The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has sharpened attention on the oil spills occurring in many parts of the world ocean, and their potential damaging effects on marine ecosystems and the living organisms they sustain. This report focuses on the sustainability of marine fisheries of Belize in the face of potential impacts of ocean threats – in particular, oil spills. The report is timely and important in at least two ways. First, it addresses oil spills in the ocean, which occur frequently worldwide and can have significant effects on life in the ocean and the wellbeing of the people dependent on it. Second, the report focuses on a small developing country, Belize – an example of a country that does not usually receive the attention it deserves by researchers, even though the ocean and the resources it contains is the main source of existence for its citizens. Thirdly, this work is a collaboration between academic researchers, NGOs and management partners, thereby making the research output more relevant to real life problems.

This report consists of several chapters that tackle issues ranging from the ecology of the marine ecosystem of Belize right through to the economic benefits currently derived from activities dependent on the ecosystem. These include fishing, angling and whale(shark) watching. A crucial point made in the report is that while oil is a non-renewable resource, fish is renewable. This means that in comparing the benefits from drilling the marine ecosystem of Belize, it is important that in the short term, possibly larger benefits from oil drilling should not be allowed to trump benefits that, if well-managed and protected, are capable of continuing to flow through time, benefiting all generations.

The result of the work reported in this contribution, which is based on a broad collaboration between scientists, civil society members and managers, serves as a good example of how to produce policy relevant research that serves societal goals and objectives.

I commend the authors of the report for producing a significant piece of research that has a strong potential to contribute positively to policy making in Belize.

Ussif Rashid Sumaila
Director and Professor
The Fisheries Centre, UBC

Table of Contents


Offshore oil vs 3E‘s (Environment, Economy and Employment) 3
Frank Gordon Kirkwood and Audrey Matura-Shepherd
The Belize Barrier Reef: a World Heritage Site 8
Janet Gibson


Threats to coastal dolphins from oil exploration, drilling and spills off the coast of Belize 14
Ellen Hines
The fate of manatees in Belize 19
Nicole Auil Gomez
Status and distribution of seabirds in Belize: threats and conservation opportunities 25
H. Lee Jones and Philip Balderamos
The seabirds of Belize and marine oil drilling 34
Michelle Paleczny
The elasmobranchs of Glover‘s Reef Marine Reserve and other sites in northern and central Belize 38
Demian Chapman, Elizabeth Babcock, Debra Abercrombie, Mark Bond and Ellen Pikitch
Snapper and grouper assemblages of Belize: potential impacts from oil drilling 43
William Heyman
Endemic marine fishes of Belize: evidence of isolation in a unique ecological region 48
Phillip Lobel and Lisa K. Lobel
Functional importance of biodiversity for coral reefs of Belize 52
Janie Wulff
Biodiversity of sponges: Belize and beyond, to the greater Caribbean 57
Maria Cristina Diaz and Klaus Ruetzler
Biodiversity, ecology and biogeography of hydroids (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa) from Belize 66
Lea-Anne Henry
Documenting the marine biodiversity of Belize through FishBase and SeaLifeBase 78
Maria Lourdes D. Palomares and Daniel Pauly


Evaluating potential impacts of offshore oil drilling on the ecosystem services of mangroves in Belize 107
Timothy Brook Smith and Nadia Bood
Bacalar Chico: Belize Barrier Reef‘s northernmost marine reserve 112
Mebrahtu Ateweberhan, Jennifer Chapman, Frances Humber, Alasdair Harris and Nick Jones
Preparing for potential impacts of offshore petroleum exploration and development on the marine communities in the Belize Barrier Reef and lagoonal ecosystems 119
Robert Ginsburg
A deep-sea coral ‗gateway‘ in the northwestern Caribbean 120
Lea-Anne Henry
Natural and anthropogenic catastrophe on the Belizean Barrier Reef 125
Richard B. Aronson, Ian G. Macintyre and William F. Precht
Declining reef health calls for stronger protection not additional pollution from offshore oil development 129
Melanie McField


Fisheries based on Belizean biodiversity: why they're so vulnerable to offshore oil exploration 135
Eli Romero and Les Kaufman
Reconstruction of total marine fisheries catches for Belize, 1950-2008 142
Dirk Zeller, Rachel Graham and Sarah Harper
Under the threat of oil: assessing the value and contribution of Belizean fisheries 152
Sarah Harper, Dirk Zeller and U. Rashid Sumaila
The economic value and potential threats to marine ecotourism in Belize 161
Andres M. Cisneros-Montemayor and U. Rashid Sumaila


Conference Agenda 167
Letter of Scientists to Belizeans 171
Conference Participants 172