Hol Chan staff participates in Rapid Response Reef Restoration Training held in Ambergris Caye
Friday, August 6th, 2021
Staff from the Hol Chan Marine Reserve participated in a course to train first responders how to develop theoretical and practical skills, knowledge and attitudes and join response brigades in the event of a major storm or disturbance to Belize’s barrier reef. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the training was held in two phases from July 26th to the 30th, with participants from Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. Held in San Pedro, the second part of the course is scheduled from 23rd to 27th August. However, three days before these dates, there will be a workshop to train participants to become trainers.
The initiative is part of implementing an early warning and rapid response program led by the Belize Fisheries Department, Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR), Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, and The Nature Conservancy and funded by the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MARFUND). Coral reefs play an essential role in protecting coastlines from the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes by reducing exposure to strong waves, flooding, and erosion. Hurricanes can cause considerable damage to corals. Dislodgement and displacement of massive boulder colonies, fragmentation of branched corals, and sometimes structural fractures are some of the cyclone effects on the reef. Without intervention, affected organisms can be moved continuously by the current and become overturned or buried by sediment, leading to severe tissue loss or abrasions that prevent their reattachment and recovery.
During the course, participants learned the skills and techniques needed to respond and address the impacts quickly and effectively to reduce the risk of subsequent damage to affected corals. Some of the skills learned included rapid damage assessments, the use of lift bags to move heavy things around, using a pneumatic drill underwater, and cementing things back in place. The program is part of a larger pilot project to build capacity within communities and regionally to respond to emergencies caused by storms. In Belize, it is implemented within two marine protected areas, HCMR, and Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. MARFUND is also piloting a parametric insurance model to insure sections of the reef within these two marine protected areas. It is envisioned that the rescue brigades formed through this training will be the core group to respond if there is a significant incident threatening the reef.
The hope is that similar brigades will be created at the national level in other parts of the country. In Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, the barrier reef system is the community’s bread and butter, and anything that would negatively impact their livelihood is a cause for concern.
The idea of the training started with the call for applicants in early 2020, before the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, the first portion of the course was held virtually.
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