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
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
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):
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:
Analysis and Gap analysis Powerpoint
Site Scoring System
Location of the principal
under-represented ecosystems within the current Protected
Areas System. Note that this map does not indicate areas
to be preserved!
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”:
on Ecoregional Planning Initiative
on Ecoregional Planning Workshop
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
study: Gragra Lagoon National Park
study: Jabiru Stork
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
• 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
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
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
Areas Systems Project Office
Areas Conservation Trust
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