Belize gives hope that global trend of mangroves loss can be reversed

Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist and Climate Change Officer at WWF Mesoamerica/Guatemala and WWF field office

Mangroves provide many important services to society including protecting shorelines from storm waves and winds, and serving as nursery grounds and home to many marine and fish species. But perhaps, the most crucial role of mangroves is that they protect vulnerable coastlines from strong waves by holding the soil together which prevents coastal erosion and sediment falling into the sea. Too much sediment can kill coral reefs because reefs require clean waters to survive.

In Belize, mangroves border much of the coastline and cayes of the country, and form a vital part of the natural ecosystem. Like in many other places all over the world, Belizean mangroves, are greatly threatened by coastal development including hotels and resorts constructions. This continues to pose a threat to the integrity and extent of mangrove cover, and the contribution they provide in maintaining the outstanding universal value of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site.

In contrast to the global trend of continuing destruction of mangroves, recent changes in Belize policies give hope that the value of mangroves for nature and people can be appreciated and inspire action. In recent months, the government of Belize has taken steps to help slow the loss of mangroves by revising the country’s national mangrove regulations to better protect them and the services they provide.

This is great news, as the new legislation is an important step toward protecting the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which is currently threatened by unsustainable land development practices. WWF worked alongside other experts on a government led task force to revise the country’s national mangrove regulations, which has since been adopted by Belize’s Cabinet. The new measures announced by the government include robust screening of land clearance proposed within mangrove landscapes including proximity to ecologically sensitive and protected areas, higher application and permitting fees, a surety bond per acre for permits granted in mangrove priority areas, higher fees for breaking the regulations, and a strong focus on restoration or planting of mangroves in degraded areas.

This has been a long time coming and something WWF has been greatly advocating for through its Together, Saving Our Shared Heritage Campaign supported by more than 450,000 people from all over the world. This measure is one of the key steps that encouraged the World Heritage Centre to recommend the removal of Belize World Heritage site from the List of World Heritage in Danger, and we’ll know the outcome of this decision later this month. (Update: Belize Barrier Reef removed from in danger list)

Additional policies crucial to the effective protection of mangroves are still needed. To fully realize its mangrove commitments, the government of Belize still needs to implement a ban on public land sale within the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site to ensure that a healthy level of mangroves is maintained.