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1 . Belize     Belize
Although a relatively small country, Belize has some of the most extensive coral reef resources in the region. The coastline is fringed by a shallow shelf with a barrier reef running along its outer edge. The Belize Barrier Reef is the longest in the Caribbean, 230 kilometers in length, though there are barrier like reef tracts in Florida and Cuba which are considerably longer. To the north the barrier reef becomes joined to the mainland at Ambergris Cay, a southerly extension of the Yucatan Peninsula. At this point the reef system becomes fringing, and continues north along the coastline of Mexico. These reefs, together with others to the south in Honduras, are sometimes known as the Meso-American Reef, in recognition of the interconnected nature of their ecosystems.

The mainland coast is dominated by narrow sandy beaches or mangrove forests, often associated with river deltas. The development of reefs along the mainland is extremely limited by fluctuations in turbidity and sediments. Some reefs do occur in the south between Placencia and Punta Ycacos, but have low species richness and are dominated by sediment-resistant genera such as Siderastrea and Porites. The lagoon is 20-40 kilometers wide, typically only a few meters deep in the north, but reaching 50 meters in the south. It supports some of the most extensive seagrass beds in the Caribbean. Patch reefs occur across the whole shelf, though they are much more abundant in the south. These patch reefs vary considerably in size from small collections of corals to large reefs many tens of meters in diameter, as their form and species composition are determined largely by the location on the shelf, wave and current energy, and depth. Rhomboidal atoll-like structures called faroes are very unusual features associated with the southern shelf. They are believed to be formed by corals growing on top of submerged sand or rubble cays. The lagoon also houses regionally important populations of the Caribbean manatee, although there are concerns that illegal hunting may be reducing its numbers, particularly in the south of the country. The barrier reef itself typically consists of a rubble strewn reef flat with numerous mangrove cays on its central and landward side, fronted by a reef crest. The outer slope is best developed (and studied) in the central section, where the reefs are typically long and unbroken with a deep spur and groove system which in some areas becomes a double ridge separated by a rubble-filled channel. The reef is split by a series of channels, and in the south it breaks up and becomes partially submerged.

The other striking feature of Belizean reefs is three large atolls further offshore: the Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef and Glovers Reef. All three show distinct differences between the leeward and windward slopes, with the development of spur and groove formations on the windward (eastern) sides, but also some of the most highly developed reef structures. Lighthouse and Glovers Reefs are exposed to higher wave energy on these eastern slopes and as a result they have a higher coverage of Acropora palmata and Lithothamnion than Turneffe. Both of these atolls also have deep lagoons with numerous patch reefs and very little land cover. Turneffe, by contrast, has a land area of 22 percent of the atoll and a shallow lagoon with only a few patch reefs in the north.

Belize has a long history of human activities in the coastal zone, which can be traced back to 300 BC. The Mayan Indians used cays in the lagoons as stations for fishing conch, finfish, turtle eggs and manatees, as well as ceremonial centers and burial sites. Nowadays the major threats to the reefs of Belize are fishing, sedimentation, agrochemicals, sewage, solid wastes and dredging. Fishing occurs on a relatively small scale given the reef area, but in 1998 employed 2 000 fisherfolk with 350 boats. The dominant fisheries are lobster (mainly Panulirus argus), which was considered to be near to its maximum sustainable yield in the early 1980s, and conch (mainly Strombus gigas). The latter produces catches averaging 180 tons per year. The adults aggregate in the shallow back reef and seagrass areas and although there are signs that the populations may be overexploited, catches have remained consistent. A deeper and unfished reproductive population could be responsible for maintaining the catch. Nearly two thirds of lobster and conch are exported to the USA. By contrast 80 percent of finfish, especially higher quality species such as groupers (Serranidae) and snappers (Lutjanidae), are caught for local consumption. Shrimp mariculture is now an important industry in Belize. There are considerable concerns about the impacts this industry may already be having on coastal fisheries and further expansion is likely to impact mangrove areas. A number of major fish spawning aggregations are known in Belize, and many are considered to be overfished. One of the largest of these, Gladden Spit, has recently been declared a protected area.

Considerable efforts have also been directed towards the development of a system of marine protected areas. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve in the north of the country is widely cited as an example of an effective no-take zone, implemented with the support and collaboration of the local population. This site has significantly higher fish numbers and biomass than surrounding areas, but, more importantly, its protection has demonstrably increased fish yields from the surrounding areas. For many of the other marine protected areas the legislation and infrastructure are largely in place for full and effective reef management, although further enforcement is still required.
Source: Spalding, M.D., C. Ravilious and E.P. Green , 2001 , World Atlas of Coral Reefs . Prepared at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. University of California Press,Berkeley,USA.421p. (See Document)

2 . Belize     Belize
The longest continuous barrier reef system in the western hemisphere extends approximately 260 km along the Belize coast, and along with the diverse assemblage of lagoonal patch reefs, fringing reefs, faroes and offshore atolls, covers about 1400 km2 . The reefs were once considered to be amongst the most flourishing reefs of the Caribbean, although now the current status is generally comparable with the rest of the Caribbean.
Source: Wilkinson, C., Souter, D. (eds) , 2008 , Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs After Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005 . Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, 152 p. (See Document)

3 . Belize     Belize
Socioeconomic impacts and management responses:
The lives of many Belizeans are inextricably linked to the health of their coral reefs through their dependence on the tourism and fishing industries, and their need for coastal protection (low-lying coastlines). For centuries, the reefs have provided cultural, ecological and economic benefits as well as physical protection during storms and hurricanes. Belize’s growing tourism industry accounts for about 23% of the GDP (based on 2002 figures) with a total annual value of US$194 million. The fishing industry remains an important contributor with export earnings of US$67.16 million in 2005 (3.8% of GDP in 2005). Based on Caribbean averages, the value of shoreline protection in Belize is roughly estimated at US$35 to US$100 million per annum. The estimated total value of goods and services provided is roughly US$150 million per year (based on Belize’s proportion of Caribbean reefs as calculated by Reefs at Risk Caribbean). A full economic evaluation of Belize’s reefs will be conducted in 2007 by World Resources Institute (WRI) and WWF.
Source: Wilkinson, C., Souter, D. (eds) , 2008 , Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs After Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005 . Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, 152 p. (See Document)

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