RIP “Chocolate”; a tale of passion

RIP Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia | Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize | Korinek Photography

Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

On April 12, 2013, Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia passed away at the age of 83. RIP Chocolate.

Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia | Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary

There are times in life when you’re lucky enough to meet someone who doesn’t just have a passion, but who has lived their passion and created a legacy from it. Chocolate’s legacy is the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize.

There you will find the creatures that he has been ferrying tourists out to see since 1968. Not one to benefit through the exploitation of these manatees, he has worked tirelessly to protect them and their habitat. He’s a truly successful eco-tourism story. 

His effort paid off with creating of Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary in 2002. As the legend goes, he teared up when he received his copy of the statutory instrument that created this sanctuary.

In 2003 he was awarded The James Waight Conservation Award and The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Belize Tourism Board.

Chocolate at work | Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Chocolate at work

Meeting Chocolate

When I first met Chocolate, I was amazed how much energy and zest for life he still had being in his 70’s. It wasn’t long until I found out exactly what kept that fire going; the manatees.

How passionate is he about them? He makes his own signs that he puts up in the Sanctuary to warn passing boats of the protected habitat. We saw a bunch of them on our way out.

When we got out there, I was struck by the emotion that he expressed towards these manatees. He really did love them. He talked about them with sure care and compassion. His eyes got misty. There is no doubt that it was his passion that directly has had a direct impact on manatee conservation in Belize.

He clearly views tourism as a means to an end. The end being the protection of manatees and conservation of their habitat. pretty awesome that he was able to protect manatees, make a living and spend his life with the animals he loved.

Manatee | Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, BelizeFinal Thoughts

Although I feel some sadness that Chocolate has passed, I believe that we should also be celebrating Chocolate’s life. How many people fell stuck in their jobs pinning for work that means something to them?

Here’s a man who followed his passion and found not only joy, but also success in doing so.

He’s probably been more successful that many university graduates even though he had no formal education. This shows me once again that it is action that is most important, not just the idea.

In Chocolate’s case he had both the dream and took steps to make it a reality. That’s the lesson I’m going to take from his life.

Goodbye Chocolate, you’ve been an inspiration to us all.
Chocolate's Handmade Signs | Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Chocolate’s Handmade Signs

How can you take this and apply it to your photography? How can you take this an apply it to you life? Whatever you figure out, make sure you act on it!

With information from Raggamuffin Tours and the San Pedro Sun (article 1, article 2). Special thanks to Emily from WWF Canada for passing on the news.

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