World Heritage Sites
The long standing efforts of this tiny country to manage one of the
marine wonders of the world were finally given international recognition
in December 1996 when seven of the protected areas on the reef were
listed jointly as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO's World Heritage
Convention. This Convention "provides for the protection of those
cultural and natural properties deemed to be of outstanding universal
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System consists of seven sites covering
a total of 92,610 ha. These are: Bacalar Chico National Park and
Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural
Monument, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Glover's Reef Marine Reserve,
Laughing Bird Caye National Park, and Sapodilla Cayes Narine Reserve.
The justification for inclusion on the World Heritage List is that the
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System fulfills the following criteria:
- contains examples of on-going ecological and biological processes,
- contains superlative natural phenomena and areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance, and contains the most important and significant natural habitats for threatened species.
Bacarlar Chico NP & MR
Established in 1996 and managed by the Fisheries and Forest
Departments. This 107 sq. km protected area is located on the northern
portion of Ambergris Caye bordering Mexico along with associated reef
tract on the east and an area of Chetumal Bay on the west.
The MR is characterized by a reef with high relief spur-and-groove
formations, a double reef crest in the north, patch reefs, and sea grass
beds. It is noted for its deep water conch population, and spawning
ground at Rocky Point for Nassau and yellowfin groupers.
The National Park covers the terrestrial area which includes lagoon
wetlands, salt marsh and mangrove, littoral forest, and other unusual
vegetation types. Loggerhead turtles, crocodiles, wild cats and
waterbirds find refuge on land.
Blue Hole Natural Monument
Lies within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll and was designated in 1996. The
main feature is the geological cave formation of the Blue Hole which is
surrounded by a circular rim of coral reef.
The Blue Hole is a large, circular sinkhole with a diameter of about
318m and a maximum depth of 125m. The cave, with many large
stalactites, was made famous by Jacque Cousteau and is now Belize's most
popular dive site.
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
Located on Lighthouse Reef Atoll, was the first marine protected area
(1982) and was declared a Natural Monument under the National Parks
Systems Act in 1982. The Belize Audubon Society is responsible for the
The Natural Monument includes the entire Half Moon Caye and an extensive
area of the surrounding atoll, fringing reef and lagoon.
The western end of the caye provides an example of caye littoral forest
and habitat for a colony of white colour phase Red Footed Booby, Sula
sula, which nest in the ziricote trees, alongside nesting frigate birds.
The fringing reef provides several very popular dive spots, with a
spectacular drop-off along the south-west wall.
South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Established in 1996, is located in the central province of the barrier
reef and contains both representative and unique habitat types. In this
region the reff is well developed, with Tobacco Reef extending in an
unbroken segment for 9 km. The reserve also includes patch reefs,
faros, sand bores, seagrass beds and over 20 sand and mangrove cayes.
Endangered species such as sea turtles and American crocodile find
suitable habitat within the reserve. Other species such as the Brown
Booby, Sula leucogaster, and Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata
magnificens, also inhabit the reserve.
The Smithsonian Institution runs a research station on Carrie Bow Caye.
The Fisheries Department is currently seeking funds to support
Glover's Reef Marine Reserve
Established in 1993, encompasses the entire Glover's Reef Atoll.
Glover's Reef is the southernmost of Belize's atolls, and one of the
best developed in the Caribbean. It is approximately 32 by 12 km and
lies 45 km east of the mainland coast. It is surrounded by a fringing
reef that has only 3 channels, all in the windward side. The clear
oceanic waters have permitted coral growth to depths of 100m or more.
Over 700 patch reefs stud the central lagoon. Six privately owned cayes
lie on the southeast side of the atoll.
The Wildlife Conservation Society operates a research station on Middle
Caye. The Fisheries Department presently manages this Marine Reserve.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park
The National Park was originally established in 1991 and encompassed
only the caye. In 1996, the boundaries were extended to include the
Laughing Bird Caye lies on the rim of a steep-sided faro, enclosing a
central lagoon which is spectacularly pinnacled. It is located within
the barrier reef lagoon, bordered to the east by the deep Victoria
channel. The caye is named after the Laughing Gull, Larus articilla,
which used to breed on the island, but which now nests on adjacent
Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
Designated in 1996, is located on the extreme southern end of the
barrier reef, which forms a J-shaped hook. Fourteen sand and Mangrove
cayes are dotted along the sides of the "Hook." These cayes are
surrounded by fringing reefs with extensive spur-and-groove formations
extending eastwards. The central basin withing the "hook" has scattered
coral patches. These reefs are considered representative of the
discontinuous reefs of the southern province of the barrier reef.
Hunting Caye houses an important hawksbill nesting beach.
The Belize Center for Environmental Studies is currently working on the
MR's management plan. On-the-ground management, the responsible of the
Fisheries Department, is presently constrained due to lack of funding.
Mesoamerican Caribbean Coral Reef System Initiative
On the 5th June, 1997, World Environment Day, the Prime Minister of
Belize and the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico signed the
Tulum Declaration on the protection of the reef system in the
Mesoamerican-Caribbean region. This agreement adopts the
"Mesoamerican-Caribbean Reef System" initiative, which is in accordance
with the International Year of the Reef and consistent with the
International Coral Reef Initiative of the United Nation's Convention on
Biological Diversity to promote conservation and sustainable use of the
coral reef system shared by these four nations. The 620-mile reef is
second in the world to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, which spans
These countries are members of the Central American Commission on
Environment and Development (CCAD), which Belize presently presides
over. Belize is fortunate to hold this presidency at a time of the
launching of this regional initiative, along with the implementation of
the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor project, a CCAD program to conserve
the region's biodiversity.
The Mesoamerican-Caribbean Reef System Initiative is coordinated through
CCAD, whose focus is sustainable development among Central American
States and other countries of the region. Belize has been participating
in CCAD's activities since 1991.
An action plan is being designed to jointly promote: scientific
research, education to create constituency, reduction of pollution from
marine and land based sources, information interchange and sustainable
This initiative offers the framework for one of the most viable and
transcendental opportunities on the planet, for carrying out a
multinational conservation project of a globally relevant ecosystem.
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