Marine Protected Areas - Who Benefits?

Press Release - Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute - The marine reserve system is an integral part of Belize's coastal zone management programme as they provide an ecosystem-based management approach to multiple species fisheries, such as those found on coral reefs.

It is very difficult to manage these fisheries on a species-by-species basis, therefore managing them as a whole through managing the ecosystem in the most efficient and cost-effective method. Furthermore, reserves are much simpler to monitor and enforce than traditional fishing regulations. This is particularly the case in Belize where such a large area requires surveillance and enforcement is expensive.

On many coral reefs in the Caribbean, over-fishing has changed the community structure, damaged habitats and completely removed some of the large target species such as groupers. No-take zones of marine reserves are an important management tool for addressing this problem successfully.

By protecting reef fish stock within marine reserves, fish live longer and grow larger. These are the ones that will produce the most eggs. As the larvae develop, they are carried by currents, out of the protected area and thus help replenish the surrounding fishing grounds. This is clearly evident by, for example, the large groupers that now inhabit the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Studies at Hol Chan have shown that the weight of fish per unit area (particularly for snappers and grunts) was far greater than other sites. Furthermore, fish were more abundant, and there were more commercial species present than in fished areas. Other studies carried out have also shown that the population of lobster and conch within reserves have increased significantly, demonstrating that the area has recovered from over-fishing.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
The existence of more, larger and many different types of fish makes marine reserves very attractive for diving and snorkeling, and thus enhances the tourism industry. During the 1998/99 tourist season, almost 40,000 tourists visited Hol Chan. The entrance fee charged to these visitors contributes towards the management costs of the reserve.

Based on their benefits to the fishing and tourism industries, marine protected areas are a good investment for Belize. They are similar to no-hunting areas within terrestrial reserves. Fishing rights, like hunting rights, must be balanced with conservation needs, the rights of other marine resource users, and the rights of future generations to have sustainable resources. Marine protected areas provide a good means of protecting these rights. They ensure the protection of marine bio-diversity, which is the source ultimately of all fisheries productivity.

The CZM programme has supported the formation of Advisory Committees for all marine reserves to ensure input from stakeholders in the planning and management of these areas. It is expected that in the future these committees will evolve into true co-management arrangements or partnerships between government, NGO's and the private sector.

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