General Information on Belize
This page relates mainly to Belize, for extensive information on Ambergris Caye and San Pedro Town click here.
This is a brief synopsis about Belize. For very extensive information on Belize history, geography, climate, government and more, click here.
Area 22,963 sq km (8,866 sq. miles) slightly larger than Massachusetts. Capital: Belmopan (pop. 4,500). Belize borders the Caribbean Sea along the eastern shore of Central America just below the Yucatan Peninsula. It is bounded an the north and west by Me%ico and on the south and west by Guatemala. Click here for fairly complete descriptions of the major areas of Belize. Southern Barrier Reef Islands, Atolls, Northern Atolls, and Mainland areas.
Belize, only 8,867 square miles in size, is situated on the northeast coast of Central America. The Caribbean Sea lies to the east and from the air its turquoise waters are clear, allowing the multicolored coral formation of the Great Barrier Reef to be easily observed. Coral islands called cayes, covered with stands of mangrove trees, dot the coast. Lying in aquamarine and jade-colored bays, these cayes protect the jungled coastline from the ravages of the sea.
North of Belize lies the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The Rio Hondo, which empties into Chetumal Bay, is the border between the two countries. The eastern border is demarcated by a surveyed line through the jungle separating Belize from the El Peten Department of Guatemala. To the south, the Belize/Guatemalan border is the Rio Sarstoon which flows east to the Caribbean Sea. The country is divided by the eastward flowing Belize River which is a major transportation route for native goods. The north half of the country is made up of synclinal folds of low lying, parallel limestone ridges running NNE to SSW. These jungle covered ridges are the spines of fossil coral reefs. In the valleys between run the perennial rivers, the Hondo, Nuevo, and Freshwater Creek. The Northern Peten and Campeche Regions of the Yucatan are drained by these river basins. This area, known as the "Maya Heartland," contains the classic Maya center of Tikal as well as many minor ceremonial centers and hundreds of occupation sites. The lagoons along the Nuevo River and Freshwater Creek are also areas of Maya site concentration. Great mangrove swamps line the northern coast, extend inland for many miles, and cover much of the northern district. For information on getting from Cancun to Corozal and Belize, click here.
Southern Belize is the site of large plantations that grow citrus, an important export. Rising out of the palm-covered coastal plain of southern Belize are the Maya Mountains. Mostly unexplored, they are covered by verdant jungle and a canopy of tropical rain clouds. The paleozoic horst is comprised of granite and metamorphosed sandstone which sustains stands of pine in its infertile acidic soil. Unsuitable for agriculture, the ridge (note that in Belize, ridge refers to any change in vegetation) was exploited by Preceramic peoples and Maya hunters. Averaging approximately 1,000 feet, the main divide is relatively dwarfed by Victoria Peak which reaches 3,680 feet. The southern plateau becomes broader and descends westwardly. The northern part of this region, known as the Mountain Pine Ridge area, lies in the Capo District.
The higher elevation (1,500-2,700 feet) provides spectacular falls for the many streams that lace the land. The plateau's northern edge is a broken limestone escarpment descending steeply to the Sibun River Valley, an area dotted with many unexplored caves.
There is a low coastal plain, much of it covered with mangrove swamp, but the land rises gradually towards the interior.The Maya Mountains and the Cockscomb Range form the backbone of the southern half of the country, the highest point being Victoria Peak (3,669 feet) in the Cockscomb Range. The Cayo District in the west includes the Mountain Pine Ridge, ranging from 305 to around 914 metres above sea level. The northem districts contain considerable areas of low tableland. There are many rivers, some of them navigable for short distances by shallow-draught vessels. A large part of the mainland is forest.
By definition there is no true rainforest in Belize; however, the quantity of rainfall is only slightly insufficient. Instead, the country is decorated with broadleaf jungle and cohune forest termed "moist tropical forest". This forest, savanna wetlands and the Mayan Mountain areas of the country is habitat for an incredible variety of fauna.
The area of the mainland and cayes is 8,866 square miles. The country's greatest length from north to south is 280 kilometres and its greatest width is 109 kilometres.
The climate is sub-tropical, tempered by trade winds. Temperatures in coastal districts range from about 10*C (50*F) to about 35.6*C (96*F); inland the range is greater. Rainfall varies from an average of 1,295 millimetres in the north to 4,445 millimetres in the extreme south. The dry season usually extends from February to May and there is sometimes a dry spell in August.
Temperature C J F M A M J J A S 0 N D Absolute max 33 34 37 38 37 37 35 36 37 35 35 34 Mean max 28 29 30 31 32 32 32 32 32 30 29 30 Mean min 20 20 22 23 23 24 24 24 23 22 20 20 Absolute min 10 09 10 12 13 16 17 16 15 14 11 07 Mean Precip 14.5 6.9 4.1 6.1 12.7 23.1 19.3 18.524.1 31.5 24.9 18.3 Avg days Precip 12 06 04 07 14 18 16 18 15 13 14 15 Subtropical climate: Mar-Sep Hot/Humid; Temperatures cooler late Oct - Feb; Coastal Temp range 10-360 C; Inland Temp Mar-Nov as low as 70C Lowlands & 30C Highlands; Avg Temps 270C Lowland 220 C highlands
The original inhabitants of Belize were Preceramic hunters and gatherers. The Maya Indians populated the area from 2000 B.C. until the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. However, many Maya groups had left the once heavily populated area in the 10th century A.D., and immigrated to the Yucatan. It was not until after the British occupied Belize that they returned. Today, there are three distinct Mayan groups, each speaking their own dialect of the Mayan language.
The Yucateco Maya live in the Corozal and Orange Walk region. Many of their ancestors immigrated to Belize from the Yucatan in the mid-1800s when war broke out between the pure Mayas who worked the land, and the Mestizos who owned it. Today these people, as well as the Mopanero Maya who live in Succotz near Benque Viejo, were the main force behind the chicle (chewing gum base) industry. It was also in the mid-19th century that the Kekchi, from Honduras and Guatemala, moved to the Toledo district of southern Belize to escape rising taxes, forced labor, and later, the military draft. This group has retained much of their ancient lifestyle.
In general, the Maya have remained less assimilated than the rest of the Belizean population. Their subsistence is based, as in ancient times, on shifting cultivation of one to ten acre plots of black beans and maize. They raise pigs, cattle and tobacco. Fiftyseven percent are literate and speak English or Spanish in addition to their native tongue.
Of the population population of Belize, almost 30% live in Belize City, the commercial capital and largest city.
Who's in the melting pot? Who isn't, might be more appropriate.
Ethnic divisions for all of Belize in 1995:
Garifuna - 7% of population. Garifuna are a mixture of African blacks and Indian. Descended from a mixture of Africans & Caribs who arrived in Belize in the late 18th century. Have distinct cultural traits and language.
Maya - 11% of population. Kekchi, Mopan, & Yucatec Maya. Languages of each mayan group are mutually unintelligable. Groups occupy seperate villages and maintain nearly total endogamy. Found generally in the southern Toledo district. The Maya are the descendent's of the same people who built the incredible civilization here, hitting a high point about 1000AD.
East Indians - 2.1% of population. Migrated 1860's to 1880's. Although a distinct community with near total endogamy, have not perserved Indian languages or customs.
Other, including Caucasians- 8% of population. American, Arabian, Lebanese, British.
Belize currently has 220,000 people, 4000 on Ambergris Caye. At the high point of the Maya population, the whole of Belize including Ambergris Caye had 2,000,000 people. Ambergris Caye's population has a larger Mestizo percentage because of its proximity to the Yucatan.
Fifty-eight percent of the population is under the age of nineteen.
In addition to their partnership with the Government in running the educational system, denominations provide many social and family welfare services.
The Constitution provides for the freedom of religion.
Fifty point six: percent of the population speaks English; 31.6 % speaks Spanish.
In certain areas of the country, such as the Corozal and Grange Walk Districts in the north and the Cayo District in the west, Spanish is spoken as a mother tongue by the majority of the people.
In the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo, there are people whose first language is Garifuna or Maya. Nearly everyone speaks an English dialect (or Creole patois), the vernacular of the country.
Belize Radio One broadcasts about 80% of its programmes in English and the remainder in Spanish. It has now introduced programmes in Garifuna and Maya.
Main Population Centres:
The following table lists the other main towns and their estimated population 1998.
The first inhabitants of Central America, of which we have any record, were the Mayas. These people had built an impressive civilization which reached its peak before the Europeans began their voyages of exploration to the New World. Little is known of the origins of the Maya people, whose achievements rivaled those of the Egyptians. Many facets of their culture were unsurpassed until A.D. 1000 when the whole civilization collapsed Temples and buildings were abandoned with the departure of the priests, probably due to a revolt among the peasantry. Many of the farmers remained until well into the fourteenth century, but then they too left, following the priestly classes to the Yucatan. Thus it was that the accumulated learning, skills and beliefs of the Maya were lost some four centuries before the last of the inhabitants of the cities were gone, the remaining peasants never having been privy to the skills and secrets of their priests.
The Maya people are, however, still much in evidence throughout Central America and may be seen in many areas of Belize. The Maya have not assimilated to any great degree into the multi-ethnic population of Belize. Though they took many of the symbols and beliefs of the Catholic religion, they mixed them quite successfully with their own. As to customs, language and mode of dress, these are still distinctive and quite different in many ways to the rest of the population.
There are three main groups of Maya in Belize, though only one, the Mopan, are indigenous to Belize. They returned from the Yucatan around 1850 and made their home in the central highlands. These people do not, however, appear to have retained any knowledge of the former greatness of their ancestors.
The coast of Belize was a vital part of what was known as the Spanish Main. It was first sighted by Europeans in 1502. Initial settlement of the area, named Capo Obispo and located near what is now Chetumal in Mexico, did not take place until 1531. Most of the Spanish exploration parties were put off by the mangrove coastal area and didn't consider it suitable for settlement.
Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Maya Indians, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between A.D. 300 and 900. Thereafter, for reasons not yet fully known, the civilization collapsed and many of the people migrated.
In 1502, Columbus sailed into and named the Bay of Honduras but he did not actualy visit the area later known as British Honduras.
In 1603 a Scottish pirate by the name of Peter Wallace, under the auspices of King James I (the first king of Great Britain and son of Mary Queen of Scots), set out with six ships in search of Spanish treasure ships. Wallace built a temporary base camp at the mouth of the Belize River where Belize City now stands, and enjoyed a lucrative career relieving the Spanish ships out of Panama of their precious cargoes. The cayes and reef of the coast and islands were to provide safe haven for pirates and privateers for many years to come.
The later abandoned buildings of the pirate settlements were to become the basis of the town which was founded in 1638. This settlement proved to be permanent, as it was based on the cutting and shipping of Logwood (Haemat=lon campechianum), a valuable commodity in Britain where it was used as an effective fixing dye in the textile trade. The new technique involving logwood was developed by the Spanish and was such a great improvement on previous methods that logwood sold for a high price.
Piracy had been virtually ended by the mid to late seventeenth century with a treaty between England and Spain. Thus ended an era when such names as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Sir Henry Morgan brought fear to the Spanish Main, and untold numbers of gold doubloons changed ships and often ended up on the ocean floor or even, according to legend, buried on secluded beaches.
The first recorded European settlement was established in 1638 by shipwrecked British sailors. These were later augmented by disbanded British soldiers and sailors after the capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. The settlement, whose main activity was logwood cutting (logwood was used in the past to produce a dye), had a troubled history during the next 150 years. It was subjected to numerous attacks from neighbouring Spanish settlement (Spain claimed sovereignty over the entire New World except for regions in South America assigned to Portugal).
In 1670 the Godolphin Treaty, or the Treaty of Madrid, between Spain and Great Britain confirmed to Great Britain areas of the West Indies and America. There was always considerable contention as to whether the Honduras Bay Colony was included in this treaty. The colonists, therefore, were left unruled by both sides to establish their own brand of government. This turned out to be similar to the town meeting type of democracy of early New England and the tradition of representational government has remained strong in Belize.
The tiny area still remained a bone of contention between England and Spain after the era of piracy, and wars and politics in Europe were to have far reaching effects on the West Indian colonies as well as Belize. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 saw the trading rights with Spanish America go to the British South Sea Company. Spain was by now experiencing great hardship in trying to keep her New World holdings together and the subsequent jockeying for power in the Caribbean had by 1740 evolved into war.
As the logging operations had grown beyond what was manageable by the relatively small number of settlers, slaves had been imported into Belize and great numbers remained in bondage there until their emancipation in 1838. After this they worked and fought alongside the British and were invaluable in the frequent skirmishes with the Spaniards. After a number of such skirmishes where the homes and buildings of Belize City were burned down, it was decided that fortifications were necessary. As hostilities with Spain continued, it was to be expected that, with the American War of Independence in 1776, Spain would again declare war on Britain. This seriously imperiled the colony in Belize and was the reason for the arrival of British warships there in '77; one of these was the first command of a nineteen year old, a Lieutenant Horatio Nelson. The convoy was too late, however, and Belize City was sacked. It remained deserted until survivors slowly returned and colonists from other areas came in to help rebuild it, which took some years to do. As the American war came to its conclusion, some families who remained loyalist came to settle on Caye Caulker, where some still remain.
It was only in 1763 that Spain in the Treaty of Paris allowed the British settlers to engage in the logwood industry. This was reaffirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 and the area of logwood concession was extended by the Convention of London in 1786.
After the Treaty of Versailles in Europe, the situation in Belize deteriorated with many concessions being made to the Spanish. The first superintendent, a Colonel Despart, was appointed with mixed results. A first step had been taken toward colony status, but the old democratic process was lost. (Colonel Despart was eventually hanged for high treason in London.)
In 1796 war was again declared between England and Spain and Belize City was the scene of a battle. Spanish attacks had continued until a decisive victory was won by settlers, with British naval support, in the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798. But this time the Spanish were evicted once and for all. The victory is celebrated each year on September 10th as a national holiday.
After that British control over the settlement gradually increased and in 1862 British Honduras was formally declared a British Colony.
The emphasis had now turned from logwood to mahogany, but much of the real power in Belize was still held by the loggers. The office of superintendent became more and more influential and culminated in the declaration of Belize as a colony in 1862; it become a vital part of the trade network with the Confederate States throughout the Civil War. Most Belizeans sympathized with the Confederates, but a sizeable number, especially among the black population, supported the north and some rioting took place. By 1863, though, blockade running had been stopped. A move was on to attract emancipated blacks from the States to help Belize with the cultivation of cotton, rice, tobacco and sugar, but was unsuccessful due to the efforts of the U.S. Agent who advised that those involved would find little advantage in the move. White emigrants did move south after reconstruction, however, with the blessing of the U.S. government. Economic decline in Belize was now at a crisis point and a border dispute with Guatemala continued unresolved. The government of Belize was directly connected with the Governor of Jamaica from 1841 to 1884, but this was discontinued when the first Governor of Belize was appointed in 1884. This appointment, riddled with scandal, and the reaction of the people against the many excesses of the Governor was to result in the boycott of the Legislature and a successful stand for representation.
Negotiations with Guatemala resulted in a treaty, in 1859, which initiated the building of a railroad connecting its capital with the coast. This project was finished in 1908, but did not put a stop to the continuing argument as to the boundary between the two countries.
From an early date the settlers had governed themselves under a system of primitive democracy by Public Meeting. A constitution based on this system was granted in 1765 and this, with some modification continued until 1840 when an Executive Council was created.
The Crown Colony system of Government was introduced in 1871, and the Legislative Assembly by its own vote was replaced by a nominated Legislative Council with an official majority presided over by the Lieutenant Governor. An unofficial majority was created in 1892, and this constitution, with minor changes, continued until 1935 when the elective principle was once again introduced on the basis of adult suffrage with a low-income qualification. The administrative connection with Jamaica was severed in 1884, when the title of Lieutenant Governor was changed to that of Governor.
The beginning of the twentieth century in Belize was a time of modernization with the introduction of electricity, telephone communications and the Stann Creek narrow-gauge railway, which was all of eighteen miles long. The only other reliable means of transportation was still the rivers, and locally built steam paddle wheelers ran regularly between Belize City and the north. Most outlying areas still had virtually no contact with Belize City and went without the basic services available in town including medical, educational and social ones. No roads existed joining the city with any of these areas and no money was budgeted for building them.
Former governor of Barbados and Administrator of St. Kitts-Nevis, Governor Burdon was appointed in 1925. This administration, though short, accomplished much in the way of benefits to the country. The Burdon Canal was built connecting the Belize and Sibun Rivers, improving trade and communications. A written record of Belize was compiled by a group of residents commissioned by the governor. It covered the period from 1670-1884, filled three volumes and took five years to complete. It was at Governor Burdon's invitation that Charles Lindberg visited Belize in 1927 as part of his Goodwill Tour. This event was instrumental in putting the quiet little colony on the map. In 1928 a survey (by bicycle) was made from Belize City to the Capo District and a new 90-mile road was later built with the help of British funds.
Like all countries in the Caribbean area, Belize does experience periodic hurricanes, and some of them have been quite spectacular. One of the first recorded cyclones devastated the newly founded Bay Settlement in September of 1787.
In September of 1931, at a crowded celebration of St. George's Caye Day, a storm hit Belize City with 150 mph winds. It lasted an hour, after which a stunned population emerged to stare horrified at the damage. It was not over, however, for the lull was the eye of the hurricane. After a tidal wave fifteen feet high swept the already beleaguered city and the rest of the storm passed, the death toll rose to 2,500 and very little was left standing.
It was due to this catastrophic event that Britain, in rushing relief, aid and funds to Belize City, was able to take over financial control of the colony. Many improvements and benefits resulted from this British control, but it was a connection difficult to break in the future. One doubtful advantage was that though roads were built connecting the outlying districts of Corozal and Orange Walk with Belize City, the road beds were constructed of crumbled stone removed from many of the numerous Maya mounds along the way.
The years of World War II were on the whole good ones for the economy of Belize. Many workers were needed in the Panama Canal Zone, and also in Britain and the United States where manpower was low due to the war. The influx of money into Belize from these overseas workers created a false economic boom which was to end dramatically at war's end. The sorry state of the country's finances, together with the still strong control by Britain, forced the flowering of Belizean national politics. Devaluation of the currency caused riots in the late 1940s and the cost of living rose dramatically. A young and inexperienced reform movement, which was to evolve into the People's United Party (PUP), was initiated by the man who was to become the Premier, George Cadle Price. Belize was incensed at Britain's failure to address the devastating internal problems of the country. Due to the party's pressure, Britain began instituting reforms in the form of a more liberal constitution and general elections (though the control of the colonial governor remained absolute).
In the 1954 election, PUP won eight of the nine elective seats in the Assembly. After these encouraging beginnings, the party tended to split into factions, especially over such controversial issues as independence, relations with Guatemala, connections with the West Indian Federation and the Organization of Central American States. Belize was busy finding her role in the region and in relation to her geographical and political neighbors.
A new constitution, which remains in effect today, was adopted in 1964 and provided a fully representative government. Britain only retained responsibility for foreign affairs, defense, security and civil service employment. The nation of Belize was on the brink of coming into being, but it would take more than fifteen years before independence would finally be granted. This relinquishing of control was in many ways gradual, with the transfer of treasury control from Britain to Belize in 1966. The opening of factories within the country to manufacture needed commodities, thus cutting down on the dependence on foreign goods; the improvement of agricultural methods; and the encouragement of the tourist trade all have contributed to the relative financial independence of Belize. In 1971 Belize joined CARIFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade Area. This provided an extended market for Belize's agricultural products.
The country's name was changed on lst June, 1973, from British Honduras to Belize.
Belize attained independence on September 21, 1981. Despite continuing border problems with Guatemala, problems with the economy and dependence on foreign aid, the ensuing years have been profitable and full of hope. Thanks to foreign investment and tourism, the economy of the country has been slowly improving and, with it, an improvement in living' conditions and expectations for the future.
From 1975 to 1979, the U.S. abstained on all the United Nations resolutions concerning Belize's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Finally, in 1980, it changed its policy of neutrality and voted in favour of the U.N. resolution that called for the independence of Belize. This resolution was adopted in November 1980. It demanded the secure independence of Belize, with all its territory, before the next session of the U.N. in 1981. It called on Britain to continue to defend Belize, and on all countries to come to its assistance. One hundred and thirty-nine countries voted in favour of the resolution, with seven abstentions and none against. Guatemala refused to vote.
The British are still maintaining a military presence in Belize, but are working with the Belizean Defense Force to help ensure national security.
Tourism is playing an important part in upgrading the economy of Belize. Such active organizations as the Belize Audubon Society are dedicated to preserving the natural beauties and habitats of the country while helping to make them available to visitors from all over the world
For extensive detail on Belize and Ambergris Caye history, click here.
Constitution and Government:
The Government of Belize is operated on the principles of parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system. The country is a sovereign, democratic state.
A Prime Minister and Cabinet make up the executive branch, while a 28-member elected House of Representatives and eight- member appointed Senate form a bi-cameral legislature.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 is the titular [lead -of State. She is represented in Belize by a Governor-General, who must be a Belizean.
The Cabinet consists of a Prime Minister and other Ministers who arc appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister, the person commanding the support of the majority party in the Housc of Representatives.
Five Senators are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. two on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. and one on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President
of the Senate are elected either from among the Members of these
Houses (providing they are not Ministers) or from among persons
who are not Members of either House.
The House of Representatives consists of:
Elections and Political Parties:
Administration and Local Government
Belize City is administered by a nine-seat elected City Council. Local government in the villages is carried out with the help of the Village Councils.
The BDF was started with the help of British Forces training personnel and with a substantial grant for equipment and the building of a barracks ten miles from Belize City at Ladyville. Besides the infantry force of regulars, volunteers and reservists, the BDF has Air and Maritime Wings. Training assistance has been received from the U.S. Government and from the Canadian Government, in addition to that tendered by the U.K Government.
Guatemala claims to have inherited sovereignty over Belize from the Spanish Crown, and claims that the treaty of 1859 between Britain and Guatemala which recognizes the border between Belize and Guatemala is null and void.
Under article 7 of that treaty Britain and Guatemala agreed to use their best efforts to build a cart road between the settlement of Belize and Guatemala City, but this was never done. Guatemala has never occupied or exercised sovereignty over Belize. In fact, Belize and Guatemala are distinct and different, culturally and politically. Guatemala is a Spanish-speaking republic with a history of military coups and regimes. Belize is an English-speaking country within the Commonwealth with a history of democratic and stable governments.
Numerous attempts have been made to resolve the problem with Guatemala by negotiation, including mediation by the United States of America in 1965-68. The mediator's proposals presented in draft treaty were unacceptable to the people and Government of Belize and were rejected.
Bilateral negotiations were resumed in 1970-72 when various possibilities of resolving the problem, including measures of economic cooperation between Belize and Guatemala, were discussed. Further talks were held in 1975, but these broke down over unacceptable dernands from Guatemala for land cession.
Belize has always maintained at these talks that its independence was not up for negotiation. The Belize Government continues to seek an amicable end to the dispute and to have Guatemala drop its unfounded claim to Belize.
In 1975, Belize's position at the negotiations was greatly strengthened by the international support gained for its cause. That year the question of Belize was placed on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. The General Assembly voted in favour of Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity. Since then, at every General Assembly from 1976-1980, Belize received resounding support for its just aspirations.
The crucial step forward came with the resolutions passed in November, 1980 by the United Nations and the Organisation of American States. These resolutions declared that Belize should achieve independence before the end of 1981. They made it clear that this did not depend on the progress of the negotiations with Guatemala. As the deadline approached, Guatemala came under heavy pressure to drop its unfounded claim to Belize.
In February, 1981 more efforts were made to settle the dispute. For the first time the Guatemalan regime agreed to recognize the territorial integrity of Belize. Talks, however, broke down after Guatemala demanded the use of Belize's southern cayes for military purposes. Efforts to find a negotiated settlement continue. Following agreement reached in May, 1988 a Joint Belize- Guatemala Commission has been set up to draft a treaty to resolve the problem. Any draft agreement proposed will be put to the electorates of Belize and Guatemala for their decision.
The economy of Belize was traditionally based on forestry, mainly the export of logwood, mahogany and chicle. The country's economy is now based on agricultural development. But in recent years there has been a resurgence in forestry. The main exports arc sugar, citrus, bananas, fish products (mainly lobster), timber and garments.
Dairy farming is growing in importance and the livestock industry continues to grow.
Several oil companies hold exploration or prospecting licenses. Oil was discovered in the north of the country in 1981, but not in commercial quantities.
Tax concessions and other incentives encourage the development and diversification of manufacturing industries which include clothing and textiles for export, plywood and veneer manufacturing, matches, beer, rum, soft drinks, furniture, boat building, and battery assembly.
Currency and Banking:
A Central Bank has been set up to replace the Monetary Authority of Belize. Recent amendments to the Banking Act permit offshore banking.
As a result of this law, in order to purchase land in excess of one half acre within a city or town, or in excess of ten acres outside a city or town, an alien must obtain a license from the Minister of Natural Resources. Such license shall be recorded in the General Registry as a deed. The terms and duration of such license are negotiable but generally will require the licensee to do a certain amount of development work or spend a certain amount of money on development of the land under license during the period of the license. The Minister may at his discretion alter, amend or extend the terms; of such a license.
Breach of any term or condition in a license shall render void. The Minister may by notice in writing give a licensee three months to comply with any term or condition of the license which has been breached, and if the licensee fails to comply within the time specified. the Minister may, by notice in writing to the licensee, declare the license void.
If the license is declared void by the Minister, the licensee has a right to appeal to the Supreme Court for review of the Minister's decision.
If there is no appeal or if the appeal is dismissed, then the Minister may record a deed in the Registry cancelling the license and thereupon the land in respect of which the license was issued and all buildings, fixtures and appurtenances thereon shall forthwith be forfeited to the Government.
An alien leasee (or beneficiary) under a will has the right to receive the proceeds of sale from land left to him under the terms of a wi1l.
Once the conditions of the license have been fulfilled to the satisfaction of the Minister, the Minister shall grant a certificate declaring that the license shall no longer be voidable, thus cancelling the encumbrance created by the license. This certificate shall be recorded in the General Registry as a deed.
The incumbent Minister has given an assurance that any bona fide developer will encounter no problem in obtaining a license provided that the developer is prepared to carry out a meaningful amount of development during the term of his license. The Minister has also affirmed that once this development obligation has been fulfilled, there will be no delay in the issuance of a certificate declaring the license no longer voidable. In the case of land which already is developed, a license will be required but there will be no development obligations under the license.
While no regulations have been made by the Minister governing the issuance of license, in the case of licenses covering agricultural land the general requirement is that the licensee must agree to develop at least 10% of the amble land annually until all such land is developed.
As a rule, Government does not sell its land outright. But it provides arrangements whereby the leasee must first develop the land within a certain period with option to purchase afterwards.
Although about 1,998,230 acres or 38% of the total land area are considered potentially suitable for agricultural use, only perhaps 10 to 15 % is in use in any one year. About half of this is under pasture, with the remainder in a variety of permanent and annual crops. The traditional system of "milpa" (shifting cultivation) involves the annual clearing of new land for crop production; however, there is an increasing number of farmers making permanent use of cleared land by mechanical means. A tax is levied on the unimproved "value" of the land.
The expansion and improvement of agriculture is one of the principal aims of national development planning. The Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries maintains an extension service with officers posted in all districts. Agricultural research is conducted at the Central Farm Research Station into a variety of tropical crops, livestock and pasture. Agricultural research is also done by other non-governmental bodies within the country. The Ministry also provides mechanical, veterinary and quarantine services to farmers and an agricultural training college at Central Farm. Other government services include the Belize Marketing Board, which operates in the buying and selling of producers' crops, and the Development Finance Corporation, which offers credit to farmers, amongst others.
The citrus industry, centered in the Stann Creek District, is the second major contributor to export earnings. The bulk of output from orange and grapefruit groves is processed into concentrate, oil and squash for export. The statutory Citrus Control Board is responsible for regulating the industry, while the Citrus Growers' Association represents the growers and provides assistance in various forms.
Bananas. again located in the Stann Creek District, are the third largest export crop. Despite damages from hurricanes and drought in the 1970's, more than 1,482 acres are now established. Funds from the Caribbean Development Corporation have enabled the expansion of the industry.
Cacao is becoming increasingly important as an export crop. Hershey Food Corporation of the United States. has established a commercial plantation in the Cayo District and the crop is being adopted by many farmers, particularly in the Cayo and Toledo Districts. Mangoes are also grown commercially, but production fluctuates, mainly due to climatic conditions.
A dairy plant has been constructed at San Ignacio in the Cayo District under the Belize Livestock Development Project with USAID cooperation. The plant has a capacity of processing 400 gallons of milk per day. It began operations in July, 1986.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:
There are laws to protect the rock or spiney lobster to avoid overfishing. There is a closed season between March and July.
Export markets for scale fish are mainly in the United States. Mexico and Jamaica. There are 13 registered fishing cooperatives which contribute to the success of the fishing industry in Belize.
The Canadian International Development Agency and CARE are providing assistance for the training of Belizean fishermen in fish processing, marine engineering, navigation and modem fis
hing techniques. There has been a resurgence in forestry. Reafforestation and natural regeneration in the pine forest (mainly in the Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts), and artificial regeneration of fast- growing tropical hardwood species are in progress.
Industrial development is encouraged through concessions which include "tax holidays" of up to 15 years.
Small enterprises include the manufacture of metal doors and windows, furniture, concrete blocks, bricks, clothing, boat building, soft drink bottling, brewing, cigarette manufacture, tire recapping, the production of flour and animal feed, wire and paper products, an agricultural fertilizer plant, matches, plywood and other wood products, a meat packing plant, food processing operations and the manufacture of rolled steel bars for the construction industry.
Duty Exemption and Other Fiscal Incentives:
Cooperatives and Credit Unions:
There are more than 25 active credit unions in Belize with an estimated membership over 41,500 with assets of over Bz. $60 million.
The Belize Credit Union League comprises active registered credit unions. They are insured under CUNA Mutual Life Savings and Loan Protection Insurance for the protection of shares and loans of members.
Regular bus services operate to and from all main towns.
Coastal services are operated between towns and villages on the mainland to some of the offshore islands, and to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.
Here is a list of Shipping Agencies in Belize:
The Office of Telecommunications acts on behalf of the Government in monitoring and regulating all telecommunication services within Belize, including the assignment of frequencies.
There are seven govemment hospitals, one in Belmopan, one in Belize City, and one in each of the other five districts. A new hospital is to be built in Belize City by Govemment. The Government maintains an infirmary for the care of geriatric and chronically ill patients. Matemal and child welfare services arc available countrywide.
Medical services in rural areas are provided by rural health care centres and mobile clinics operate in remote areas.
Local training for nurses and midwives is provided at the Belize School of Nursing. Medical students usually attend the University of the West Indies, whose medical faculty is in Jamaica.
Specialized training is available at other institutions. The Belize Technical College offers craft and technical courses, the Belize Teachers College runs a two-year diploma course leading to trained teachers status. The Belize Vocational Training Centre in Belize City provides courses for primary school teachers, while the Belize Youth Development Centre and the Belize College of Agriculture offer training for those interested in entering the field of agro-industry.
Advanced training is provided to Belizeans in the professional and technical fields at Belize's first university, the University College of Belize, which opened in 1986.
The University of the West Indies maintains an Extra-mural Department in Belize City. This institution's work includes organizing adult education classes and lectures. In addition, it offers courses in social anthropology, constitutional law, and conversational Spanish and Garifuna.
The Extra-mural Department encourages creative arts and sponsors an annual festival of dance, music and drama. There is a well-equippcd library service. It has its headquarters in the Baron Bliss Institute in Belize City and 74 service points scattered throughout the country. Remote areas are serviced by a mobile library.
The Bliss Institute is maintained and operated by Government in order to encourage cultural activities.
Broadcasting and the Press:
The new Government promised in its Manifesto - BELIZEANS FIRST - that "the Belize Broadcasting Network will be removed from direct government control and be replaced by a Statutory Body along the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.)." Another manifesto promise states that, "Licenses for private radio stations will be granted on merit."
There are several low-powered TV stations covering most of the country. These stations use TVRO dishes to intercept satellite-relayed TV programming, mostly from the U.S. They then re-transmit these signals to their viewers. Some stations are strictly commercial, others solicit contributions to help pay their operating expenses. Some transmit scrambled signals on the air or through cable for which service one must pay.
Locally originated TV programmes are produced on a regular basis by B.B.N. Teleproductions.
There are several newspapers and periodicals published in Belize. Among the leading newspapers, all weeklies are: The Amandals, The Belize Times, The People's Pulse and The Reporter. The Government Information Service publishes a monthly magazine BELIZE TODAY, which is free.
National Flower: The Black Orchid, (Encyclia Cochleata)
National Tree: The Mahogany Tree, (Swietenia Macrophilla)
National Bird: The Keel Billed Toucan, (Ramphastos Solfuratus)
National Animal: The Tapir or Mountain Cow, (Tapirello Bairdii)
Profile of Attractions in Belize:
The most important buildings are the National Assembly on Independence Hill, patterned off a basic ancient Maya style, and flanked by the Government Ministries around a spacious esplanade.
Two commercial banks are located in Belmopan. A small strip provides air service.
Founded some 300 years ago by pirates and seafarers turned timber-men, Belize City straddles the estuaries of the Haulover Creek, Belize River.
To begin with, there were two streets, conveniently named Front Street and Back Street (now Regent and Albert Streets). Today the city has thirteen sections with romantic sounding names like Cinderella Town, Queen Charlotte Town and Lake Independence.
The City has a quaint 'old world' atmosphere with timber dwellings perched high on posts in order to make the most of the prevailing winds and to allow for easy expansion as the need and opportunity arises. Following bitter experience with recurrent fires and the occasional hurricanes (only two bad ones in thirty years) the people have been turning more and more to reinforced concrete structures.
An elected City Council, presided over by a Mayor, runs the municipality. Belize City was the seat of the national government until the establishment of Belmopan in August 1970.
You will find the oldest Anglican Cathedral 1826 in Central America in Belize City. Here, in great splendour, Kings of the Mosquito Coast were crowned. Other old buildings include Government House (1814), the Supreme Court Building and former slave quarters along Regent Street.
But the City also looks towards the future. There are some 20 elementary schools, 8 secondary schools, a Teachers' College, Technical College, Vocational Centre, 5 libraries and 3 centres for adult education. The Baron Bliss Institute, centre for performing arts, is the setting for the annual Festival of Arts, established in 1953.
Amenities include modern electricity, telephone and telecommunications systems, a sanitary and reliable water system, modern wellstaffed hospitals, government radio station, private and public recreation facilities. There are comfortable, modern hotels, restaurants night clubs, and a trailer park which cater to tourists.
The Belize International Airport is ten miles away.
You will find the people, mostly Afro-creoles, warmhearted, English-speaking and eager to assist strangers.
Located on the fringe of picture-book Corozal Bay, the town is set off by a multitude of coconut palms and flowering flamboyant' trees. It is 96 miles north of Belize City. Corozal Town is a modern well-planned community with wide boulevards and many parks.
A private estate prior to 1849, it was settled predominantly by Mestizo refugees from neighbouring Quintana Roo province of Mexico. It was once the scene of determined attacks by Maya Indians. The remains of an old fort still exist in the center of the town.
Ringing the Central Park are a modernistic Catholic Church, Library, Town Hall, Adventist Church and government administrative offices. The town has two secondary schools, five elementary schools, three filling stations, two banks, a government hospital, clinic, cinema, small hotels, piped water supply and several clubs.
Corozal Bay is ideal for fishing and sea-bathing. Cerros, at the head of the Bay, is an interesting Mayan archaeological feature. The international bridge to Mexico is just nine miles away.
The town is surrounded by many small villages, and its economy is sustained by a-large sugar industry with a processing factory nearby. Both Spanish and English are spoken. There are many festive occasions like the Columbus Day Celebrations, Carnival and fiestas in the surrounding villages.
Orange Walk Town, on the New River, 66 miles north of Belize City and 30 miles south of Corozal Town. From here roads lead off in four directions linking the more than 20 villages in the Orange Walk District.
Prior to its settlement by Mestizo refugees from Yucatan in 1849, the area had been for over 100 years a timber producing encampment. In the past it thrived on chicle, and maize grown by peasant farmers. More recently the establishment of a modern sugar factory and expanded sugar-cane production throughout the district has had quite an impact on the area.
The modern and the traditional is reflected in the industrial complex of the sugar factory, mechanized company estates on its outskirts and the ancient Catholic Church. The ruins of Fort Cairns and Mundy provide a reminder that this settlement was once the scene of pitched battles with Indian war parties, the last of which occured on September lst, 1872. Public amenities include a modern park and town hall, two banks, three filling stations, one secondary school, two large elementary schools, a cinema, and a public library.
The Spanish language predominates, although most of the people will have at least a working fluency in English.
Largest town in the country, this municipality is divided by the North Stann Creek River and another wide creek. It is a busy town, sustained by the thousands of acres of citrus cultivation in the fertile valley nearby.
It is said that Dangriga was one of the first European settlements, dating back to the 17th century. Latterly, it became a haven for fishermen and subsistence farmers.
The majority of its citizens are Garinagu (Black Caribs), whose ancestors arrived here from Honduras in 1823. This 1823 settlement is commemorated every year on November 19th with house-to-house dancing, public ceremonies and re-enactment of the first landing.
Dangriga has a Piped water supply, three filling stations, a bank, two secondary schools, five elementary schools, a public library, civic centre and a cinema.
The town provides a convenient embarkation points for excursions to the many coral islands off-shore. The distance from Belize City by sea is only 36 miles. By road, one motors through 105 miles of all weather road which cuts through fertile lands and thick hardwood forests. Along this road, the Hummingbird Highway, can be seen. The "Blue Hole" and St. Herman's Cave are popular scenic spots.
San Ignacio sits on the banks of the Macal River, a branch of the Belize River, 72 miles due west of Belize City, and 22 miles from Belmopan. It is surrounded by hills, a town of entrancing beauty.
Its beginnings go back approximately 100 years. But to this day it preserves a robust, pioneer atmosphere. The early settlers were mainly Mestizo and Maya immigrants from neighbouring Guatemala and a few Lebanese businessmen. The town has now embraced the former neighbouring village of Santa Elena, linked by the Hawkesworth suspension bridge. Nine miles to the west of the town lies Benque Viejo Del Carmen.
San Ignacio is the administrative centre of the Cayo District. It boasts a secondary school, three elementary schools, three filling stations, a government hospital, a cinema, small hotels, several clubs and a piped water supply. Radiating around its central park is the police station, public library and government offices.
Not far from San Ignacio are the Mayan centres of, Cahal Pech ("Place of the Ticks") and Xunantunich ("Maiden of the Rock")
BENQUE VIEJO DEL CARMEN- (Population: 3,100 approximately)
Benque Viejo Del Carmen is the town farthest west from Belize city (81 miles), a few hundred yards from the Guatemalan (Peten) frontier. Set on the banks of the bubbling Mopan branch of the Belize River, the famous Maya archaeological site of Xunantunich just a mile away.
The town is one of the best examples of well laid out municipal areas in the country. It is also famous for its gardens and fruit.
The inhabitants, mostly Spanish speaking, are descended mainly from Guatemalan immigrants of the 19th century. The early history of the town was marked by the drama and excitement of hectic episodes involving banditry,. border raids and ribald living by hardy chicleros (chicle-bleeders).
The town boasts two large elementary schools, a secondary school government and Nazarine clinics, a public library, two filling stations and piped water supply.
Benque Viejo Del Carmen is a charming Mestizo town with marimba bands, fiestas and colourful social customs centered around baptism, marriage, Christmas; the highly flavoured 'Spanish dishes' and serenades by night.
Punta Gorda, is the southernmost town in the country, some 15 feet above sea level. Although the town bears a Spanish name, its inhabitants are mostly English-speaking. The people are of Garinagu (Black Carib) , East India and African stock.
Commencing as a little fishing settlement, Punta Gorda was the site selected by a number of Garinagu settlers who moved over from Honduras in 1823.
The town, established on the margin of the sea, is flanked by seven hills announcing its northern commencement. There is a big promontory at the southern end. Small-boat traffic is frequent between Punta Gorda and the nearby ports of Barrios Jn Guatemala and Cortez in Honduras. Communication with Belize City is by coastal boats, small aeroplanes, and by the new, unpaved, Southern Highway a distance of 210 miles. A paved road from Punta Gorda leads-inland for 21 miles to San Antonio and beyond to a dozen Mayan villages.
A few miles from Punta Gorda is the site of the former Toledo settlement where American Civil War refugees settled. Today the area consists of two villages. Not far away is the important Mayan archaeological centre of Lubaantun.
Punta Gorda, once an isolated and little visited place, now has a secondary school, three elementary schools, a cinema and public library. It is the gateway to fertile lands, which have the capacity of producing an abundance of rice, corn and livestock.
Maya Archaeological Sites:
Click here for extensive and detailed information on Belize Maya sites.
Attractions in this zone apart from huge caves with their fairyland configurations, underground streams and evidence of use by Ancient Maya- include the magnificent tropical hardwood forest, ferns, orchids and animals to be found in the woods. Elsewhere, e.g. in the Northern Lagoon there are interesting caves.
NATIONAL FOREST RESERVE:
MAINLAND RESORT ZONE OF PLACENCIA:
The island, about the size of Barbados, has many miles of white sandy beach. Less than half-mile offshore is the Great Barrier Reef which, besides offering protection to the island, is in itself a great challenge to the adventurous scuba diver. The journey by small airplane takes approximately 20 minutes. A "speed boat" will do the journey in from 1 to 3 hours. There are a number of small hotels offering accomodation, meals, fishing, snorkelling and diving, and sightseeing trips.
St. George's Caye
Half Moon Caye
Further north, new archaeological discoveries from the preclassic, Classic and modern Maya periods are even now being uncovered. At Lamanai, Orange Walk District, the entire range of pre- Classic to modern features of the Maya civilization have been excavated. Nearby at Indian Church, the remains of a church built by Spanish missionaries of the 16th century stand amid the dust of time, and an English. colonial sugar mill, with its flywheels intact, gives testimony to the crude industrialization of the past century. At San Antonio on the Albion island, ridged field systems bear evidence of ancient Mayan agricultural expertise and El Pozito, between Guinea Grass Village and August Pine Ridge, depicts a pre-classic (300 B.C.) building found beneath the plaza of a Classic (600-900 A.D.) Maya construction. Across the bay from Corozal Town about 3 miles (5 kilometres) along the coast are Los Cerros with large mayan mounds,- some of which have not yet been excavated.
Two Mennonite communities are located in Northern Belize - Blue Creek and Shipyard in the Orange Walk District. The Mennonites, originally German farmers, were given refuge in Belize after facing difficult times in other lands. They are a self-contained community engaging in agriculture, manufacturing and sawmilling. With their unique customs, their traditional dress and their language - a low German patois - the Mennonites add variety to the Belizean scene.
The Popul Vuh, a Quiche Maya document from the Guatemala highlands, makes reference to the Maya's origin in caves. Since many caves in that area are vertical, and completely inaccessible, it is argued that underworld mythology developed in the lowland area where caves are more easily entered. Vuh also mentions the Hero Twins who journeyed the hazardous path to the underworld. Their trials in the "House of Darkness" may reflect actual rites wherein the young elite Maya duplicate the legendary journey.
Often restrictions such as stalagmites, if not natural, were placed at the mouth of the cave or at the opening to an inner chamber within the cave. Stalagmites resembling the sacred ceiba tree have been depicted in the Dresden Codex, one of the four surviving Maya books. Ceiba supports the heavens at the center of the Maya universe and represents the fifth up and-down direction of the Maya conception of space which divided space into four quadrants corresponding to the Cardinal directions.
There are nine levels in the Maya underworld, each represented by a deity. In the Long Count Calendar, the lords make up a perpetual cycle each serving as a current lord of the night, influencing daily events. The Jaguar; god of the number seven and lord of the underworld, was most revered. The death god, a human skeleton figure often depicted with saurian characteristics, is also a prominent figure.
The interpretation of caves as an access to the underworld is enforced by evidence of snail shells, which had death symbolism, strewn along paths inside many caves. Rites often include the burning of copal incense in censers to honor ancestors. Offerings of ground cocoa and sacrifices of birds, dogs or children were often made to the gods, especially to Chac, the rain god. Other archaeological material includes stingray spines, an item used to draw blood. Finally, caves were also used to collect "Zuhuy ha" or "remote water." Jars (ollas) were placed as receptacles for water dripping from stalactites and used for a variety of ceremonial purposes. Individual pot shards were often placed in wet crevices which kept the "virgin" water from touching the ground. It is interesting to note that ceramic vessels found in graves at Lamanai usually lacked one fragment suggesting that a single shard was retained for ceremonial purposes. The demands for Zuhuy ha were probably great and the olla jars and fancy polychrome wares were very likely smashed at the semi-annual renewal rites. Caves may have been the receptacle for these broken vessels explaining the large number of pot shards often heaped or strewn in them.
THE BARRIER REEF AND ASSOCIATED
ECOSYSTEMS OF BELIZE:
During your visit to the reef, you will encounter many beautiful coral types and formations. These corals have been growing for thousands of years. Each coral "rock" is composed of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. These animals belong to the same group of animals as the sea anemone, sea fan, jellyfish, and Portuguese man-o-war. The colonies of polyps are very fragile and are damaged when touched by a hand or a fin. When damaged, the corals are much more susceptible to contamination by bacteria and other organisms. The contamination may lead to the death of an entire colony of polyps. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH OR STAND ON LIVE CORAL HEADS!
Many colorful fishes will be encountered during your visit to the reef. Fishes live in and all around the coral community. For example, squirrel-fish can be found hiding in coral branches or coves, sandtile fish can be found living in burrows in the sand of the sea floor, houndfish and barracudas can be found swimming near the surface of the water, large groupers can be found hiding in overhangs or caves, and moray eels can be found hiding in holes and crevices within the corals.
Fish are very friendly and may move close enough for you to touch. However, fish secrete a mucous coating that protects them from bacterial infections. When touched, this coating is removed and allows bacteria to infect the fish.
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE FISH!
The feeding of the moray eels and other fish has been a favorite pastime for tourists. This behavior is not encouraged for several reasons:
By Hol Chan Marine Reserve San Pedro, Belize
The diverse and ornate populations of coral reefs make them among the most beautiful of all underwater ecosystems. These tropical shallow-water ecosystems are inhabited by a myriad of creatures of bizarre color, form and behavioral adaptation. This association of plants and animals in the tropical waters of the world is the most complex of all ocean ecological systems, and it also represents the oldest ecosystem on earth.
The barrier reef complex of Belize extends roughly 155.35 miles in a north-south direction and ranges from six to twenty-one miles in width. It is the largest continuous reef in the Caribbean. The reef complex includes an almost unbroken barrier reef, beginning as a fringing reef off the peninsula of Ambergris Caye, with numerous patch reefs and mangrove cayes in its shoreward lagoon, and ending in the Gulf of Honduras. The lagoon separating the reef from the mainland is twelve to fifteen miles wide in the northern regions but in the south the reef bends eastward and the lagoon becomes more than twenty-four miles wide before it opens into the Gulf of Honduras.
In the north where Pleistocene topography is reflected in the line of elongate cayes just behind the reef; two distinct types of lagoons are present. The "black-reef' lagoon (only .93 miles wide) found between the barrier reef and the cayes has clear, circulating water, normal salinity, and .a sandy bottom supporting a seagrass community interspersed with coral patch reefs. The "inner-shelf" lagoon, which may be up to 15 miles wide, lies between the caye line and the mainland, and contrasts strongly with the black-reef lagoon. The diversity of organisms is lower in the inner shelf lagoon which is characterized by slightly murky, sluggish water that is susceptible to considerable seasonal temperature and salinity changes, and a muddier bottom supporting seagrass beds but rarely any corals or calcareous algae. The life of the inner-shelf lagoon becomes considerably more restricted near the mainland where freshwater runoff is important. Passes between the cayes where the two types of lagoons meet exhibit varying characteristics depending on the extent of water circulation and the stability of the salinity.
The presence of a barrier reef complex generally precludes the existence of a high-energy beach situation along the mainland and associated caye shores since the reef crest "breaks" most of the force of the waves. These protected beaches lying behind the back-reef lagoons and inner-shelf lagoons are ideal places for mangrove communities to develop. The botanical composition of the mangrove community will depend upon the salinity changes due to freshwater runoff from the mainland or caye. The red mangrove (Rhizonhora) with its arching prop roots tolerates a wide range of salinities and may be found on intertidal mud banks and sand flats extending far up channels into nearly fresh water. Their arched roots which may extend into subtidal waters support a diverse flora of algae and lichens, and a fauna ranging from subtidal organisms to large bird colonies nesting in the thicket of leaves and branches. Mud caves and overhangs formed when mud banks are washed out between the mangrove roots provide hiding places for a diverse fish fauna and some have been known to accommodate sharks up to six feet long. Stands of white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) recognized by the two swollen salt-excreting pores at the base of the leaf blade, and buttonwood (Conocarpus re ectus) frequently are landward associates of the red mangrove though they may be found apart from it as well, preferring higher, drier land.
The black mangrove (Avicennia sp.), recognized by its many pneumatophores sticking up from the roots through the mud flats or supratidal to intertidal sands which generally surround it, usually forms "forests" along more sheltered areas of the shore. It frequently has the same landward associates as the red mangrove. Black mangrove is not as tolerant of ranges in salinity and prefers higher salt concentrations than found in the fresher waters sometimes tolerated by the red mangrove. In fact, the area where the white and black mangroves are found is the saltiest mangrove environment. This is due to irregular (in higher areas), periodic (intertidal) flooding by tides and saltwater mists which evaporate, leaving salt deposits behind in the soil. These backwater areas are also subject to occasional freshwater runoff and flooding requiring great phycological adjustment on the part of the plants, so frequently white mangrove dominates since it manages adjustments better than the black.
The mouths of rivers and low energy beaches where most mangroves are found are areas of soil deposition, and during storms these substrates tend to be removed or rearranged. The presence of mangroves tends to stabilize these substrates and to increase soil deposition and add organic materials to the soil. Under the soil surface, at the end of the prop roots, huge mats of thread-like secondary roots form thick layers similar to peat moss. This stabilized soil or mud frequently is high in decaying organic matter and therefore deficient in oxygen, and the water cannot supply sufficient quantities of oxygen to meet the roots' demands. The red mangrove solves this problem with numerous lenticels located on its prop roots just above the high tide mark. The pneumatophores of the black mangrove which are always (at maturity) taller than the high tide level allow oxygen exchange under normal circumstances.
The mangrove community is a transition zone between the marine and dry land environments and as such has many transient species with a relatively smaller number that can be considered permanent residents. The most obvious visitor species are the birds which not only feed in the mangroves, but utilize them for nesting and nighttime perching. At various stages of their life cycle many species of fish and invertebrates take advantage of the cover and high productivity of the mangroves to enhance their survival and growth.
Among the resident species we find the most fascinating in the red mangrove community where vertical stratification due to tides determines the species distribution. Among the roots in the subtidal zone we find the oyster toadfish with a large mouth for gulping small fish prey and camouflage coloration causing it to blend in with the mangrove oysters (Crassostrea rhizophorae) and mussels ( r i n) which attach to the roots. Barnacles are commonly found along the prop roots in the intertidal zone. Periwinkle snails move up and down the branches and leaves of the mangrove, always remaining above the tide. Epiphytic algae of many different types covers the parts below the high tide mark and lichens of many forms and colors cover the branches where the tide never reaches. A variety of organisms occupy the surface layer of muddy debris among the roots including several species of starfish and brittle stars, conchs, and many species of worms.
Plant associations in Belize are usually designated by the term "ridge" which has nothing to do with elevation, but rather with changes in vegetation.
Another term frequently encountered is the Aztec word "milpa" meaning corn. This term, spread by the Spanish, now refers to land which has been cleared and cultivated by hand for two or three years, then allowed to lie fallow for a variable length of time (2 to 20 years) and then reused. This system of "milpa" agriculture has been important in altering the plant cover of the country. Abandoned milpa fields are called "guamil."
You will probably recognize many familiar genera in the following habitat descriptions and species lists, however, many of the common names will be in Spanish or some local dialect. Just as occurs in the U.S., common names are frequently regional with a different name in each region, and many times one common name will be applied to several different species or even different genera. Some common names were given by the Spanish who used terms familiar to them from home, yet have no relation whatsoever to the species they encountered in the New World. Their common names were also of a descriptive nature as with the "cohune" palm. Thus there is a valid argument for the inclusion of scientific names in these accounts. Be aware that the common names given will not necessarily be recognized by the locals in all parts of Belize and that since one plant may have many common names (in English and in Maya or Spanish), only one or two have been selected.
Sources of Information:
Secretary Belize Tourist, Bureau P.O. Box 325, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Commissioner of Lands & Survey, Ministry of Natural Resources, Belmopan Belize, C.A.
Chief Agricultural Officer, West Block Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Comptroller of Customs & Excise, Fort Street Belize City Belize, C.A.
Central Bank of Belize, Treasury Building, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Chief Education Officer, West Block Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Chief Statistician, Central Statistical Office, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, P.O. Box 291, Belize City, Belize, C.A.
Belize Export and Investment and Promotion Unit, 7 Cork Street, Belize City Belize, C.A.
This is a brief synopsis about Belize. For very extensive information on Belize history, geography, climate, government and more, click here.
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