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Protected Areas Policy and System Plan:
Protected Area System Assessment & Analysis

J.C. Meerman - Lead Consultant

June 30, 2004

excerpt of synthesis report (1)


Belize has a high proportion of its land and sea resources protected under a variety of management structures. This system of Protected Areas has evolved over several decades, reflecting changing conservation attitudes, as has the scope and direction of the various agencies responsible for its administration. However, Belize now finds itself at a crossroads: the system represents a wealth of valuable resources, yet, in the face of calls for additional reserves, how should it be developed, and how should it be integrated more effectively with the national economy?

In 2004 a “Work Plan” has been prepared (Meerman et al, 2004) for the specific purpose of guiding the formulation of a comprehensive and rational National Protected Areas Policy and System Plan (NPAPSP). The fundamental requirements of an inclusive and viable Policy and Systems Plan are set out as five ‘Results’ – these are the intended goals of the planning process.

One deliverable of this NPAPSP ia a "Protected Areas System Assessment & Analysis" which focuses on the analysis of the current status of the Protected Areas System, and on opportunities for its optimization.

To facilitate the Protected Areas System Assessment and Analysis (Result 2), the Project Coordinator implemented a “consortium” of NGO’s and Government Departments active in Conservation Management in Belize. In addition, a lead consultant (Jan Meerman) was hired.

Consortium members for this project included: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Programme for Belize (PfB), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The Coastal Zone Management Authority Institute (CZMAI), The National Protected Areas Systems Plan Project (NPAPSP), The Protected Areas Systems Plan Office (PASPO), Belize Audubon Society (BAS), The Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources, The Forest Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT).

The magnitude of the assessment and analysis led to a large amount of output. The nature of the results produced was often very dissimilar making it very difficult to incorporate them into one report. In many cases the results present stand alone products. During the public consultations it became clear that most stakeholders had difficulty in seeing the relation between the various components of the total output.
For these reasons it was decided not to present the result 2 output as a single report but rather as a number of stand alone principal reports. These reports were produced as electronic documents only (mostly pdf files, click to download):

Principal Reports:
Final National Protected Areas System Plan Report (systhesis of all sub-consultancy reports: Meerman & Wilson, Nov 2005. pdf 2,554 kb.

Specific to the P. A. analysis:

1: Protected Areas Analysis
2: Gap Analysis and Gap analysis Powerpoint presentation (3,344kb)
3: Site Scoring System
4: MARXAN analysis

Location of the principal under-represented ecosystems within the current Protected Areas System. Note that this map does not indicate areas to be preserved!


MARXAN Analysis "seeded" version. See separate MARXAN report for details. Also compare with gap analysis map.

These principal reports make use of a number of definitions and peripheral documents most of which had to be produced specifically for this purpose. Since these peripheral documents do not constitute final deliverables, these documents are included as “support documents”:

Support Documents:
1: Human Footprint
2: Report on Ecoregional Planning Initiative
3: Report on Ecoregional Planning Workshop
4: National List of Critical Species

The total of all these documents being a varied amount of information, all to be used as TOOLS during the implementation phase of the NPAPSP. Although all of the documents are stand-alone products, none of them should be used in isolation during the implementation phase.
In order to show potential ways in which to use these separate outputs, a number of “case studies” was prepared. These case studies include one study for a particular protected area and surroundings, three species case studies and two non-biodiversity related case studies. It is hoped that these case studies will be helpful during the implementation phase:

Case Studies:
1: Case study: Gragra Lagoon National Park
2: Case study: Jaguar
3: Case study: Jabiru Stork
4: Case study: Manatee
5: Case study: Forestry
6: Case study: Mineral exploration and mining

The goal of this assessment and analysis was to identify gaps in the protected areas system of Belize and to develop a tool that will guide the rationalization of the Protected Areas System. As such, gaps were identified in the various stand alone reports. While the current assessment and analysis was not intended to provide a design for such a rationalization. The combined results of the various reports lead to a number of conclusions (in no particular order):

• While Belize considers itself as having an extensive Protected Areas System, the reality is that most of that is for the management of resource use and extraction. With the current needs and expectations of the nation of Belize, such a classification of “Management” rather than “Conservation” per se, is probably a more realistic one. A revised “Protected Areas System” should focus on management of its territory for the use that it is best suited for.

• Using the results of the current analysis, it will be possible to re-designate areas for improved management. This management can be for Extractive uses, areas important for economic species, Tourism, Watershed, Soil, Historical Sites, Special Features etc. etc.

• Re-designing the Protected Areas System should lead to a merging of current protected areas reducing the current number of 115 “management units”. In many cases they could be lumped. Examples are Marine Reserves where Spawning Aggregations overlap with other Marine Reserve categories, or the Maya Mountain Block which should be made into one Protected Area with different management zonations based on actual attributes rather than on ancient boundaries.

• The current 115 management units are managed by three departments with a totally different outlook but also with considerably overlap and gray areas. This inefficiency would best be resolved by creating one single agency responsible for all areas of natural resource management.

• The Protected Area Scoring system that was developed has shown to be a very useful tool in ranking existing protected areas according to importance based on a number of criteria. The prioritization of the Protected Areas system in this way provides a credible way to prioritize resource allocation, both human and financial. It also pinpoints shortcomings in management activities. In this system some obviously important protected areas come out very low due to the (virtual) absence of formalized management. Good examples of these are the bird sanctuaries. Improving the management should improve this situation. As such this scoring system can be a very important tool in re-evaluation performance of protected areas. In other words it would be a useful monitoring tool.

• The analysis shows many gaps outside currently existing protected areas. It will not be possible or even desirable to transfer all these lands into some protected area category. Many of the identified gaps have current uses and most of them will be on private land. Creating management regimes, in conjunction with private landowners where needed, may in many cases be sufficient. The Belize Association of Private Protected Areas could potentially fill an important role in relieving GOB of some of the conservation “burden”. In addition the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations as imposed by the Department of the Environment should be seen as an important tool in the zoning and sustainable use of private lands.

• Not all of the conservation features that were analyzed are currently covered by the national protected areas system. There are gaps containing whole ecosystems and there are gaps containing critical species (see Jabiru case study). These gaps can not necessarily be filled by traditional protected area initiatives but rather will need involvement of private landowners.

• The combination of the tools produced during this consultancy is useful in evaluating current protected areas, while giving indications for ecological optimization of these protected areas. Particularly the MARXAN analysis is helpful in defining the issues but further analysis is required for decisions on a site-specific level.

• Currently some of the top protected areas are Privately Managed Reserves. This illustrates the important role of Private Protected Areas Management. This role can be expanded in order to fill the gaps identified during this analysis.

• There appears to exist a need for community managed conservation areas (Community Baboon Sanctuary, Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayflower National Park, Rio Blanco National Park etc.). The main desire of these communities is to have an area of “their own” which they can exploit for tourism and recreation or even resource extraction. Principal concern seems to be that many communities feel the need to save certain areas from the ravages of development. In essence, many of the existing or prospective private protected areas come forth out the same perceived need. Aguacate Lagoon near Spanish Lookout is a good example in this aspect. Many of these current and future initiatives may not be within areas currently identified priority areas. Nevertheless, such initiatives still need encouragement and support, but some new management category may need to be created to accommodate such initiatives.

• Biological Corridors can be identified in the MARXAN analysis. Many are also very weak as shown in the analysis. Largely these potential biological corridors traverse private land. Incentives for landowners to maintain these corridors are needed. Again, the Belize Association of Private Protected Areas could potentially assist GOB in this important endeavor.

• Some areas that were identified as a true or relative priority warrant investigation. Most likely, exact data for such area are lacking. Simple Rapid Ecological Assessments could determine the real importance of such areas. When combined with a social assessment, a best management regime could be identified as well in case the area did warrant some form of conservation management.

• The deep water ecosystems of Belize have never received any attention, consequently, little is known about them and the software could not map real areas of high importance. More data is clearly needed here. Potential sources of data include whale shark research and deep water sports fishermen. Otherwise there is considerable freedom here to position needed management areas.

• In general there is still a lack of data that would help conservation planning and management. There is an urgent need for a spatially enabled species database.

• Lack of (geo-referenced) data was an issue throughout the consultancy. While true over the board, it is particularly an issue in the marine sector. The amount of quality information that was made available for analysis was very unsatisfactory. Efforts should be undertaken to remedy this situation.

• Monitoring of biodiversity is still in its infancy, yet it will be important for the future management of conservation management areas. Sometimes monitoring is complex but sometimes it can be very simple. The apparent absence of monitoring data for bird nesting colonies was noted. Yet, this would be a relatively easy task. There exist good monitoring mechanisms for the marine realm but there is a need for a centralized monitoring database in the terrestrial realm.

• The “forestry case study” shows that currently Forest Reserves are not necessarily where the timber resources appear to be located. This first analysis indicates that possibly, some sections of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Nature Reserve, may need to be re-zoned for the benefit of extractive use. Meanwhile, some sections of current Forest Reserves might be in need for a re-designation towards a management area with a stricter conservation mandate.

• Belize has two large, unified, blocks of intact habitat (Western Orange Walk and Chiquibul-Maya Mountains) which are likely to be the last strongholds for species that need large, undisturbed areas for their long term survival (see Jaguar Case Study), but even these areas may not be totally sufficient if biological corridors can not be maintained.

• The management of the Manatee, a very important species for Belizean conservation efforts, is better served by the current situation (as reflected in the “locked” MARXAN analysis and assuming proper management of all the protected areas involved) than by the solution suggested by the seeded MARXAN analysis. This example shows the need for an individual approach of conservation features rather than a “one size fits all” solution.

• Conservation targets for most marine conservation features were set very low, even below accepted international standards. It is advisable to review these targets and potentially revisit the analysis using such modified targets.


A full set of results and data can be requested from:

Protected Areas Systems Project Office

Protected Areas Conservation Trust


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