Did you know that despite covering only 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs are considered one of the Earth’s largest living ecosystems, supporting around 25 percent of the world’s fish biodiversity? However, over the last few decades, coral reefs have decreased, due to over-fishing and destructive fishing techniques, pollution, coastal development, and coral bleaching.
Particularly, the breath-taking Mesoamerican Reef stretches some 700 miles from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula through Guatemala, to Honduras’ Bay Islands. For 184.5 miles, the reef passes through Belizean waters.
Along with the lagoons and atolls on either side of the main reef, the collection is known as the “Belize Barrier Reef System.” To better protect coral reefs, Belize has established seven marine protected areas (MPAs) so less disturbance will be posed.
According to Tik Root, many of Belize’s gains are tangible. There are, for example, special environmental taxes here that go directly to conservation and a booming eco-tourism market.
In 2008, when the International Society for Reef Studies recommended that Mesoamerican Reef countries better protect parrot fish along the reef, Belize was the first to respond (less than a year later) with a law restricting their catch. Belize has tried to stem trap fishing and incursions from foreign trawlers as well.
Additionally, Belize announced plans to more than triple the size of its “no-take” fishing zones, from 3 to 10 percent, to further allow ocean wildlife to recover. The government also announced that it plans to ban single-use plastic and styrofoam products (bags, utensils, etc.) in 2019 too.
Thanks to multi-party dedication to conservation, the Belizean government imposed a moratorium on oil exploration and offshore drilling, establishing the country as a new world leader in ocean conservation. And because of that, in 2018, after two decades of work, UNESCO removed the Belize Reef from the United Nations list of endangered world heritage sites.
The preservation of coral reefs is key to preserve a sustainable marine ecosystem. Belize has done impressive work, making it one of only a dozen countries that have met Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) to conserve 17 percent of its terrestrial and ten percent of its marine areas. Belize manages 36.6 percent of its terrestrial area in protected areas and 19.8 percent of its marine area (G. Scocca,2020).
Belize has made itself a model of marine conservation and can undoubtedly offer experience in coral reefs protection.