The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. It contains over 60 perent of the coral reef area in the Mesoamerican Reef system that extends approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Cancun to the Bay Islands of Honduras.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System reef was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996 because of its importance for marine biodiversity.
We are conducting research and Science-to-Action activities designed to enhance management and protection of the Belize Barrier Reef. We also incorporate the findings into our global initiative to identify successful marine conservation practices.
We collaborate with managers, policy makers, scientists, and stakeholders in Belize to identify research needs and to develop work plans. Our research projects investigate ecological and genetic connections among populations and habitats; economic and cultural importance of marine resources; and ecological, socioeconomic, governance, and cultural outcomes of marine management areas.
Core Ecological Monitoring. We are using standardized protocols to track ecological changes inside and outside marine management areas in Belize and the other three MMAS Program Focus Areas. We use the data to monitor ecosystem health and biodiversity, and we contribute the information to adaptive management processes. Les Kaufman and Burton Shank (Boston University) conduct our ecological monitoring in Belize.
View the Work Plan >>
Core Socioeconomic Monitoring. In conjunction with Core Ecological Monitoring, we use standardized methods to track socioeconomic changes associated with MMAs in our Focus Areas. In Belize, Adele Catzim and Diane Haylock (Belize ISIS Enterprises) conduct our socioeconomic monitoring. View the Work Plan >>
Assessing Visitor Impact on Reef Health. In collaboration with the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and the Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), we conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of voluntary environmental operating practices in the marine recreation sector. Coordinated by Melanie McField (HRI) and implemented by Armeid Thompson (HRI) and Valentine Rosado (CORAL) the study focused on three main tourism zones (for cruise and overnight visitors) and compared among tour operators and management zones.
View the Work Plan >>
Connectivity Among Populations and Habitats
Nursery Habitats for Reef Fish. Many reef fish are believed to spend their early lives in shallow, coastal habitats such as marshes and seagrass meadows that are heavily affected by human impacts. Leandra Cho-Ricketts and Eli Romero (both of University of Belize) and Les Kaufman (Boston University) are conducting research to understand where the young fish are most abundant and how they move among habitats. The findings will enable resource managers, policy makers, and local people to protect the habitats most critical for survival of young fish. View the Work Plan >>
Mapping the Habitat Mosaic. The Belize Barrier Reef ecosystem is a mosaic with mangroves, seagrass beds, and soft-bottom habitats interspersed among the reef areas. Many reef fish and invertebrates use the non-reef habitats, but little is known about the ecological roles of non-reef habitats or even where they are located. Phil Lobel (Boston University) is mapping the habitat mosaic using side-scan sonar, aerial surveys, and satellite imagery to facilitate an ecosystem approach to management. View the Work Plan >>
Connectivity of Conch Populations. Richard Kliman and John Cigliano (Cedar Crest College) are investigating connections among populations of queen conch (Strombus gigas) in different places along the Belize Barrier Reef. Preliminary genetic analysis suggests that the populations are well connected through dispersal of young conch, which could enable populations in local areas to recover relatively quickly if overfished and harmed by other human impacts. View the Work Plan >>
Economic, Social, and Cultural Significance of Marine Resources
Value of Natural Resources. John Reid (Conservation Strategy Fund) and Venetia Hargreaves-Allen (Imperial College, London) are assessing the monetary value of natural resources associated with the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes marine reserve. With two Belizean assistants and support from the Fisheries Department of Belize, they compiled data on fish landings and fish buying, and they conducted interviews and focus groups with tourists, fishermen, tour operators, and other local people. Preliminary results show that whale-shark tourism is a valuable feature of Gladden Spit and that people visiting Belize would be willing to pay higher fees to raise money for marine managed areas. The findings enable resource managers, educators, and conservationists to build support for marine conservation and to prioritize among management options. View the Work Plan >>
Cultural Roles. To learn about the cultural context of marine conservation in Belize, Noella Gray, Chantalle Clarke, and Michael Orbach (Duke University) and independent consultant Joseph Palacio have observed fishing practices, tourism activities, and local meetings. They have conducted more than 120 interviews with fishermen, tourism businesses, government officials, and other stakeholders in three villages near two marine managed areas. The scientists will present their findings to the local communities to help improve management strategies for the MMAs. View the Work Plan >>
Balance of Conservation and Economic Development
Ecotourism Impacts on Fish Spawning. Each spring, groupers gather to spawn at sites along the Belize Barrier Reef. Many tourists travel to Belize specifically to see these spectacular events, supporting a tourism industry that offers local people a viable alternative to fishing. Will Heyman (Texas A&M University) and Phil Lobel (Boston University) are examining the effects of divers and ecotourism boats on the groupers’ behavior. Information from the study will help resource managers to ensure the persistence of the economically and ecologically important spawning events. View the Work Plan >>
The MMAS Program partners with local communities, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations. The following are among our partners:
- Belize Government
- Department of Fisheries
- Department of Forestry
- National Protected Area Commission
- University of Belize
- Belize Tourist Board
- Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute
- Friends of Nature
- Wildlife Conservation Society
- Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations
- Belize Audubon Society
- Healthy Reefs Initiative
- Cedar Crest College
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
- University of Miami
- Boston University
We work closely with government agencies, local communities, and non-profit organizations in Belize to plan and conduct Science-to-Action activities, which use scientific findings to improve marine management.
- Based on field research results and workshops, we are developing a predictive decision-support tool to be used by the Belizean government and other stakeholders in informing the management decision-making process.
- The Belize Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Tourism, National Protected Area Council Coordinator, and Association of Protected Area Managers and Organizations Coordinator committed to helping implement the MMAS Program’s research and to putting the scientific information into action through policy changes and improved regulations.
- Our Socioeconomic Monitoring Program contributed data to the Belize National Protected Area Policy and System Plan, including the socioeconomic and governance monitoring program.
- The Belize Association of Protected Area Managers and Organizations adopted our Science-to-Action approach as a component of its research.
Building Skills and Knowledge
The Marine Management Area Science Program provides training, workshops, and other resources that enable people in Belize to develop their skills and knowledge for conservation. Recent examples:
- We trained 15 biologists from the University of Belize in ecological monitoring techniques, and they participated in fieldwork with MMAS scientists.
- We trained two Belizeans in social science research methods, and they helped collect survey data for the economic valuation study.
- We contributed two computers and software to the Belize Fisheries Department for their use in fisheries data analysis and sharing.
- The MMAS Science-to-Action Coordinators in Belize and Fiji fostered exchange of information and ideas between the Belize Association of Protected Area Managers and Organizations (APAMO) and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network (FLMMA). Following the discussions with FLMMA, APAMO is considering adopting a similar approach to research and conservation.
Science-to-Action Coordinators (Belize)
For information about MMAS Program activities in Belize, please contact:
Healthy Reefs Initiative