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Mar 20, 2018

The Importance of Mangroves

A study has been undertaken to find out how mangrove cover has changed in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site and across Belize between 1980 and 2017. After three months, the researchers presented their findings today. There is some good news to celebrate – within the Barrier Reef Reserve System, there has been minimal clearing of mangroves with only one of the protected sites showing changes in mangrove cover.  This data will be used to boost Belize’s chances to get the Barrier Reef removed from the UNESCO in-danger list. But while there is reason to celebrate, some coastal areas outside of the reef reserve heritage site, show significant decrease in mangrove cover. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Mangrove productive ecosystems and they provide critical services that benefit all of us. They protect shorelines, mitigate storm surge and winds to protect the coastal communities from storm threats, control erosion, improve water quality, provide nursery for biologically and economically important species. A 2009 report showed that Mangroves, through tourism creation, fisheries and shoreline protection, contribute one hundred and seventy-four to two hundred and forty-nine million dollars per year to Belize’s economy. But despite the important frontline roles they play, mangroves take the hardest hit from natural disasters and coastal development. And to find out the state of Belize’s mangroves, the Belize Audubon Society ordered a study. There’s good news for the mangroves within the Belize Barrier Reef System – but for other coastal areas, it is not so good.

 

Amanda Burgos Acosta

Amanda Burgos Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“The idea of the study was we wanted to know the status of the Mangroves within the Belize Barrier Reef and then we wanted the bigger, wider context. The bigger, wider context is not surprising to many of us. It really did flag the hot spots where development is occurring in Ambergris Caye, Placencia, and Belize City, obviously. Our specific interest which was the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, which we saw in the study is very positive. What we saw is that there’s very minimal change in Mangrove since the inscription on the in danger list. So, this positive result has been shared with the relevant government entities who are also part of the adhoc steering committee for this project.  And they are submitting it now to the UNESCO in our state of conservation report where we are now saying that since the inscription to now, for the past seven years, we have seen negligible or minimal mangrove change. So, that is one more check item in terms of the status of mangrove in the country.”

 

The researchers used satellite imagery from NASA to look at changes within mangrove ecosystems. The study looks at the mangroves from 1980 to 2017. Researcher Doctor Emil Cherrington says that Belize still has about ninety-five percent of its mangrove cover since 1980. One of the protected sites within the Belize barrier reef reserve system shows notable clearing of mangroves. Outside of the world heritage site, the study shows that several coastal areas have recorded significant mangrove cover clearing because of development.

 

Emil Cherrington

Emil Cherrington, Research Scientist, University of Alabama

“There has been minimal clearing within the world heritage site. Across Belize, though, outside of the world heritage site, mangrove clearing is still an issue. Right now, Belize still has ninety-five percent of the mangrove cover it had in 1980, according to the satellite imagery. However, the country probably doesn’t want to go the route of some of our neighbours, other Central American countries, where like in El Salvador, I think the studies indicate that over a 50 year period lost half of the mangrove cover. Again, mangroves are important, economically they provide to the protection and the tourism and biodiversity values.  There are seven protected areas which are part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System world heritage site. Of those seven areas, only one of those – the south water caye marine reserve actually had any detectable clearing. Again, that is a positive thing because we are only seeing clearing in one of those.   Over the thirty-seven year that we looked at, the three main areas that had the most clearing would be around Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Placencia. There is clearing across the country, but these areas are where you have concentrated clearing. In Belize City, most people realize that places like Belama, Bella Vista, outside of the City like Vista del Mar, Buttonwood Bay – used to actually be mangrove and as the city has expanded, it expanded into those mangroves. Mangroves aren’t clearing themselves. It is people who clearing the mangroves and they are being cleared again, for the most part, to put in housing developments on the islands that we are seeing for hotels, resorts. That is what seems to be happening.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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