Co-management: Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize)

Marina Cracco

Shared governance of protected areas is based on mechanisms and processes which share authority and responsibility among several actors. In Belize, engagement of NGOs in co-management is quite common, including in the component protected areas that constitute the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site.

Location and World Heritage designation

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS) is located in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize in Central America. It forms part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Northern Hemisphere. Its main ecosystems include fringing, barrier and atoll reefs types, mangrove forests, coasts and coastal lagoons, sand cays and estuaries. Inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996 under natural criteria (vii), (ix) and (x), the reef illustrates evolutionary history of reef development. This is a serial World Heritage site encompassing seven protected areas with different legal status (from marine reserves and national parks to natural monuments).

Main ecosystem services provided by the site

The main ecosystem services derive from coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, and coastal areas and cayes. These ecosystems provide nursery grounds for fisheries and areas for ecotourism (TEEB 2010; Cooper et al, 2009, Garcia-Salgado, 2006 In Neal et al. 2008l). Other benefits provided by the Belize Barrier Reserve System include mitigation of natural disasters through coastal protection (barrier) and climate change adaptation and mitigation (blue carbon sequestration) (Greiner et al., 2013).


Tourism revenues for 2006 were around $250 million. An estimated 80% of tourists visit a destination within the coastal zone.  Tourism has increased from 90,000 visitors in 1991 to 900,000 in 2006 as a result of marketing Belize's pristine natural environment. Activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sports fishing and manatee watching. 60% of income is derived directly from coastal and marine activities (Neal et al 2008).


In 2007, the value of the reef and mangrove related fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection services, was estimated to be between $395 million and $559 million. Also, in terms of national employment, it is estimated that reef-related tourism employs 20 percent of national workforce (Wade 2012).


Governance and management system

Five components of the BBRRS are co-managed (see table 10 below) with NGOs. The Government of Belize formally agrees to share management of public protected areas with non-government organizations (NGOs) (or community-based organisations-CBOs) through a legally binding agreement that lays out guidance and responsibility of each party within the contract (Salas, 2008).


Table 10. Management entities of component protected areas with BBRRS




Management entity/ies

Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve

10700 Ha

Co-management: Green Reef Environmental Institute and Fisheries Department (marine reserve)  assisted by Green Venture for biodiversity assessments/monitoring

Blue Hole Natural Monument

 4100 Ha

Co-management: Belize Audubon Society and Forest Department

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument

 3900 Ha

Co-management: Belize Audubon Society and Forest Department

South Water Caye Marine Reserve

 29800 Ha

Fisheries Department  assisted by Smithsonian Institute for biodiversity information

Glovers Reef Marine Reserve

 30800 Ha

Fisheries Department assisted by WCS for biodiversity monitoring information and activities

Laughing Bird Caye National Park

4300 Ha

Co-management: Southern Environmental Association with the Forestry Department

Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve

12700 Ha

Co-management: Southern Environmental Association with the Fisheries Department




Belize Audubon Society (BAS), under formal agreement, is responsible for on-site management following a management plan, financial management (collecting and managing fees, fundraising, managing income generating activities), coordinating all activities spanning across programmes, hiring all staff and temporary workers, etc.  The Public Party is responsible for protected areas management unit, support (trainings, workshops), law enforcement (joint patrols, court prosecution), guidance on research proposals, etc. The Southern Environmental Association (SEA) in Laughing Bird Cayes National Park and Sapodillas Cayes Marine Reserve undertakes activities from law enforcement to community education and outreach and scientific research and monitoring (SEA, undated).


The Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO) was formally established in 2007 to coordinate the activities of protected area management organizations.  In addition, Advisory Committees, and more recently regional Coastal Advisory Committees, have been established for the coastal areas, cayes and atolls.