Earth’s resources are not limitless, they have breaking points and natural properties can be threatened by a multitude of factors that can leave the area in ruins. The Belize Barrier Reef is such an area. It is a breathtaking natural system, home to a diverse array of life forms, which is being threatened by mankind and environmental factors. Conservation efforts can be put into action to ensure the continued existence of this site, but those efforts require financial backing. With proper monetary support, the increased conservation efforts can reverse the destruction on the reef. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is a rich and diverse ecosystem that can be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. * The coastal area of Belize is the location of The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. The reef is the largest of its kind within the northern hemisphere, stretching out over 200 miles along Belize’s coast. The reef contains many mangrove forests, large atolls, pristine lagoons, and approximately 450 sand cays.
Additionally, the reef is home to a plethora of marine life which both directly and indirectly impacts this ecosystem and the diverse life contained within. The preservation of this site is crucial due to the abundant threatened species that make their home in the reef. Specifically, there are nearly a thousand species that inhabit the reef such as the loggerhead, green, and hawksbill sea turtles, the largest population of manatees in the world, and the American marine crocodile. Additionally, the reef system is home to numerous types of coral, sharks, barracuda, dolphins, angelfish, and several species of birds. The aquatic and plant life of the reef react and prosper through their connections; the reef and the vegetation within provide shelter and food for this array of life that live within (UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 1992-2012). * With the abundant life forms that exist within the reef, it is imperative that it be protected, yet the reef system is in danger as a result of human interference and climate issues. Because the world is a giant ecosystem, human mistreatment has led to imbalances on a dramatic level, such as fluctuating climate.
This climate control issue is adversely affecting both the water level in the reef and the organisms within. Tropical storms have been an issue as well as they threaten the coast with tidal waves and erosion, however the reef and mangrove cays do offer significant protection to the areas further inland (Young, 2008). According to World Resources Institute (2008), “Coral reefs and mangroves are highly interconnected habitats, physically supporting each other and providing habitat for many species. For example, mangroves filter sediment and pollutants from coastal runoff, supporting the clean water favored by corals. Many species important to fisheries and tourism rely upon mangrove habitat for part of their life-cycle” (p. 2). * With the delicate balance of this ecosystem and all it offers, it would stand to reason that locals would do everything possible to preserve the reef, yet that is not the case. In fact, locals and tourists are threatening this precious ecosystem and could cause its decline.
Deforestation, oil drilling, and coastal development are all threats. In 2002 crude oil was discovered in Belize, igniting frenzy and attracting hundreds of prospectors. Additionally, the growing population and tourism industry has led to rapid development for both residential and commercial purposes (Young, 2008). “Over the last five decades, large-scale agriculture (citrus, bananas, sugar cane) and, more recently, large-scale aquaculture (shrimp and tilapia farming) have escalated at the expense of the forests. Coupled with rapid and increasing coastal development, illegal logging, and slash-and-burn agriculture, Belize is currently experiencing a deforestation rate that is twice that of Central America (2.3% vs. 1.2% annually)…” (Young, 2008, para. 4).
* Fortunately, others have realized the value of the reef system and have taken steps to protect it. “The preservation of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is critical to both its marine inhabitants and the local communities that depend on the site for their livelihoods” (Terracurve, 2009, para. 3). In 2009, the United Nation Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added the reef reserve system to their list of World Heritage in Danger sites. The UNESCO foundation hopes to spread the message that the Belize Reef System belongs to all people and its natural heritage and beauty should be protected (UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 1992-2012).
Conservation efforts have also been put into play to ensure this world heritage sites continued existence. The department of fishery in Belize has recognized the need to reform the national fisheries policy in an effort to control over fishing in the reefs, which is a substantial threat to the reef. Such reforms should help the over fished areas to rebuild, offer protection to the reefs and delicate coral, and add to the number of protected marine areas where fishing is not allowed (Wildlife Conservation Society, 2012). Conservation efforts for the Barrier Reef system still have a long way to go.
Local Belize communities and their inhabitants are one group that can do much good towards the conservation of this national treasure. However, in order for this to happen the locals need to be educated on conservation and its benefits and become invested in the reefs. Although this is a challenge do to the extreme poverty that exists within Belize and the citizens’ access to educational information. Poverty greatly increases the instances of environmental misuse because those affected typically have greater worries than environmental conservation. In order to implement a conservation plan that includes involvement from local citizens, there must also be efforts made to boost the socio-economic standing of the citizens. Long term preservation of the reef could be financially beneficial to the Belize economy and better the citizen’s socio-economic standings.
Additionally, allowing the citizens to work with the government officials towards making decisions concerning the reef will give them a sense of investment in the reef (Young, 2008). * Improving the socio-economic conditions in Belize and educating citizens is just a small step that can lead to more effective conservation efforts for the reef. That still leaves the issues of outside interference on the ecosystem such as oil drilling and deforestation. Although Belize has established a protection plan for certain land a sea areas, it is apparent that tighter restrictions are needed. In particular, oil drilling and deforestation are major issues that threaten the reef that should have increased restrictions placed on them. This will require increased monitoring and amendments to the protected area systems.
Additionally, the three management teams which oversee the protected areas appear to all have different ideas concerning best conservation practices. For that reason it would make sense to unify the groups, leaving only one division to oversee the protected areas and enforce regulations (Meerman, 2004). Drastic measures to preserve the reef system need to be taken now, before it is too late. If conservation efforts are not increased, coral health and fish populations will continue to decline and the mangrove cays will face extinction. As it stands, the shark population in the reef waters has already declined, which is an indicator as to the reefs health. The absence of sharks in the reefs allows the populations of barracudas and rays to increase and take control. These second rate predators can have damaging effects on the reefs if there numbers are not controlled, such as limiting the populations of parrot fish, conch, and lobster. Lobster is important in Belize as it is one of the country’s major exports.
Parrot fish play an integral role in the reef as well, they are plant eaters and there food source is algae. Without parrot fish and other plant eating fish eating the algae and keeping it in check, it will spread until the reef is consumed by it, which could be irreversible (Kryt & Ward, 2008). The Barrier Reef Reserve System off of the coast of Belize is breathtaking example of nature’s beauty. Additionally, it is a precious natural system teaming with diverse life forms. Although climate and human interference have caused the reef to become an endangered site, it is not too late to reverse the effects of mistreatment. Education on conservation efforts and increased restrictions can greatly increase the reefs chances of survival for generations to come. Without these efforts, a precious natural resource will be lost, and the reef is most certainly worth preserving.
* Kryt, K. & Ward, J. (2008). Trouble in paradise-the struggle to save Belize’s Glover’s atoll. Retrieved from http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/trouble_in_paradise/ Meerman, J.C. (2004). Protected Areas Policy and System Plan: Protected Area System Assessment & Analysis. Retrieved from http://biological-diversity.info/NPAPSP.htm * Terracurve. (2009). Help protect the Belize Barrier Reef with the support of the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.terracurve.com/2009/07/01/help-protect-the-belize-barrier-reef-with-the-support-of-the-united-nations/ * UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (1992-2012). Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Retrieved from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/764 Wildlife Conservation Society. (2012).