BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

LAUGHING BIRD CAYE NATIONAL PARK

Laughing Bird Caye National Park is one of the gems in a string of pearls that is the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. It is a beautiful Belizean isle situated on the western side of the Victoria Channel, only 11 miles off the coast from Placencia Village in the Stann Creek District of Belize.

The uniqueness of this structure contributes to both the abundance and variety of coral habitats and marine life. The Caye gets its name from the Laughing Gull (Larus artricilla). This bird once used to breed on the Caye, but because of growing human presence, the colonies have moved to nearby undisturbed cayes for breeding.

Due to the uniqueness of the Caye, the Faro, and the abundant and diverse marine habitats and life, the Caye was declared a protected area in 1981 under the National Parks System Act. On December 21st, 1991, Laughing Bird Caye National Park was declared. Finally, in 1996 the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was inscribed on the World Heritage List with Laughing Bird Caye National Park designated as one of the premiere protected areas within the World Heritage Site.

Other birds can be seen on the Caye including the Brown Pelican, Green Heron, Melodious Blackbird and many other birds from the surrounding cayes and strays from the mainland. There are also a variety of lizards and insects on the Caye.

The island is covered with coconut trees and scattered coastal mangroves. Seven plant species have been recorded on the island:

*Coconut tree - Cocos nucifera
*Spider Lily - Hymenocallis littorallis
*Seaside Purslane - Sesuvium portulacastrum Euphorbia sp.
*Red mangrove - Rhizophora mangle
*Morning Glory - Ipomoea sp.
*Black mangrove - Avicennia germinans

Tourists with local guides from Placencia Area (members of the Placencia Tour Guide Association) are carried in small boats (30 foot or less) with outboard motors, or slightly larger boats (40 foot or less) with inboard engines. These tours are for sightseeing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and picnicking; generally lasting one to six hours.

The basic boat load is based on four people plus a guide. Occasionally there can be from twelve to twenty people on a given boat. Sometimes, these visiting groups will build fires for cooking. The Conservation Branch of the Forestry Department of the Natural Resources has declared that there can be no overnight stays on the Caye. There are no rest rooms facilities or shelter on the Caye.

The primary users of Laughing Bird Caye are the residents of Placencia Village. The locals will visit the island for a day of snorkeling, diving and picnicking. Presently, there is no rest room facility. The number of people using the caye in this capacity is hard to estimate as it is generally seasonally centering around holidays and weekends. Placencia is a popular destination for Belizeans. There is also sporadic traffic from other surrounding communities such as Independence, Seine Bight, and the nearby citrus and banana plantations.

The heavy use has impacted the terrestrial habitats and is beginning to impact the undersea environments.

Local community groups and national regulatory authorities are working together to help save and manage the Park. As always, sustainability is a major problem. Other problems related to sustainability include management, research, and enforcement.

If you would like further information about the Laughing Bird Caye National Park or how you might be able to help, please email info@robertsgrove.com or visit www.laughingbird.org to fill in a form with your ideas, questions, suggestions or comments.

ESTABLISHMENT HISTORY
In response to lobbying by local tour operators and conservationists, this site was designated in December 1991 (SI 167). Its extension has been recommended by Wilson (1995) to help cover gaps in Belize's protected area network. A draft SI has been produced (with boundaries expanded to cover surrounding marine habitats) but has not yet been gazetted

CURRENT AREA
The area of this reserve is relatively easily to calculate as it only covers I isolated small caye. The area estimated in the SI is 1.4 acres, taken off a ground survey of the caye (Entry 1287), which actually gives 1.8 acres. The LIC, mapping the reserve using GIS, calculate a figure of 30 acres, which is incorrect.

The boundaries of the proposed expanded reserve are defined by coordinates, covering an area of ? according to the draft SI. The co-ordinates and area estimate in the draft SI have been determined using GIS and are therefore identical.

JUSTIFICATION
The caye has traditionally been used for recreational purposes, and designation was initiated to control this, to prevent it being leased out and to benefit eco-tourism operators in Placencia. Laughing Gulls used to breed there but has moved to nearby cayes because of disturbance. The marine habitat in the proposed extension is considered representative of the faroe reef formation on the southern part of the barrier reef.

HABITATS
Cocal, littoral thicket, mangrove. (Proposed extension includes seagrass beds and reef).

ZOOGEOGRAPHICAL AFFINITIES
Caribbean and Marine.

MARINE REGION
Southern Red Complex Division in the Stann Creek Region.

WILDLIFE
There is little terrestrial biological information on the site. Previously it was used as a nesting site by Laughing Gulls, but due to increased human disturbance they abandoned nesting in 1990 and moved to a nearby caye. The vegetation is dominated by Coconuts, but there are mangroves and extensive herbaceous coverage as well.

LOCAL POPULATION
Placencia (fishing and tourism) is the nearest settlement,11 miles to the west, on the mainland.

PHYSICAL FEATURES & CLIMATE
The current site consists of an elongated sand caye.

VISITOR FACILITIES
The reserve is visited regularly, mostly be tourists carried out by tour operators from Placencia for picnics, snorkeling and diving. The site is also used by Belizean day trippers at weekends and holidays. One cruise ship includes the caye in its tour, and brings in 45-70 passengers once a week during its November to April season. Previously the reserve was used (and still is occasionally) for overnight camping but the FD has prohibited this, primarily due to the lack of toilet or other waste disposal facilities. Some mooring buoys have been installed to prevent anchor damage to the surrounding reef. Private yachts and sea kayaks also use the site regularly. There is 1 trail through the centre of the caye.

Click here for information on the Pelican Cayes, a hotspot of biodiversity and destruction in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve World Heritage Site

BELIZE NATIONAL PARKS, NATURAL RESERVES, & WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

Belize Parks Home / Bacalar Chico / Bird Sanctuaries / Burdon Canal Nature Reserve / Blue Hole National Park / Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef / Chiquibul National Park and Caracol / Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary / Columbia River Forest Reserve / Community Baboon Sanctuary / Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary / Five Blues Lake National Park / Glover's Reef Marine Reserve / Guanacaste National Park / Half Moon Caye Natural Monument / Hol Chan Marine Reserve / Laughing Bird Caye / Marco Gonzales / Mexico Rocks / Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve / Payne's Creek National Park / Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area / Shark Ray Alley / Shipstern Nature Reserve / Turneffe Atoll /

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