World Heritage Sites

The long standing efforts of this tiny country to manage one of the marine wonders of the world were finally given international recognition in December 1996 when seven of the protected areas on the reef were listed jointly as a World Heritage Site under UNESCO's World Heritage Convention. This Convention "provides for the protection of those cultural and natural properties deemed to be of outstanding universal importance."

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System consists of seven sites covering a total of 92,610 ha. These are: Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Glover's Reef Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, and Sapodilla Cayes Narine Reserve.

The justification for inclusion on the World Heritage List is that the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System fulfills the following criteria:

  1. contains examples of on-going ecological and biological processes,
  2. contains superlative natural phenomena and areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance, and contains the most important and significant natural habitats for threatened species.

The Sites

Bacarlar Chico NP & MR
Established in 1996 and managed by the Fisheries and Forest Departments. This 107 sq. km protected area is located on the northern portion of Ambergris Caye bordering Mexico along with associated reef tract on the east and an area of Chetumal Bay on the west. The MR is characterized by a reef with high relief spur-and-groove formations, a double reef crest in the north, patch reefs, and sea grass beds. It is noted for its deep water conch population, and spawning ground at Rocky Point for Nassau and yellowfin groupers. The National Park covers the terrestrial area which includes lagoon wetlands, salt marsh and mangrove, littoral forest, and other unusual vegetation types. Loggerhead turtles, crocodiles, wild cats and waterbirds find refuge on land.

Blue Hole Natural Monument
Lies within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll and was designated in 1996. The main feature is the geological cave formation of the Blue Hole which is surrounded by a circular rim of coral reef. The Blue Hole is a large, circular sinkhole with a diameter of about 318m and a maximum depth of 125m. The cave, with many large stalactites, was made famous by Jacque Cousteau and is now Belize's most popular dive site.

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
Located on Lighthouse Reef Atoll, was the first marine protected area (1982) and was declared a Natural Monument under the National Parks Systems Act in 1982. The Belize Audubon Society is responsible for the day-to-day management.

The Natural Monument includes the entire Half Moon Caye and an extensive area of the surrounding atoll, fringing reef and lagoon.

The western end of the caye provides an example of caye littoral forest and habitat for a colony of white colour phase Red Footed Booby, Sula sula, which nest in the ziricote trees, alongside nesting frigate birds.

The fringing reef provides several very popular dive spots, with a spectacular drop-off along the south-west wall.

South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Established in 1996, is located in the central province of the barrier reef and contains both representative and unique habitat types. In this region the reff is well developed, with Tobacco Reef extending in an unbroken segment for 9 km. The reserve also includes patch reefs, faros, sand bores, seagrass beds and over 20 sand and mangrove cayes. Endangered species such as sea turtles and American crocodile find suitable habitat within the reserve. Other species such as the Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster, and Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens, also inhabit the reserve.

The Smithsonian Institution runs a research station on Carrie Bow Caye.

The Fisheries Department is currently seeking funds to support management activities.

Glover's Reef Marine Reserve
Established in 1993, encompasses the entire Glover's Reef Atoll. Glover's Reef is the southernmost of Belize's atolls, and one of the best developed in the Caribbean. It is approximately 32 by 12 km and lies 45 km east of the mainland coast. It is surrounded by a fringing reef that has only 3 channels, all in the windward side. The clear oceanic waters have permitted coral growth to depths of 100m or more. Over 700 patch reefs stud the central lagoon. Six privately owned cayes lie on the southeast side of the atoll.

The Wildlife Conservation Society operates a research station on Middle Caye. The Fisheries Department presently manages this Marine Reserve.

Laughing Bird Caye National Park
The National Park was originally established in 1991 and encompassed only the caye. In 1996, the boundaries were extended to include the faro.

Laughing Bird Caye lies on the rim of a steep-sided faro, enclosing a central lagoon which is spectacularly pinnacled. It is located within the barrier reef lagoon, bordered to the east by the deep Victoria channel. The caye is named after the Laughing Gull, Larus articilla, which used to breed on the island, but which now nests on adjacent cayes.

Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve
Designated in 1996, is located on the extreme southern end of the barrier reef, which forms a J-shaped hook. Fourteen sand and Mangrove cayes are dotted along the sides of the "Hook." These cayes are surrounded by fringing reefs with extensive spur-and-groove formations extending eastwards. The central basin withing the "hook" has scattered coral patches. These reefs are considered representative of the discontinuous reefs of the southern province of the barrier reef.

Hunting Caye houses an important hawksbill nesting beach.

The Belize Center for Environmental Studies is currently working on the MR's management plan. On-the-ground management, the responsible of the Fisheries Department, is presently constrained due to lack of funding.

Mesoamerican Caribbean Coral Reef System Initiative
On the 5th June, 1997, World Environment Day, the Prime Minister of Belize and the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico signed the Tulum Declaration on the protection of the reef system in the Mesoamerican-Caribbean region. This agreement adopts the "Mesoamerican-Caribbean Reef System" initiative, which is in accordance with the International Year of the Reef and consistent with the International Coral Reef Initiative of the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity to promote conservation and sustainable use of the coral reef system shared by these four nations. The 620-mile reef is second in the world to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, which spans 1,550 miles.

These countries are members of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD), which Belize presently presides over. Belize is fortunate to hold this presidency at a time of the launching of this regional initiative, along with the implementation of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor project, a CCAD program to conserve the region's biodiversity.

The Mesoamerican-Caribbean Reef System Initiative is coordinated through CCAD, whose focus is sustainable development among Central American States and other countries of the region. Belize has been participating in CCAD's activities since 1991.

An action plan is being designed to jointly promote: scientific research, education to create constituency, reduction of pollution from marine and land based sources, information interchange and sustainable financing mechanisms.

This initiative offers the framework for one of the most viable and transcendental opportunities on the planet, for carrying out a multinational conservation project of a globally relevant ecosystem.

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