The Placencia Lagoon lies behind the Placencia peninsula. It is a narrow, 24-km long estuary that is mainly shallow, (1-2 meters), with a few deeper holes and channels. Its width and area are somewhat variable because of enormous marshy wetlands that blanket most of the inland coast.
The lagoon is home to remarkable biodiversity including several endangered and magnet species like the Jabiru Stork, Morelet’s crocodile, American crocodile and West Indian manatee. Both bottle-nosed and Atlantic spotted dolphins also frequent the Lagoon.
Much of the coast is lined with mangroves whose roots are encrusted with a rich variety of sessile life – shellfish, sponges, anemones, and algae – and provide shelter for juveniles of many commercial species of fish. The savanna ecosystem on the west coast of the lagoon leads into a dry tropical forest that provides a biological corridor to the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve.
However, extensive development is underway on both sides of the Lagoon. The inland coastal savanna has proven ideal for shrimp farming. The farms have taken significant steps to minimize their impacts, but specific problems remain and require attention. Of particular concern are the nutrients from excess feed and sediments from pond earthworks draining into the mangroves and lagoon waters beyond.
On the peninsular side, the booming tourism industry has brought crowds of visitors enjoying the sandy beaches and looking for vacation homes. All this development brings attendant environmental problems including leaching of sewage into ground and surface waters and extensive clearing of mangroves along the lagoon shore. Without measured action, the combination of tourism and shrimp-farming could overwhelm the ecology of Placencia Lagoon. Especially at risk in the short term are the rich sea grass beds that flourish in its shallow waters and are prime forage for manatee.
Monitoring of some parameters has already begun. Isotopic signatures of N and C have used to map nutrient pollution in the lagoon and determine the base of the food web. Seagrass has been shown to support most of the fishery there. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the upper basin had substantial seagrass ten years ago, but little vascular seagrass remains there. SEA has also documented a substantial loss since of seagrass in the middle basin since 2004.
SEA Belize is concerned about the future of Placencia Lagoon and has recently begun discussions with the Government of Belize to formally protect the lagoon. Properly managed, the Placencia Lagoon could have huge positive impact, increasing the flow of tourism and revenue to the area. Kayaking, birding and manatee watching are all readily available within the lagoon. The convenience of being able to use the lagoon in all weathers makes it widely available to every visitor to the area.
Everyone can find some activity they can enjoy. SEA would like to encourage, train and assist local small tourism providers to establish businesses that are eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable.