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EXPEDITION BELIZE: Search For Botanical Treasure, Descent Into The Unknown

March 20, 2015 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

Nohoch Ch'en & Chiquibul Forest_photo by Tony RathAn historic expedition of a 425’ sinkhole located in the Chiquibul National Park of Belize may prove to reveal rare and possibly never-before-seen plants from the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization. The area’s scientific, historic, and cultural significance makes it a likely candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage site designation.

Selby Gardens’ Director of Botany Bruce Holst joined an international team for the first of several planned descents into the Nohoch Ch’en Sinkhole, one of the most biologically diverse and difficult to access natural environments in Belize. The 10-day expedition marked the first step in a year-long process to gather and document botanical and ecological specimens.

Ella Baron navigating through the boulders

The sinkhole sits atop the estimated 540,000 square-foot Chiquibul Cave System, the largest in Belize and the longest in Central America. The entire region is a veritable treasure chest of botanical, geological, and archeological wonders. The area has been a recent source of political tensions and conflict with neighboring Guatemala due to trespassing activity that threatens the region – specifically habitat degradation, fire damage, illegal logging, hunting, and gold extraction.

Nohoch Ch'en Sinkhole_photo by Tony Rath

“Through gathering scientific information and documenting this unknown region of the world, we have acquired the first scientifically documented collection from the sinkhole providing a baseline for further studies that will assist in the conservation of the Chiquibul wilderness,” Holst explained. “We hope to return at other times during the year to continue exploration of this vast area and document plants flowering in other seasons.”

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