Protecting Belize’s Coastal Treasures

by Larry Waight
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The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world and a critically important ecosystem. Belize has other important ecological treasures, including coastal lagoons, estuaries, and wetlands.

See These Treasures Up Close

Ambergris Caye-San Pedro streets

Ambergris Caye, Belize. Photo by Alamy

If you want to see these ecosystems working together, the island of Ambergris Caye is an excellent place to experience them. Its inland lagoons provide primary breeding places for sea grasses, mangroves, algae and other elements of a healthy marine environment. They also provide habitat for manatees, crocodiles, waterfowl and turtles. Belize is one of the few places where you can see some endangered species like sea turtles, manatees, Jabiru storks and red-footed booby birds. Its many protected areas have made Belize a safe haven for wildlife and sea animals.

Why Wetlands Matter

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The Jabiru Stork is Crooked Tree’s most famed resident. Photo by Francis Canto Jr.

The wetlands of Ambergris Caye protect the land by absorbing excess rainwater. The algae and sea grasses process toxins to keep them out of the water and away from the reef. This also helps protect the island from storm surges. Unfortunately, these precious ecosystems are under threat. According to the Reef Brief weekly report, “Land-based activities pose a major threat towards lagoons, estuaries and wetlands. Areas altered by housing development or agricultural expansion are impacted either directly by the destruction of mangroves and beaches, or indirectly with the introduction of agrochemicals into the sediment.”

Protecting Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye via Getty

Photo via GETTY Images

Ambergris Caye has its own heroes. One is Carina Paz, a native Belizean who was named Oceana Belize’s Wavemaker of the Year in October 2020. Oceana is a global organization dedicated to protecting oceans, and Paz was honored for her work as an advocate for Ambergris Caye’s natural resources. Paz has worked as a volunteer for the Belize Tourism Industry Association, Green Reef Belize and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. She has taken part in sea turtle research at the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve. Paz has been a speaker and panelist at major gatherings related to climate change and activism.

Related: Oceana’s Ocean Hero Awards Goes Virtual 

Other organizations have also spoken up for the environment. Founded in 1996, Green Reef Belize is dedicated to protecting the Belize Barrier Reef, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and other important conservation areas on the island. As Belize’s popularity grows, pressure to increase development on Ambergris Caye will intensify. We can only hope the government resists that pressure and continues to protect Belize’s coastal treasures.

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