Marine Protected Areas

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
The earliest attempts to protect Belize's reefs focused on the establishment of protected areas. Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, on Lighthouse Reef, was set up in 1982, followed by Hol Chan Marine Reserve in 1987, the latter designated as a result of an initiative taken by the community of San Pedro who saw that some form of management would be necessary to reconcile the conflict developing between fishermen and tourist operators, both dependent on the reef for their livelihoods. Belize now has a remarkable ambitious marine protected area programme given the size of the country, with a further six sites designated recently (South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument and Laughing Bird Caye National Park). Other protected areas are being planned for Caye Caulker, the Port Honduras area in the south of the country, and for parts of Turneffe Atoll.

All these sites have, or will have, zoning schemes providing for recreational activities, small-scale fishing by traditional users, and total protection of key habitats and species in "no-fishing" zones. The 'no-fishing' zones cover a small area at present but potentially could play an important role in managing the reef fisheries, by protecting breeding stocks that may eventually repopulate other depleted areas. The 'no-fishing' zone at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, with its enormous groupers and shoals of snapper, illustrates how effective this can be.

This Reef Brief by Sue Wells

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