This morning Research Scientists, Dr. Emil Cherrington and Dr. Robert Griffin of the University of Alabama presented their findings of a study conducted regarding mangrove clearings in Belize and the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System-World Heritage Site. Over a period of three months, Dr. Cherrington and Dr. Griffin used satellite images from NASA to study mangrove clearing over a period of 37 years, from 1980 to 2017. Dr. Cherrington says that the main areas of mangrove clearing were observed around Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Placencia. He says that the primary contributing factor is land development.

Dr. Emil Cherrington, Research Scientist

“There has been minimal clearing within the World Heritage site however outside of the World Heritage site mangrove clearing is still an issue. Right now Belize still has roughly 95% of the mangrove cover it had in 1980, again according to the satellite imagery however the country probably doesn’t want to go the route of some of our neighbors in other Central American countries like for example El Salvador I think the studies indicate that over a 50 year period they lost half of their mangrove cover. Again mangroves are important economically in terms of the protection they provide to our areas and also tourism, biodiversity etc. In terms of Belize’s image we are a country that is very progressive in terms of conserving our resources for our people it is important that we continue to protect our mangroves. Mangroves aren’t clearing themselves it’s people who are clearing the mangroves and they are being cleared for the most part to put in housing developments on the islands for resorts, hotels or whatever that seems to be what is happening.As we heard from earlier on the workshop where we had participants from Belize Audubon Society, the different NGOs the Government Departments it’s really up to the country and different partners to kind of decide where Belize wants to go in terms of its development. There are clearings within protected areas, the laws of Belize state that protected areas are not supposed to be modified so one can consider that disconcerting however there has to be a consensus of the different partners to figure out which areas are going to develop, how we are going to do that etc. I don’t know that the state of discussion is there yet but that is something that has to be done.”

Dr. Griffin is optimistic that the data collected will positively influence policy makers.

Dr. Robert Griffin, Research Scientist

“Well hopefully this helps to contribute on the conversation on how to address these types of mangrove clearings and sort of what the future of mangrove forests in Belize look like. So we used NASA satellite imagery that is freely available to everyone so we downloaded data sets and processed them and analyzed them in different ways and developed statistics based on the different protected areas within the country. I think Belize is doing really well, obviously there are areas where you can do better. We certainly don’t like to see any clearing of mangroves within the World Heritage Sites but there are other areas around the region that are certainly not doing as well as Belize is so it’s great to see that the country as a whole is really on top of this issue.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love News Reporter

Did you encounter any challenges during the research?

Dr. Robert Griffin, Research Scientist

 “No major challenges, we’ve done this work in the past so we are pretty familiar with the methodology that we developed. As part of this work we are also giving a workshop on how to essentially process the data so our hope is really to build that capacity here in Belize so again it’s not us doing the work in the future but people that are enabled and empowered to do this sort of data analysis within Belize and so there is going to be a two day workshop on that.”

In terms of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System-World Heritage Site mangrove clearing was observed at the South Water Caye Marine Reserve.

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The Importance of Mangroves

A study has been undertaken to find out how mangrove cover has changed in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site and across Belize between 1980 and 2017. After three months, the researchers presented their findings today. There is some good news to celebrate – within the Barrier Reef Reserve System, there has been minimal clearing of mangroves with only one of the protected sites showing changes in mangrove cover.  This data will be used to boost Belize’s chances to get the Barrier Reef removed from the UNESCO in-danger list. But while there is reason to celebrate, some coastal areas outside of the reef reserve heritage site, show significant decrease in mangrove cover. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Mangrove productive ecosystems and they provide critical services that benefit all of us. They protect shorelines, mitigate storm surge and winds to protect the coastal communities from storm threats, control erosion, improve water quality, provide nursery for biologically and economically important species. A 2009 report showed that Mangroves, through tourism creation, fisheries and shoreline protection, contribute one hundred and seventy-four to two hundred and forty-nine million dollars per year to Belize’s economy. But despite the important frontline roles they play, mangroves take the hardest hit from natural disasters and coastal development. And to find out the state of Belize’s mangroves, the Belize Audubon Society ordered a study. There’s good news for the mangroves within the Belize Barrier Reef System – but for other coastal areas, it is not so good.

Amanda Burgos Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“The idea of the study was we wanted to know the status of the Mangroves within the Belize Barrier Reef and then we wanted the bigger, wider context. The bigger, wider context is not surprising to many of us. It really did flag the hot spots where development is occurring in Ambergris Caye, Placencia, and Belize City, obviously. Our specific interest which was the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, which we saw in the study is very positive. What we saw is that there’s very minimal change in Mangrove since the inscription on the in danger list. So, this positive result has been shared with the relevant government entities who are also part of the adhoc steering committee for this project.  And they are submitting it now to the UNESCO in our state of conservation report where we are now saying that since the inscription to now, for the past seven years, we have seen negligible or minimal mangrove change. So, that is one more check item in terms of the status of mangrove in the country.”

The researchers used satellite imagery from NASA to look at changes within mangrove ecosystems. The study looks at the mangroves from 1980 to 2017. Researcher Doctor Emil Cherrington says that Belize still has about ninety-five percent of its mangrove cover since 1980. One of the protected sites within the Belize barrier reef reserve system shows notable clearing of mangroves. Outside of the world heritage site, the study shows that several coastal areas have recorded significant mangrove cover clearing because of development.

Emil Cherrington, Research Scientist, University of Alabama

“There has been minimal clearing within the world heritage site. Across Belize, though, outside of the world heritage site, mangrove clearing is still an issue. Right now, Belize still has ninety-five percent of the mangrove cover it had in 1980, according to the satellite imagery. However, the country probably doesn’t want to go the route of some of our neighbours, other Central American countries, where like in El Salvador, I think the studies indicate that over a 50 year period lost half of the mangrove cover. Again, mangroves are important, economically they provide to the protection and the tourism and biodiversity values.  There are seven protected areas which are part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System world heritage site. Of those seven areas, only one of those – the south water caye marine reserve actually had any detectable clearing. Again, that is a positive thing because we are only seeing clearing in one of those.   Over the thirty-seven year that we looked at, the three main areas that had the most clearing would be around Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Placencia. There is clearing across the country, but these areas are where you have concentrated clearing. In Belize City, most people realize that places like Belama, Bella Vista, outside of the City like Vista del Mar, Buttonwood Bay – used to actually be mangrove and as the city has expanded, it expanded into those mangroves. Mangroves aren’t clearing themselves. It is people who clearing the mangroves and they are being cleared again, for the most part, to put in housing developments on the islands that we are seeing for hotels, resorts. That is what seems to be happening.”

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