Note: This blog is a letter written to MAP regarding the report:
TECHNICAL REPORT: IDENTIFICATION OF THREATENED AND RESILIENT MANGROVES IN THE BELIZE BARRIER REEF SYSTEM
EMIL A. CHERRINGTON*, BETZY E. HERNANDEZ, NOEL A. TREJOS, OCTAVIO A. SMITH, ERIC R. ANDERSON, AFRICA I. FLORES, AND BESSY C. GARCIA
Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC)
Note in response to this report: In regards to this report, a 2% loss of mangrove in Belize seems slightly low but is probably in the right ball park. I wonder how some of the places that lost their mangroves long ago where handled in these estimates but I suspect the differences would not be great enough to warrant any objection to the the number in this report.
This estimate, however, does not tell the whole story.
Belize definitely has some advantages in mangrove conservation. They have strong national laws to reduce and prevent their removal. Shrimp farms there also have not used techniques that remove mangrove habitat. Perhaps most importantly, the population density of Belize is quite low and the human footprint along the coast is still somewhat limited. Development, however, is moving ahead rapidly and much of that is concentrated in housing and resort developments along the coast. That situation is rapidly evolving.
Concerns about Belizean mangrove conservation revolve more around the decisions made on a case by case basis as develoment proceeds. Given that 70% of the Belizean coastline is owned by foreign interests with direct interests in development, the fact that only 2% of mangroves have been removed so far is not especially reassuring.
Many developers in Belize still reflexively clear land down to the shoreline, even though this activity often results in immediate loss of portions of their property to erosion. It is also concerning that mangrove removal regulations have not always been enforced and until this recent global recession, development pressure had been increasing at a rapid pace. Developments built on fill on sites at or even below sea level are still routinely approved with devestating effects on the mangrove habitats as well as surrounding seagrass meadows that are dredged. In an era of rising sea levels and increasing storm intensity, this is a worrying trend.
Mangrove conservation efforts in Belize have focused on strengthening enforcement and legislation, raising awareness of the value of mangroves as habitat, pointing out positive examples of development that have embraced the preservation of mangrove habitat, and promoting private reserves and other conservation and restoration measures.
If you have not already done so, please visit, join and provide input to the Belizean Mangrove Conservation Network on Facebook. Just now reaching 400 members, the BMCN focuses on positive, proactive measures to conserve Belizean mangroves, pointing out the value of this critical habitat and highlighting efforts to help it remain an intergral part of both the natural and human-dominated landscapes of coastal Belize. Belize is a place where there have been substantive accomplishments in mangrove conservation. With continued focus on this vital resource, there is reason to believe those accomplishments can carry forward into the future.
Timothy B. Smith
Ecology, Fisheries, Education