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High-Value Assets: Belize's Coral Reefs and Mangroves

A new WRI/WWF Central America analysis finds that the coral reefs and mangroves of Belize make a substantial contribution to the country’s economy. Learn more about WRI’s work on Belize coastal ecosystems.

Belize’s coral reefs and mangrove-lined coasts provide critical protection against erosion and wave-induced damages from tropical storms. They have supported artisanal fishing communities for generations and they stand at the center of a vibrant tourism industry, drawing snorkelers, divers and sport fishermen from all over the world.

Despite these benefits, coral reefs and mangroves are frequently overlooked and underappreciated in coastal investment and policy decisions.

Indeed, unchecked coastal development, over-fishing and pressures from tourism threaten the country’s reefs and mangroves. Climate-related changes—such as warming seas, ocean acidification and fiercer storms—could mean that more destruction of coastline ecosystems looms on the horizon.

In a study released today, WRI and WWF Central America evaluate and quantify the economic benefits reefs and mangroves provide to tourism, fisheries and shoreline protection in Belize.

The study looks at only three of the many culturally and economically valuable services provided by these ecosystems in Belize. Nonetheless, even within this narrow scope, these coastal ecosystems clearly provide Belize’s economy with vitally important goods and services.

Valuation Results

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Coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributed an estimated US$150-196 million to Belize’s economy in 2007, or 12-15 percent of GDP (see chart).

Reefs and mangroves also protect coastal properties from erosion and wave-induced damage, providing an estimated US$231-347 million in avoided damages per year. Additionally, reefs and mangroves provide substantial benefits to the culturally and economically important fishing community, at another US$14-16 million per year.

The full technical report and methodology are coming soon.

Action Needed to Save Belize’s Coastal Ecosystems

Belize’s government, NGOs and private sector are now beginning to recognize the importance of coastal ecosystems to the economy. Nevertheless, the amount currently invested in protecting Belize’s coral reefs and mangroves is very small when compared to the contribution of these resources to the national economy.

Belize’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) system, consisting of 18 protected areas managed primarily by the Fisheries and Forestry Departments along with local NGOs, is widely hailed as an example of forward thinking in marine conservation. The MPAs are an important draw for divers, snorkelers, and sport fishermen, and contain no-fishing areas that help to maintain stocks of key commercial species.

The MPA system is a good first step. However, the system is under-funded, and staff, fuel, and equipment limitations make it difficult to curb illegal fishing and monitor visitation in most of the reserves.

As these coastal and marine resources become increasingly threatened, it is critical to recognize the value they provide and to incorporate this value into policy decision-making.

The Coastal Capital study of Belize finds it is in the long-term economic interest of Belize to:

1) Invest in management, monitoring, and compliance. Greater investments in oversight and management are necessary to protect and preserve Belize’s reefs and mangroves, together with the material benefits they bestow. For instance:

  • Reinvigorate the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, whose mission is to support the sustainable use of Belize’s coastal ecosystems, and build capacity for monitoring the state and use of coastal resources.
  • Tighten fishing regulations and invest greater resources in enforcement.
  • Increase overall investment in MPAs and improve fee collection and monitoring of visitors.
  • Build efforts to reduce coral bleaching into the management and expansion of the MPA network.

2) Plan and implement development sensibly. The value of coastal ecosystems must be taken into account when making development policy and management decisions that may adversely affect their health. Here is how they could do so:

  • Enforce land-use and development regulations in the coastal zone.
  • Minimize the loss of mangroves along the shoreline.
  • Conduct and thoroughly evaluate Environmental Impact Assessments and subsequent compliance plans for development in sensitive coastal areas, such as the cayes.

Read more about the economic contributions Belize’s Coastal Capital provides.

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