A group of marine ecologists and scientists are finalizing over six weeks of research in Belize. They are part of the Commonwealth Marine Economies Program, which was launched in 2016 by the United Kingdom government. It is being implemented in seventeen Commonwealth Small Island Developing States, SIDS, including Belize. The program aims to identify the potential of marine economies in a sustainable manner. Marine Ecologist James Strong is from the National Oceanography Center in the UK and is part of the team conducting numerous studies over the last several weeks in Belize.

James Strong Marine Ecologist, National Oceanography Center UK: We are currently in Belize doing a study looking at how changes on land use affect what gets washed off into the rivers and how that ultimately it ends up in the Coastal Environments and what implications that has for your coastal habitats like your seagrass and your Barrier Reef so we have been here for about six weeks where we have been taking a lot of samples in the water courses out to the coastal environments and now we are doing a lot of mapping around the reef but what is particularly unusual about this sampling campaign is that we are using a robotic boat to do a lot of the sampling at sea so this is unit called the Sea Worker and it’s about 4 meters long but it’s absolutely bristling in scientific census, instruments and it goes out on an autonomous track collecting all the sampling we need technically on land so yes that’s one of the really eye catching things that we are doing here. We are also working with some local partners: the University of Belize and the Coastal Zone Management and its use here in Belize City. They have been helping us work as well so ultimately what we hope the work will deliver a better understanding of how the terrestrial environment and land use is sort of linked to the coastal environment and how ultimately it might influence your national treasures like your big Barrier Reef and that’s the idea and understanding of that relationship and making sure that in Belize can be a stable program of Marine Environments that can be resistant to excessive use and climate change. We have two other partners in this project: We are form the National Oceanography Center so we deliver Oceanographic Science but we also have Sea Fast which is a UK Organization that specializes in Fisheries and they are trying to understand in all these different countries how Climate Change can also perhaps change the natures of Fisheries, what will be sustainable long term and our third partner is the Hydrographic Office in the United Kingdom and they do a lot of seabed mapping. They produce the navigational charts that we often use when we go to sea and they have been a really ambitious campaign of mapping the entire sea bed from Belize City all the way North from the mainland to the keys out to the Barrier Reef in fact producing new navigational charts that will keep fisherman and shipping safe in this area for along time to come.

The team has collected samples from rivers and coastal areas in Belize. it has also gathered sonar and videos from around the reef. The data will be made available to partners in Belize several months from now. The program, in partnership with the SIDS, will develop and implement national Maritime Economy Plans to ensure the program leaves a lasting legacy in participating countries.

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