Our first full day in Sarteneja was spent at the Blue Ventures office, being generally introduced to Belize, Blue Ventures and the project overall. We learnt a bit about the importance of the data we’d be collecting and how we’d be collecting it.
The second day was much more exciting. The morning was spent at another NGO called Shipstern, which is forest-based instead of marine. We visited their butterfly enclosure and walked a small trail through the jungle, learning about different species of plants and animals that live in the unique ecosystem.
The mosquitoes were insane and at every stopping point everyone was slapping themselves, and each other, to try and get them before they got us. We had all lathered on the repellent but that did nothing against the onslaught that followed us in a rather ominous, whining cloud. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many mosquito bites in my life. I think I was bitten hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of times. The next morning I woke up and my face was studded with bites with one on my eyelid having swollen up so I found it difficult to see.
The forest was, however, still very beautiful and we climbed a watchtower right at the end that gave us the most awesome view of the whole jungle from above. It was also deliciously breezy and free from mosquitoes so we stayed up there for a little while.
In the afternoon some of the women from the Belioness group, set up by Blue Ventures but maintained by the local women, came to teach us how to make jewellery out of lionfish fins and gave us the opportunity to buy some too. The jewellery they made was fantastic and as they passed around earrings, bracelets and necklaces for us to look at, we all got very excited about having the chance to make our own. The first step was to choose your lionfish fin. They had empty instant coffee jars filled with crisp pectoral fins. The smell was certainly potent, but that didn’t put us off. Once you had your chosen fin you needed to soak it in acetate (nail varnish remover) for a few minutes. What this did, I’m not too sure, but we put them in to soak and then dried them on parchment paper.
Once your fin had dried off a bit you could cut it to size, which depended on what you were making. I opted for small pieces of fin as I wanted to make a pair of earrings, but those making necklaces went for chunkier ones. Then you needed to add aluminium to the top of the fin. The Belioness women cut open a couple of empty drinks cans for us to use and we trimmed smaller pieces off so that they fit neatly over the top part of the fin.
Then came superglueing.
It turns out we’re all quite bad at superglueing.
A lot of people superglued themselves to their jewellery or themselves to other parts of themselves. One person managed to superglue a piece of aluminium to the table, which took some prising to get off, but we managed. By the end everyone had detached themselves from their creations and had stuck the aluminium on mostly in the right place.
After you had superglued your aluminium to your fin you had the choice to stick coconut cloth over the top, the more rugged aesthetic, or just to leave the metal plain. The coconut cloth was the mesh fabric-y fibre that you can find scattered around the base of any coconut palm so was a very easy material to come by. If you wanted coconut cloth as well you needed to do yet more superglueing (yay) to attach it to the metal part. I opted for a simple silver for my earrings, having had quite enough fun with the superglue, so didn’t add the coconut cloth. That meant the next step for me was punching a very small hole through the aluminium at the top of my earrings in order to be able to thread through the wire that would allow them to become wearable.
I say it was the next step for me, but we all individually decided that our jewellery would end up looking a lot more decorative, and less salvaged from a scrap heap, if we outsourced this job to the fantastically kind woman who ran the Belioness group. She punched the holes through the aluminium and then threaded wire through the small holes, twisting and bending it into interlocking loops with the typically curve at the end to fit through your ear. It was honestly mesmerising to watch.
The final step, which I promise I actually did myself, was dipping the fins in varnish. We used just regular wood varnish and I assumed that this was to stop the fin from smelling/going bad and generally would just help protect it from wear and tear. This was another very sticky job, as the varnish had dried over many times in the tin and so I had an experience slightly reminiscent of ice-fishing whereby I dangled my earring down through layers and layers of hard varnish that had been broken through, into the liquid beneath. Once the fin was dipped I scraped off the excess varnish to avoid the formation of any large globules and then hung my earrings from a wire rack to dry.
I was pretty chuffed. They’re definitely not professional level just yet, but from a distance I think all of my errors will be forgiven.