The 2016 Mesoamerican Eco-Audit launched
Monday, March 21st, 2016
The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. However, the health of the 180- mile long reef structure that runs parallel to the coast of Belize has been declining year after year. Even though different environmental agencies in Belize work hard for the preservation of this World Heritage Site, its condition continues to deteriorate annually.
According to Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, an eco-audit is on-going to determine how far Belize is in respect to a number of reef management measures. The launching of the audit took place on Thursday, March 10th at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City. At the end of the audit, a report will be issued in which an update will be provided regarding the condition of the entire Mesoamerican Reef, of which 80% lies within Belize.
In the 2015 Mesoamerican Eco-Audit report, Belize was given a red card, as the state of its reef was declared very poor. However, the Reef Health Index dubbed the reef as fair. At the start of the audit for 2016, environmentalists have stated that Belize is ahead in the management of the ecosystem and marine protection. This gives an optimistic expectation that the results of the audit this year might be very positive.
“The auditing Process”
The Audit is a study that appraises the collective efforts within the region toward protecting and sustainably managing the coral reefs. It also provides evidence as to which recommended management actions have been carried out in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
According to Roberto Pott, Belize’s Coordinator for Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, Belize has been a trendsetter. “We have been able to get regulations in place in preparation for management of our resources and creating the framework for better management,” said Pott. He added that a network of marine protected areas have been put in place. This in return puts in place management on the ground, in the water and increases the enforcement presence.
Currently, Belize has the highest score of 68%, and has been implementing several management actions in the past in order to improve the Marine Protected Areas and address global issues as well. Pott further explained that his organization is working to encourage sustainable programs in Belize. “We are starting to look at seafood programs that are looking at sustainable fishing and at the same time, establish standards for marine recreational providers. These would be for the interest of the industry, but it will also benefit our resources, especially our reef,” ended Pott.
Additionally, Dr. Melanie McField, Regional Coordinator of Healthy Reef, mentioned that the eco-audit is a systematic and transparent evaluation. It covers and analyses the implementation of a number of recommended reef management actions. “We work on developing a common voice, doing regular reporting. The report card enhances collaboration with all of us,” she said. “Together we use the results of the eco-health report card to inform if our management actions are working.”
Mcfield also indicated that, around the world, groups are starting to measure the health of their ecosystems. But they are not really measuring how much they are doing in a collaborative or even a standardized way. “Their management actions need to be evaluated on a larger scale in order to see if it’s because of their actions in the ecosystem are improving or not,” stated McField.
As part of the continuing awareness campaign to preserve the reef, Oceana headed the annual 2016 Reef Week. The long-week event was held under the theme “Not just my reef, it’s our way of life,” from March 6th to March 13th with activities across the country. This yearly event’s sole purpose is to bring Belizean conservation communities together and celebrate the significant economic and cultural benefits of the Belize Barrier Reef.
Even though the activities were not centred on Ambergris Caye as in previous years, Reef Week was still celebrated on the island. On Monday, March 7th, Mar Alliance hosted the event “Kids Meet Sharks.” During the event, standard five and six students from primary schools in Belize City had the opportunity to visit the Shark Ray Alley at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Many of the students had never seen a shark and where thrilled with the experience. Then on Friday, March 11th, a movie night was organized at The Truck Stop restaurant north of San Pedro Town. The popular documentary series of “Blue Seas of Life” was shown. The audience in attendance was delighted with such an informative film.
The 2016 Mesoamerican Eco-Audit report for Belize will be revealed early in May of this year. According to experts in the topic, Belize has a high chance of getting a good report. The optimism comes in view of a network of sixty organizations that are a part of a partnership in conservation practices currently in the country.
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