Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Originally a fishing village, San Pedro Town boasted about twenty tourist guides before the declaration of Hol Chan. However, with the high wages paid for guiding services, most of the young fishermen traded jobs as guides. The influx of tourists demanded more infrastructure. This infrastructure created new jobs and thus, initiated a shift in employment. Today over one hundred and fifty guides exist.

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located approximately four miles south of San Pedro Town, was chosen as the site for the first marine reserve in Belize. The Hol Chan Cut, a channel in the reef, and the surrounding reef area along with the interrelated and interdependent lagoon and mangrove habitats were included in the reserve so that the entire ecosystem could be protected and monitored. The need for the protection of this area was particularly urgent due to the increase of tourist development. Also the reef in this area had traditionally been exposed to heavy use and showed signs of stress caused by overcollecting, overfishing, and anchor damage. With the increase in development, a greater stress on the reef was imminent. With the protection offered to the area by "reserve status" it was expected that the area would be restored to its earlier, more vital state.

The boundaries of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve are clearly marked by permanent buoys. This is to inform divers and fishermen that they are entering a protected area. This reserve has been divided into management zones, each having specific regulations. This is to provide protected habitats for important species. The reserve has been divided into three zones (A,B,C) which correspond roughly to the natural boundaries of the three distinct ecological zones of the coastal ecosystem. By designing each zone for specific use, the recreational and commercial yield of the resource can be effectively maximized. The reserve is a valuable catalyst for continued research on the status of biological diversity and the general health of the reef around San Pedro. This is a valuable contribution to the viability of the fishing and tourism industry.

Zone A, the coral reef, is one square mile in size and has special regulations. In this area, the most important rule is not removing or disturbing any flora or fauna. Here mooring buoys have been installed to minimize anchor damage. The rangers patrol the area twelve hours a day, all week long. Zone B, the seagrass beds, is three square miles. Here sport fishing (catch and release) is allowed. Fishing for lobster or conch can only be carried out under special license given to fishermen who traditionally fished this area. The mangroves, that is Zone C, is one square mile. This area is composed of five mangrove islands and the border of the southern tip of San Pedro. Here the plants and wildlife on the mangrove cayes are not to be disturbed. Fishing regulations are the same as for Zone B. The five square miles of reserve are designed to serve both recreation and conservation.

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