CNT Features Biologist Lisa Carne and Fragments of Hope

by Khaila Gentle

Fragments of Hope – the story of this non profit organization making waves in Belize goes back a couple decades. And alongside that story lies years of work to preserve one of Belize’s greatest and most treasured assets.  Described as an example of reef restoration done right, the team at Fragments of Hope is dedicated to restoring Belize’s coral reel habitats.

Today, Fragments of Hope is a community led organization. But the road to becoming such an impactful group began back in 1997 when one recently graduated biologist first visited Placencia in southern Belize. Later, in 2001, after Hurricane Iris had devastated Belize’s reefs, that same biologist realized she wanted to try and plant coral.

Read an excerpt of Conde Nast Traveler’s feature on biologist Lisa Carne below

Meet the Woman Ensuring the Coral Reefs of Belize Don’t Just Survive, But Thrive

Biologist Lisa Carne has dedicated her career to regenerating Belize’s coral reefs.

Laughing Bird Caye. Image by Kevin Quischan Photography.

When biologist Lisa Carne walked out onto a rickety dock in Placencia for the first time in 1994, laying eyes on a reef ecosystem abundant with elkhorn coral, lobsters, parrotfish, manta rays, and dolphins, she knew she’d found her place. She’d arrived at the small village in southern Belize by hitchhiking to work with the Smithsonian Institute mapping the shallow reefs in the Pelican Cayes. The job was only supposed to be a short-term gig lasting a few months, but Carne ended up finding her life’s passion and moving to Belize for good.

A short time later, Carne founded what would become one of the world’s most successful coral regeneration programs ever: Fragments of Hope, a nonprofit organization based in Placencia. So far, the group has successfully replanted more than 86,000 corals at Laughing Bird Caye alone and more than 160,000 corals nationwide in over seven different marine protected areas, according to Carne.

Today, a proper paved road makes it easier to access this half-mile wide spit of land hugged by crystal water, mangrove, and vibrant coral, but the rickety dock where it all began for Carne remains, as does Miss Lydia’s Guesthouse, where she stayed in her early days in Belize. There are now, however, luxe coastal resorts fronting the Caribbean and visitors sipping rum and pineapple cocktails under the swaying palms. For all this land-based beauty to survive, Carne contends, Belize must have healthy coral. “Reefs are connected to the land, and poor land practices affect the reef. Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature.”

The Lightbulb Moment

Carne’s lightbulb moment arrived when she found a broken piece of elkhorn coral and wondered if she could replant it. She found scientists replanting coral fragments in Florida and Puerto Rico, all of whom shared their techniques with her, which she adapted for the shallow Placencia reefs. She eventually secured research grants and finally, in 2009, Carne seeded multiple coral nurseries near Laughing Bird Caye, a protected no-take (meaning no fishing) marine sanctuary.

The Belizean team’s work has been replicated with success at other Caribbean islands and beyond. (Credit: Fragments of Hope)

Carne is quick to say that she didn’t make this community, but she has contributed to it, training dozens of local volunteers to rewild the reefs with adaptive strong coral that might survive in a rising warmer sea. “The reef was not built overnight,” she says. “We’re just trying to accelerate natural adaptation. We need practical solutions to thrive.”


This article was adapted from Conde Nast Traveler’s article “Meet the Woman Ensuring the Coral Reefs of Belize Don’t Just Survive, But Thrive”. You can read the CNT Feature, written by ,  in its entirety here

All photos courtesy of Fragments of Hope unless otherwise stated. 

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