Belize to Nearly Triple Its Marine Protected Areas

Belize, a country home to the famed Blue Hole and the Belize Barrier Reef, which has become the world’s largest coral reef system, has just taken a bold move to protect its marine resources.

According to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Belize government has approved a plan to significantly expand fishery replenishment marine areas that are designated as “no-take zones” from 4.5 percent to 11.6 percent of its total waters.

The expansion encompasses deep-sea areas ranging in depth from 660 to 9,850 feet and also includes protection of other key areas.

“In this expansion, Belize also establishes its first protected area within its Exclusive Economic Zone, known as the Corona Reef, due to its extensive coral reef complex,” the WCS press release states.

Fishery replenishment areas are places where most fishing is prohibited in order to allow fish stocks to increase.

The expansion of protection in Belize’s deepsea area, in particular, includes some of the most underrepresented habitats in the country’s current protected zones. According to WCS, studies show that the deep-sea area of Belize serves as an important habitat for deep-slope snapper species and bottom-dwelling species.

Expansion of replenishment zones is seen as essential for enhancing the viability and long-term sustainability of Belize’s marine resources for coastal communities and tourism industries, particularly as the country is faced with impacts of climate change, according to WCS.

“The rationale for this expansion was to provide sufficient protection to marine species, habitats, and ecosystem processes so as to conserve marine biodiversity, sustain fisheries, and increase resilience to climate change,” Ralna Lewis, assistant director of the WCS’s Belize program, told the publication Mongabay in an email.

Adding protections for the Corona Reef is also an important step forward, Lewis said.

“The area is also believed to serve as a spawning aggregation site for numerous finfish species,” Lewis said. “Given the location of the area, its proximity to neighboring countries such as Honduras and Guatemala, transboundary illegal fishing serves as the primary threat for the site.”

With the expansion of strictly protected areas to nearly 12 percent of its waters, Belize is making strides toward achieving some of its international commitments, Mongabay reported.

In a statement, Belize fisheries administrator, Beverly Wade, has said that “a healthy reef and vibrant fisheries sector is necessary for Belize to achieve its goals for reducing poverty, improving food security and nutrition and increasing investment for development in Belize.”

Belize’s significant expansion of marine protected areas, coupled with the Caribbean nation’s earlier move to adopt a national secure fishing rights program in 2016, has been widely applauded by environmental organizations.

“This is a truly remarkable accomplishment that is setting an example for the rest of the world to follow,” said Katie McGinty, senior vice President for Oceans at Environmental Defense Fund. “The combination of significant marine protected areas and managed access for fishers will help protect some of the most important ecosystems in the world while ensuring sustainable fishing can continue to provide food, nutrition, and livelihoods to the thousands of Belizeans who rely on these valuable natural resources.”

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