Laughing Bird Caye, BelizeLaughing Bird Caye, BelizeBelize City, Belize - April 5, 2019: In a bold step for the sustainability of its fisheries and the world’s second largest barrier reef, the government of Belize has approved a plan to set aside 10% of its territorial waters as no-take marine protected areas (MPAs), tripling the size of its existing zones.

This major expansion of the MPAs is coupled with the Caribbean nation’s move to adopt a national secure fishing rights program in 2016. It represents the culmination of more than six years of work led by The National Conservation Zone Expansion Steering Committee, which includes the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, Belize Federation of Fishers, Belize Fishermen Cooperatives, Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, Belize Forest Department, National Protected Areas Secretariat, Belize Coast Guard, Healthy Reefs Initiative, Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations and Toledo Institute for Development.

“This is a truly remarkable accomplishment that is setting an example for the rest of the world to follow,” said Katie McGinty, Senior Vice President for Oceans at Environmental Defense Fund. “The combination of significant marine protected areas and managed access for fishers will help protect some of the most important ecosystems in the world while ensuring sustainable fishing can continue to provide food, nutrition and livelihoods to the thousands of Belizeans who rely on these valuable natural resources.”

Over more than six years, an international collaboration of scientists led by Belizeans worked to identify zones that can protect marine habitat and allow for recovery of degraded ecosystems, while at the same time helping to replenish fish stocks. A lengthy process of consultations with stakeholders, facilitated by Government of Belize, Belizean community NGOs, EDF and other international NGO partners, resulted in widespread support for these new marine protected areas, and a commitment to stewardship from coastal communities.

The expansion of marine protected areas will have an impact well beyond fisheries. It is a crucial step for Belize to meet the aspirations of its national development plans and its international commitments under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“A healthy reef and vibrant fisheries sector is necessary for Belize to achieve its goals for reducing poverty, improving food security and nutrition and increasing investment for development in Belize,” according to Belize Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade.

This new expansion comes as Belize was recently recognized for the impact of its sustainable fisheries. According to the most recent ‘Mesoamerican Reef Report Card’ by Healthy Reef for Healthy People, Belize’s no-take zones show growing fish populations and biodiversity. That biodiversity is magnificent and unique—mangroves, corals, seagrass and cayes support populations of conch, lobster and a variety of reef fish.

In 2016, in response to growing threats to the health of their fisheries, Belize established a nationwide secure fishing rights program, the first of its kind in the world. Belize’s approach creates incentives for fishing communities to become stewards of their fisheries. At the center of the solution being adopted by Belize is a combination of secure fishing rights and empowerment of fishermen called “Managed Access.” Under this approach, fishers and fishing communities control their own future through licenses, giving them access to fish in specific geographic areas of the fishery, and responsibilities to help manage the areas and observe regulations.

“Together, managed access and no-take zones are designed to help rebuild fish populations while protecting critical habitat,” said Nicanor Requena, Belize Project Manager at Environmental Defense Fund, “The people of Belize deserve tremendous credit for their vision and perseverance to protect their natural heritage while encouraging sustainable fishing practices so that people and nature can prosper together.”

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships.

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