Belize Article

Harborne, AR, McField, MD, Delaney, EK. (2000). Belize . 501-516.

cited authors

  • Harborne, AR; McField, MD; Delaney, EK


  • Belize, Central America, contains some of the most important marine resources in the Caribbean including a 220 km barrier reef, shelf lagoon, three offshore atolls and extensive mangroves. The distribution of benthic communities within these systems is influenced by a range of factors, such as depth, wave action and underlying geology, but there are limited effects from annual seasonal variation. More important are stochastic events including coral bleaching from increased seawater temperatures and solar irradiance, and hurricanes. Although the Belize Barrier Reef is known to be part of a highly linked 'Meso-American' reef system which extends into Mexico and Honduras, national and international sources and sinks of larvae to benthic and pelagic communities are poorly understood. Entrained larvae and pollutants are transferred via currents and must be managed on a regional scale. National problems stem from over-fishing, sedimentation, agricultural run-off and urban pollution, particularly sewage. The effects from these are still small compared to many areas of the Caribbean, largely because of a low population density and distance from the mainland to the reefs. However, the population and tourism industry are growing as is a desire to diversify the economy. These factors must be carefully managed to avoid losses in other economically productive areas, such as the major fisheries (lobster and conch) which are already presumed to be over-exploited. Similarly, agricultural practices have almost certainly caused damage to some near-shore lagoons by sedimentation and contamination. Mangroves have been lost during the expansion of coastal zone towns, and effects from aquaculture, oil exploration, coastal development and diver damage may increase significantly in the future. Tourism and fisheries are two of Belize's biggest industries, and there are a range of initiatives to protect the coastal zone. These efforts, recently consolidated within a Coastal Zone Management Authority, have established adequate environmental legislation but enforcement and monitoring remain limited. A series of marine protected areas has been devised, and some have been given World Heritage status, but there is limited monitoring of the efficacy of these reserves. A holistic approach has been possible because Belize is a small country, impacts are limited and management measures are both relatively easy to implement and assisted by national and regional funding agencies.

publication date

  • January 1, 2000

start page

  • 501

end page

  • 516