The Central American country of Belize packs a big punch for its size. Despite being less than 23,000 km2, it holds a globally significant diversity of plants and animals. This is partly due to almost 60% of the country being forested – an unusual trait for this region.
The Maya Golden Landscape in Toledo District, southern Belize, forms one of Central America’s last unbroken stretches of broadleaf forest. The forests extend all the way from the Maya Mountains in the west to the Caribbean Sea, forming a key link in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
The area hosts one of the world’s richest assemblages of biodiversity, with species as varied as the harpy eagle, Baird’s tapir, jaguar, howler monkey and scarlet macaw all found in this critical habitat along with a number of species found nowhere else on Earth, including the Maya Mountains frog and the Maya knobtail dragonfly.
The forests also play a crucial role in watershed protection. They preserve the quality of the water draining onto the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and provide water for local communities and large agricultural areas on the coastal plain.
Offshore, the startlingly turquoise waters support a great diversity of marine life from dolphins, whales and colourful tropical reef fishes to a number of shark and ray species. Belize is home to the world’s second-largest barrier reef and its fisheries play a vital role in supporting local livelihoods for people living along the coastline.
Belize’s natural environment is coming under increasing pressure, however, with the expansion of commercial citrus and banana farms and inappropriate agricultural practices, such as burning, posing a particular threat to the Maya Golden Landscape. Wildlife hunting and extraction of timber and xaté (a type of palm used in the floral industry) are also endangering the area’s plant and animal diversity.
Meanwhile, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, coupled with unsustainable coastal developments, are also threatening Belize’s marine environment.