Belize ups its marine protected areas to 10 percent of of its territorial waters

The government of the Central American country of Belize has approved a plan to triple the size of its marine protected areas, raising the total of its territorial waters in marine protected areas to 10 percent.

Belize first announced the move at the World Ocean Summit in March 2018, aiming to create protections from fishing and mining activities so as to rebuild fish populations and help protect critical marine habitats, Belize Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade told SeafoodSource. The expansion of its marine protected areas are part of Belize’s efforts to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Wade said.

“A healthy reef and vibrant fisheries sector is necessary for Belize to achieve its goals for reducing poverty, improving food security and nutrition and increasing investment for development in Belize,” Wade said.

The specific areas chosen to be designated as marine protected areas were identified by an international collaboration of scientists who worked with the goal of protecting marine habitat, allowing for recovery of degraded ecosystems, and replenishing fish stocks. The six-year process was led by the government of Belize, Belizean community NGOs, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other international NGO partners.

With its efforts, Belize has taken action that “safeguards ecosystems while promoting sustainable fishing,” according to the EDF.

“This is a truly remarkable accomplishment that is setting an example for the rest of the world to follow,” EDF Senior Vice President for Oceans Katie McGinty said in a press release. “The combination of significant marine protected areas and managed access for fishers will help protect some of the most important ecosystems in the world while ensuring sustainable fishing can continue to provide food, nutrition and livelihoods to the thousands of Belizeans who rely on these valuable natural resources.”

In 2016, Belize adopted a national secure fishing rights program, which gave fishermen access to fish in certain geographic areas of a fishery in exchange for taking responsibility for managing the areas responsibly and ensuring regulations, such as seasonal fishing restrictions, catch size, and quotas. are observed. The program is known as “managed access” inside Belize.

“Together, managed access and no-take zones are designed to help rebuild fish populations while protecting critical habitat,” EDF Belize Project Manager Nicanor Requena said. “The people of Belize deserve tremendous credit for their vision and perseverance to protect their natural heritage while encouraging sustainable fishing practices so that people and nature can prosper together.”

Belize’s existing no-take zones appear to be succeeding in achieving their goals. According to the most recent Mesoamerican Reef Report Card, created by the NGO Healthy Reef for Healthy People, Belize’s no-take zones show growing fish populations and biodiversity. 

“That biodiversity is magnificent and unique – mangroves, corals, seagrass, and cayes support populations of conch, lobster, and a variety of reef fish,” the NGO said.


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