The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is a spawning ground for many fish species and is the most predictable aggregation site for the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest fish. Several Belize marine reserves straddle the reef, and their land areas provide important nesting habitat for the green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles.
When the entire reef area was threatened with overfishing, the government of Belize appointed Friends of Nature, a Belizean nongovernmental organization comprised of representatives from five local communities, to manage two of the reserves.
In May 2003, GCF support enabled Friends of Nature to purchase the majority share of Little Water Caye, a 2.5-hectare island located about 28 kilometers off Belize’s southern coast. While the island is tiny, its strategic position between the two reserves effectively secured the creation of an additional 1,360-hectare marine protected area, including the waters surrounding Little Water Caye.
The island has since become an important base for Friends of Nature, now called the Southern Environmental Association, to ensure effective protection and management for these critical marine conservation areas, including the nearby Gladden Spit Marine Reserve and the Laughing Bird Caye World Heritage Site.