With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
The Government of Belize has announced that it is to create a marine reserve around Turneffe Atoll, part of the largest and most biodiverse coral reef system in the western hemisphere.
The Turneffe deal was brokered by the BLUE Marine Foundation (BLUE) in collaboration with the Belizean government and many local organisations (as well as local fishermen), and was made possible by funding from the Bertarelli Foundation. Additional financial support is also expected from the Oak Foundation and other donors.
Turneffe Atoll is important for many marine species, including the manatee. Credit: Craig Hayes/Turneffe Atoll Trust.
Speaking at the declaration ceremony, Lisel Alamilla (Belize’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development) explained what this declaration means for marine conservation in Belize:
“Turneffe Atoll is currently the largest unprotected section of Belize’s Barrier Reef, which is part of the second-largest reef system in the world and is home to an array of vulnerable marine wildlife including manatees, turtles, saltwater crocodiles and rare corals.
“Under the terms of this agreement, a new multiple-use marine reserve of 1,316 km2 will ensure that conservation priorities are balanced with those of the local fishing community, without jeopardising the significant contribution made by coral reef ecotourism to Belize’s national economy.
“We hope this collaboration with the Bertarelli Foundation, BLUE and Fauna & Flora International will create a new blueprint that will help other international governments conserve their own fragile marine environments.”
Belize is already home to a chain of marine protected areas that extend across 3,866 km2 of the country’s territorial waters. Until now, however, Turneffe Atoll has been the missing link in this chain.
Marine reserves are an effective way to protect delicate marine ecosystems. Credit: Craig Hayes/Turneffe Atoll Trust.
“Protecting Turneffe is about more than just the protection of the atoll’s coral reefs, mangroves and rare species from unsympathetic development and overfishing,” said Charles Clover, BLUE’s chairman. “This deal will enable Belize to get within reach of its target of protecting 20% of the seas within its jurisdiction – which makes it a beacon for marine protection around the world.”
BLUE exists to tackle what it sees as the ‘largest solvable problem on the planet’ – the crisis in our oceans.
Established by the team behind the award-winning documentary, The End of the Line, it aims to increase the proportion of global oceans under active and effective protection to 10% over the next decade.
A clip from The End of the Line. Video courtesy of BLUE Marine Foundation.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has provided support to BLUE since its inception, and fully backs its mission to increase the area of ocean under effective management – which is also one of the central pillars of FFI’s own marine programme.
In March 2012, FFI carried out a scoping study in Belize on behalf of BLUE, which aimed to better understand the progress made towards the designation of Turneffe Atoll as a marine reserve, and to identify any challenges or barriers faced in reaching this goal.
The study also investigated the views of major stakeholder groups on the new marine reserve, and explored opportunities to strengthen the existing plans for the reserve in terms of protection of important habitats, governance arrangements and managing fishing pressures.
From this, a detailed report was produced with recommendations for external support to help the Belizean stakeholders in the pursuit of their goal. FFI will continue to provide technical support to local partners for the effective establishment and operation of the marine reserve.
The beautiful Turneffe Atoll reef. Credit: Craig Hayes/Turneffe Atoll Trust.
“Turneffe Atoll is an exceptional place, and its designation as a marine reserve is a fantastic achievement,” said Nicola Frost, Marine Programme Manager at FFI. “Marine protected areas are one of the most effective ways to protect marine ecosystems and the species that depend on them, and this is another positive step towards safeguarding the future health of our oceans.”