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Feb 13, 2020

Good Indicators for Belize on the Health of the Barrier Reef

While the health of the Meso-America Barrier Reef system is not in the best shape, in Belize it is showing significant improvements. A report card was released today which shows the good indicators resulting from sound management systems and legislation. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

A report card on the Meso-American Barrier Reef System, which spans four countries, shows that overall, the health of the reef is not where it is supposed to be. In Belize, however, there are marked improvements, so much so that there has been increased development. It is great news for the conservation community, whose reps were present at today’s launch, because the reef is estimated to contribute one billion dollars to the economy through tourism, fisheries and more.

 

Nicole Craig

Nicole Craig, Country Coordinator, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People

“The report card released today is demonstrating reef health data that was gathered in 2018 and it reflects that Belize has actually seen an improvement in our reef health. Our score last time was 2.8 and now this time it is showing 3.0, with the most impressive improvement being herbivorous fish increase now showing good as an indicator. A good score with parrot fish or herbivorous fish is a good thing because it is a reflection of legislation that was enacted in 2009 that protected parrot fish and herbivores and so these are important on our reef. We want to see more of them because they eat macro-algae and a lot of macro-algae is not good because it can tend to encroach on the corals themselves and make it difficult for corals to continue growing. So we want a nice balance between how much macro-algae we have and fish. And so because of this legislation, ten years later now, we are seeing that the numbers have risen to the point the indicators are now reflecting a score of good.”

 

According to Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade, the report card is a reflection of management systems and legislation put in place to maintain the sustainability of the reef.

 

Beverly Wade

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator

“What we are now seeing is really the direct result of a number of management interventions that we as a country have been bold enough and have been pioneering to put in place. And we had the kind of leadership and vision to put in place. Belize was the first country which placed the protection of parrot fish and razors in place and we have expanded marine protected areas. Cabinet has also agreed in principle to now look at the expansion our replenishment zone. Belize is one of the only countries globally that have met the global target of twenty percent of its territorial waters in protection. But what we have to now do is to look at how we can be more effective at this.”

 

But there are many factors that continue to affect the ecosystem says Healthy Reefs Country Coordinator, Nicole Craig.

 

Nicole Craig

“A lot of the organizations collecting temperature data in Belize has shown that over an extended period of a few months, we have been seeing warmer waters—much warmer than normal. And this puts a lot of stress on the corals, causing bleaching. And so even to now, January/February, we are still seeing a lot of bleach corals, which this is supposed to be a cooler time of year. We are supposed to see some reduction in that. And so we are also saying that because corals are more stressed out, we may be seeing more disease on the reef because when you are stressed, you are not as resilient, you are not as strong to fight diseases. So these are some concerns and there are other stressors such as the runoff from land, of course we have sewage. And so all this extra nutrients in the water, apart from making more macro-algae grow and much faster with this warmer water, it also causes additional stress on corals and our reef. So if we want to properly address these things, we need to look into how we can reduce pollution that’s running off from our land into the water.”

 

The Fisheries Administrator says that they now have to look at effectiveness of the management systems and the work of partner agencies.

 

Beverly Wade

“We need to have a certain amount of total no-take areas to replenish the rest of the system. We currently have about seven percent no take of our territorial waters in Belize and the global ask is that you have at least ten percent. And we have that commitment from cabinet and we are hopeful that in 2020, we will see those areas legislated so that we could actually have them functioning as no take. That is extremely important to designate those areas. The other thing that I think is very much important, through partnership and also through government’s commitment, to have the necessary resources to ensure that marine protected areas are being managed effectively because if you just have them there and if they are only being operating on a mediocre scale, they don’t serve the kind of biological safeguard functions that they supposed to be serving.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.


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