers during hurricane and flooding events. These data are available, but students will need to download, symbolize, and analyze these GIS data (20-25 hours in Week 6). This work will allow students to create: 1) a draft emergency management plan and evacuation routes; 2) maps and datasets that consider high population centers while avoiding community-defined flooding hotspots, and 3) community-defined spatial strategies to assist the most people during an emergency. A 3-5 page report, an ArcGIS Online mapping application, and public presentation will be finalized in Weeks 6-7 (time estimate 35 hours) for community education to emphasize the critical role of safe evacuation routes during an emergency.
Research Direction II: Mapping marine debris and mitigating the impacts on coastal communities.
Primary Mentors: Dr. Timothy Hawthorne (University of Central Florida), Dr. Christy Visaggi (Georgia State University), Dr. Hannah Torres (University of Central Florida) & Mr. Antonio Cano (University of Belize).
Tourism and fishing provide significant forms of revenue for coastal residents in Belize; preserving the quality of shoreline ecosystems has important socio-economic implications. Threats to the vitality of economic growth in such communities include impacts from human-induced litter that devastates these habitats. Environmental destruction from anthropogenic marine debris is a global crisis that can lead to the collapse of functioning ecosystems with insufficient management of refuse being particularly problematic in developing nations (STAP, 2011). This REU research direction seeks to answer Research Question 3: What is the distribution and composition of marine debris in coastal communities? Collection of baseline data across the coastline in southeastern Belize will also allow students to address Research Question 4: Where are hot spots of debris in which management efforts should be focused?
REU students will first engage with 50 participants in 6 focus groups each year using qualitative sketch mapping to document local knowledge about marine debris. During a Week 2 partners meeting with UB, Smithsonian, and other local community organizations identified by UB mentor Cano, students will lead the co-design of the database and Collector application (10 hours) and focus group questions (10-12 hours). Residents will be asked their perceptions of marine debris, including whether or not they view debris as a problem, what they believe to be major sources of debris, and their views on possible mitigation strategies. Residents will then complete qualitative sketch mapping in ArcGIS Collector. Participants will be asked to: a) map areas with large amounts of marine debris; b) annotate land uses or structures near these sites that may contribute to debris; c) identify sites for recycling bins and signage to combat the problem; and d) demarcate priority areas and feasibility for future clean-up areas. Community-defined knowledge will be collected in the ArcGIS Collector application to show aggregate views of marine debris hotspots, possible sources of debris, and priority mitigation areas. Each focus group will last around 2 hours, mapped data from the field will be synchronized instantly into the database when re-connected online, and students will transcribe notes from the focus group (Weeks 3-4, 10-12 hours each). Students, in conjunction with local residents, will then map marine debris along the coast of Belize employing a framework based on pilot research conducted by a Hawthorne and Visaggi undergraduate student in 2013. Trash and data collection occurred along the shoreline in 50 m segments at 20 locations (e.g., Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Punta Gorda, Monkey River Village) using handheld GPS. Targeted sites varied in size, accessibility, and reliance on tourism for assessing the volume and influence litter has on socially disparate communities. Sampling localities were selected in consultation with locals and perspectives on sources and long-term impacts were discussed for monitoring social trends. REU students will build upon this existing approach by expanding spatial coverage in Belize and contribute to the first openly available GIS database to evaluate shoreline debris. Documentation of such baseline data is essential for effective management of litter in
communities that are dependent on maintaining healthy and attractive ecosystems. Typical fieldwork for REU students in this research direction will require data collection at a locality in the morning and late afternoon (~3 hours per site in Weeks 4-5 based on pilot work). Type of material (e.g., plastic, styrofoam), identity of items (e.g., lids, bags, bottles), size, and condition will be assigned to GPS points in the Collector application. Information on environmental factors that may contribute to land-derived debris production will be noted (e.g., river inputs, boat access, dumping grounds). Previously, data collection incorporated Belize residents, students, and youth (similar participation will occur here). Spatial patterns on concentration and distribution will be analyzed using GIS spatial interpolation to recognize debris hotspots. Hot spot analyses from six focus groups will take around 12-15 hours in Weeks 5-6. Maps characterizing the severity of impacts will facilitate classification of priority areas for improved management. In consultation with residents, students will also identify new locations for trash receptacles and recycling bins in areas of high inundation. The ArcGIS Online mapping application, a public presentation, and a 3-5 page report will be finalized (35 hours in Weeks 6-7) for community education to emphasize the critical role of ongoing conservation and monitoring.
Research Direction III: Drone mapping and spatial storytelling for coastal and island communities.
Primary Mentors: Dr. Timothy Hawthorne (University of Central Florida), Dr. Hannah Torres (University of Central Florida) & Mr. Antonio Cano (University of Belize).
The primary question driving this new research direction is: how are island communities in Belize impacted by and adapting to development, environmental degradation, and climate change? High resolution drone imagery will allow us to understand this broad research question and spatial story telling with community members will provide contextual local knowledge to explain impacts on and adaptations to a changing environment on Belize Barrier Reef islands.
The Belize Barrier Reef islands are an integral part of the tourism industry and a source of livelihoods for many Belizean families, both on the islands and the mainland. This is particularly important since the largest sector of the Belizean economy is the tourism industry (World Bank, 2017). However, increasingly strong storms and flooding events are occurring in Belize due to climate change. Such events present significant challenges to the reef islands and human population. These challenges include damages to boat docks and structures, erosion of shorelines, loss of mangroves, and damages to crumbling or poorly constructed sea walls. Several additional challenges are present on the islands as new and sometimes poorly planned development occurs where developers do not fully consider how these new plans might impact the coastal environment and reef structure. These poorly planned developments often lead to environmental degradation (loss of mangroves for example) and in many instances put humans in the perilous path of increasingly strong storms. Thus, researchers, non-profits, and concerned citizens in Belize, and around the world, are eager to explore new research avenues to understand and protect the complex reef island ecosystem and ensure sustainable tourism and development occur.
To address the above issues, a systematic, free, and openly available GIS data portal of the Belize Barrier Reef islands is needed to include up-to-date high resolution imagery and GIS data about structures, docks, island polygons, alternative energy sources, sea walls, shoreline erosion, and mangrove loss. In conjunction with our research partners in Belize, including University of Belize faculty and students, residents, tour guides, the Smithsonian, and Esri, our REU students will use mixed methods and open data principles to support this effort. Students will engage in drone mapping of the islands; processing of the drone imagery in Esri’s Drone 2 Map; digitizing and analyzing drone imagery to create new GIS data about island geographies; spatial storytelling to represent and share local knowledge about the islands; and communicating results to a broad international audience through an open data portal, formal and informal presentations, publications, and public education and outreach through our reef imagery.