Belize is a swampland city, about half of it is reclaimed and all of it is below sea level...and where there’s swamp and sea, there’s mangrove, those hardy trees that love brackish water to sink their roots into. And while they aren’t exactly lovely, the purpose they serve far exceeds their aesthetic value. They ensure coastal integrity, and when floods come, mangroves act as nature’s sponge. But with all that said, they appear to be no friend to mega developers who pull up the mangroves and fill right up to the water’s edge. Now the World Wildlife Fund is trying to get them to reverse that habit and celebrate and incorporate mangroves into their project designs. Jacqueline Godwin found out more.

Jacqueline Godwin Reporting,
The data on just how many mangroves have been destroyed along the shorelines of Belize City is uncertain but from what scientists have observed there has been a major loss of the natural vegetation.

Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist – WWF
“There are barely any vegetation along the shoreline because people tend to cut them down. They think it is not very aesthetic and they cut them down and it is not only along the coast line, it is also on our outer cayes as well. They are prime targets for different development, whether tourism or personal benefits.”

One such example is a location where 7News was taken to on the city’s southside. This vast open land area, once a haven of mangroves from the coastline to the nearby residential communities in the Port Loyola area has all been cut down. The land is being developed for a marine tourism project.

Nadia Bood,
“If you noticed there are a lot of mangroves lost in this area and if you look to my left, you can see also that there are a lot of residential houses along this area. So if a storm should come along this area, we can expect that these people will suffer the brunt of the storm because there is no protective buffer in place. We can see destruction to their properties, their homes. We can also expect to see mass erosion because there’s no vegetation to hold the soil intact. So the coastal line will be susceptible to erosion.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
Albert you’ve been living in the Port Loyola area for some 20 years so no doubt the mangroves are here when you lived in this area. What used to happen when the mangroves were here and the rains started?

Albert Garnett, Resident - Port Loyola
“When the mangroves were here it kept off the water plus when the rain came down, it kept the yard from flooding.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
What is happening now since the mangroves are gone?

Albert Garnett,
“Since the mangroves gone the yards are flooded out and water come in. What I really think is we should put some more drainage and thing that will keep off the water. Plus the mangrove used to keep off the breeze from the house.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
So there’s nothing acting as a buffer back here right now, nothing to keep the water from coming on to the land and probably going into the neighbourhood?

Albert Garnett,
“No ma’am, nothing happen. The water usually comes through.”

Usually when developing properties along Belize’s shorelines, one of the first natural vegetation to be cut down are our mangroves because for many, it is regarded as bush and unsightly. But in reality what has happened is the destruction of a natural protector or buffer for our shorelines from being totally eroded and neighbourhoods from being totally washed away, especially during a storm activity.

Nadia Bood,
“We’ve been receiving complaints from average individuals, people that are not into the development per se, that mangroves are being cut and it is being done without their knowledge. Sometimes they make their complaints and they do their outcries and it is not being listened to and that is why we think we need to place more focus on conservation of mangroves, not only from the ecological benefits they provide but also for the socio-economic benefits that they provide. Last year we did the study with the World Resources Institute that looked at the benefits derives from reefs and mangroves and we found that the benefits being derived in terms of money from mangroves is in the millions.”

One ambitious plan to prevent further erosion and the destruction of our mangroves is a mangrove friendly shoreline development challenge sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.

Nadia Bood,
“This type of vegetation must not be viewed as a pest but it can be incorporated into their landscape design. There are many locations around the world where mangroves have been utilized in basic landscape design for property owners and we are trying to see if we can adapt that to Belize and try to plea to the minds of them to try and participate pretty much.

We are in the process of putting plans in motion. We’ve already created a flyer that will be circulated in the media and to other interested parties. It is basically a plea to developers, townships, and property owners who have incorporated mangroves in their landscape designs, whether be it from a conservation view point or whether be it from a aesthetic view point for them to apply to the contest, submit their application which is a one pager, some pictures, a draft plan, and then we will have a panel that will review the applications that come in and then vote on it and select the winner.”

According to WWF it is important to note that our mangroves are the guardians of Belizean shorelines, saving the country millions of dollars from damages caused due to storms, erosion and rising sea levels. Reporting for 7News Jacqueline Godwin.

The deadline for entries for the mangrove friendly shoreline development challenge is may twenty seventh. If you have any questions you can forward it to [email protected] Projects will be judged according to conservation value, aesthetics, sustainability and creativity. Winners will receive a certificate of recognition from WWF, a small cash prize and the winning entry will be publicized locally and internationally on WWF publications in print and on the internet.