The Economic Contribution of Belize’s Coral Reefs and Mangroves
World Resource Institute

Here's the Executive Summary from the WRI Working Paper. WRI= World Resoource Institute of Wash, DC

Executive Summary

Coastal and marine ecosystems provide vitally important goods and services to Belize. The country’s coral
reefs and mangrove-lined coasts provide critical protection against erosion and wave-induced damages from
tropical storms. They have supported artisanal fishing communities for generations, and, more recently, they
stand at the center of a vibrant tourism industry, drawing snorkelers, divers and sport fishermen from all
over the world. Belize also boasts the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, part of the
biologically rich Mesoamerican Reef complex, stretching from Mexico to Honduras.

Despite their importance, these benefits are frequently overlooked or underappreciated in coastal
investment and policy decisions. Unchecked coastal development, over-fishing, and pressures from
tourism threaten the country’s reefs and mangroves. Additional threats of warming seas, fiercer storms,
and other climate-related changes loom on the horizon. The government, NGOs, and private sector in
Belize have begun to recognize the importance of coastal ecosystems to the economy. Nevertheless, as
this paper demonstrates, the amount currently invested in protecting Belize’s coral reefs and mangroves is
very small when compared to the contribution of these resources to the national economy.

Economic valuation assigns a dollar value to the goods and services provided by ecosystems, giving
policy makers an important tool with which to set priorities and improve decision-making around natural
resources. This study assesses the economic contribution of just three out of the many culturally and
economically valuable services provided by reef and mangrove ecosystems in Belize. Even within this
narrowed scope, this study finds that the country’s coastal resources are extremely valuable. Thousands of
tourism and fishing jobs rely upon the health of reefs and mangroves, and millions of dollars in coastal
property rely upon their invisible protection. Investing in the maintenance and enhancement of these
benefits – or at least preventing their continuing rapid loss - is thus an important investment in the health
and sustainability of Belize’s economy.

The Value of Marine Protected Areas

Working with local partners, WRI also assessed the economic contribution of several of Belize’s Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs). The country’s MPAs system, widely hailed as an example of forward thinking
in marine conservation, consists of 18 protected areas managed primarily by the Fisheries and Forestry
Departments in collaboration with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The parks are an
important draw for divers, snorkelers, and sport fishermen, and contain no-fishing areas that, when wellprotected, help to maintain stocks of key commercial species.
MPAs in Belize generate economic benefits well beyond the amount invested in their protection.

Approximately 115,000 visitors were recorded by MPAs in 2007, spending an estimated US$17 million on
accommodation, recreation, food, and other expenses on days that they visited a reserve. Actual spending
may be up to 30 per cent higher as visitor numbers to most of the reserves is significantly under-recorded.
Our economic analysis indicates that reef-related tourism and fisheries at just one park - Glover’s Reef
Marine Reserve - contributed an estimated US$4.9 to $7.3 million per year to the national economy. By
comparison, the Fisheries Department is allocated roughly US$100,000 per year for each of the MPAs
that it manages. Management levels at most of Belize’s marine parks fall well below those needed to keep
reefs healthy and attractive to visitors over the long-term. The economic and environmental benefits
provided by these parks may not prove sustainable without greater investment in management.

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