Research In Order to Protect Belize Reefs For The Future

Coral reefs are the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems in the world. Although reefs account for only 0.2% of the world’s oceans, they provide habitats for 1/3 of all marine species.

Reefs provide many essential commodities, including building material and food, as well as mass employment for thousands of people (through fisheries and tourism). Reefs also act as a natural sea defence, protecting the coastline from storm damage, erosion, and flooding by dissipating wave energy. Associated ecosystems such as seagrass beds and mangroves act as nursery grounds for many species and play an important role in rejuvenating fish stocks.

With all that they provide, coral reefs are one of the most economically valuable ecosystems on earth, being valued at approximately US$375 billion per year. 8% of the world’s population (0.5 billion people) live within 100 km of a coral reef, so great demand is being placed on these resources. The dependence of so many people on coral reefs means it is vital that we protect them. The future of coral reefs world-wide is at risk, due to large-scale threats such as climate change, and smaller-scale human impacts such as coastal development, over-fishing, and pollution (e.g., through agricultural and industrial activities). In order to protect our reefs for the future, designation and effective management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is required in collaboration with a good scientific understanding of the reef ecosystem.

Barrier Reef

Southern Environmental Association contributes to national and regional scientific databases, which are used to monitor the status of the Belize Barrier Reef System. A regional approach ensures that the level of impacts on Belize’s reef resources can be closely monitored in order to sustain them for the future. SEA conducts long-term reef monitoring at three MPAs: Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP), Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR). Quantitative data collection focuses on the following areas:

Barrier Reef
Reef Health

Percentage cover by corals, macroalgae, and other benthic (organisms living on the seabed) communities is recorded, with particular attention being given to coral bleaching (the paling or turning white of corals due to stress, especially due to increased water temperatures).

Commercial Species

Abundance and size of commercially important species of fish, lobster and conch are recorded. In the case of lobster and conch, data are collected both when the fishing season is open and closed.

Spawning Aggregations

The spawning aggregations survey is divided into two survey seasons; namely, Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) Survey Season which is monitored from November to February and the Snapper Species (Cubera, Mutton and Dog Snapper) Survey Season, which is monitored from March to June each year. The type of data collected includes fish species, size, abundance and behavior such as change in spawning time, depth, reduced/increased spawning

Water Quality Testing

Water is one of the most precious resources on Earth and it is a means for life and through which life strives. As a part the UNDP/EU/GCCA project entitled “Community response to the increasing impacts of climate change”, SEA has been conducting monthly water quality testing in and around Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve since June 2013. Water quality samples are also collected and tested from the LBCNP and Placencia Lagoon in effort to collect baseline data which would be used to determine if there are any changes in the oceanic conditions within this part of the barrier reef. Furthermore, it is used to make management decisions for these protected areas for continued marine resource/ecosystem sustainability.

Sea Turtle Nesting

Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and Green (Chelonia mydas) turtles are frequently seen within both protected areas. Abundance and location of nests and nesting success is monitored.

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