Smart Technology: Withstanding the Test of Time in Belize

By Deseree Cain Arzu
July 31, 2018

[Note: a version of this story originally ran in the Belize Reporter.]

Six years ago, Marine Protected Areas managers in Belize tested and gave the nod of approval for use of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, SMART in our country. The tool, originally developed for terrestrial monitoring, helps in collecting important Protected Areas enforcement and monitoring data that can steer management and legislative decisions for conservation and environmental sustainability.

MPA managers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, and its partners working in the African landscape, began to develop what is now known as SMART, many years ago, to help them track their efforts as they manage the various protected areas. However, it was not until 2012, when SMART evolved into a tool that is now being used to monitor the marine protected areas.

According to WCS’s Technical Co-ordinator, Sustainable Fisheries, Julio Maaz, who works with fishing communities in planning and development as well with NGO’s and Government departments in the implementation of fisheries policy, laws and regulations, SMART helps both government and non-government PA managers to improve enforcement and compliance management of these protected areas.

The SMART tool allows managers to see the trends in the types of data they are collecting. And now they are able to dictate, within the MPA, the policies that need to be improved upon, changed, or maintained.

In 2012, SMART 1.1 was made available. “We saw the potential of SMART helping us to solve a problem here in Belize. At that time we were doing the first enforcement assessment; and in that assessment we noted that conducting an enforcement assessment in Belize was difficult because our partners had information in various forms and in most cases they did not match up, which made it very difficult to analyse,” Maaz noted.

A recommendation was made to standardize a data set for enforcement; and Maaz explained that when SMART 1.0 was launched, it was an opportunity to do just that. However, SMART was not developed for the marine environment. This prompted the creation of data models that could be used in the marine environment.

“In 2012, we did our first launch with the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve using the traditional GPS and paper form. It made the job of data collection easier because in addition to just the paper, we had an idea of what the staff did. You are able to combine it with the GPS points to tell you, spatially, where the patrols are going. And, because the database was organized, you were able to enter information faster into the data system. So your reports that, normally, would take a week to generate, is now easier to generate using smart,” Maaz explained.

Shortly after, a second iteration of SMART was developed. This version evolved into using cyber-trackers, which now allowed managers to use mobile devices for data collection. Paper forms were now digitized and combined with mobile devices. It allowed managers to collect and download, on their computers, data in real time.

“I believe that has been the major step in allowing us to roll out SMART at the national level,” Maaz said.

SMART is now being used by Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development, SACD; Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve; Caye Caulker Marine Reserve; the Conservation Compliance Units of Punta Gorda and Belize City; Belize Audubon Society, BAS; Turneffe Atoll for Sustainability Association, TASA; South Water Caye Marine Reserve; Glovers Reef Marine Reserve; Southern Environmental Association, SEA (which manages Laughing Bird Caye and Gladden Spit); Port Honduras Marine Reserve; and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. Meanwhile, it has been tested at Hol Chan Marine Reserve but not yet fully utilized. Additionally, the Forest Department is using SMART at all five (5) of its ranges; as well as Program for Belize; Friends for Conservation and Development, FCD; Ya’axche Conservation Trust, YCT; Toledo Institute for Development and Education, TIDE; and the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative, CSFI.

WCS’s role is to determine what technological advances are available, what technological solutions exist that we can adapt for use in monitoring and managing of protected areas.

The SMART tool allows managers to see the trends in the types of data they are collecting. And now they are able to dictate, within the MPA, the policies that need to be improved upon, changed, or maintained.

TASA’s Executive Director, Valdemar Andrade told us that SMART “is working.”

TASA has been using the tool consistently since February 2018, and continue to make adjustments to fit the various changing scenarios, such as monitoring of sailboats; and the soon-to-be introduction of drone patrols. “It works for us! Beyond the patrols, it also helps us to understand our efficiencies, or lack thereof – when, how long, and how much. That’s what’s important for us as it relates to management demands,” Andrade explained.

Maaz explained that there are several reasons why SMART is sustainable. Among these, he noted that:

1. It is very easy to train staff to do the data collection using their phone. We don’t just use the sophisticated Garmin devices. We are using some of the medium to high-end phones like the Samsung S5 and S6; the regular tablets. It is an App that we generate using SMART and Cybertracker and it is installed into mobile devices.

2. It is sustainable. When an MPA manager does traditional budgeting for their conservation areas, they generally include funds for GPS, a camera, paper, and writing material for their staff — as well as batteries that have to be replaced within a year. That easily puts you above $1000 Belize dollars. Compare that to a phone that is adaptable to SMART, which only costs $600. That’s a significant savings.

3. In addition, because you are downloading your data daily, what SMART does is allow you not to lose information. This is important because you could use that data to show your donors/sponsors the work you are doing, including concrete data, thereby showing transparency and accountability in the process. It then allows you to conduct better fundraising efforts for your MPA. That makes adds to the SMART’s sustainabilty.

4. As technology evolves, the cost reduces over time, the older versions become cheaper. This makes it sustainable.

Early this year, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change, Dr. Omar Figueroa, endorsed use of the SMART tool in Belize, saying “My Ministry recognizes the value of SMART as a management tool, especially now since we must make the best use of our resources and seek effective and efficient delivery of our mandate. It gives me great pleasure to say that today my Ministry is endorsing SMART for use at the national level by the Fisheries and Forest Department and I also encourage our NGO partners to make the best use of the technology”.

Donors such as Oceans 5, the Summit Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, UK’s Darwin Initiative, US Department of State, OAK Foundation, GIZ, WCS-NY, and Moore Foundation have been instrumental in providing training and technical support to marine and terrestrial rangers across Belize.

As it relates to the future of SMART in Belize and the region, Maaz noted that WCS’s role is to determine what technological advances are available, what technological solutions exist that we can adapt for use in monitoring and managing of protected areas; and remaining alert in order to develop new ideas that can help managers to do their jobs efficiently.

Deseree Cain Arzu is a conservationist with the Belize Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Originally published at on July 31, 2018.



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