Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
Belize, Inscribed in  1996
Criteria : vii, ix, x

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

Learn more about the state of conservation of this natural World Heritage site by scrolling down to read assessment summaries.More details can be found by navigating to the "Full references" tab, where conservation issues, benefits and projects are cited alongside values, threats, and protection and management.Sources of information are listed under references.

Finalised on 29 Oct 2014
Conservation Outlook

Significant Concern

Coastal development, tourism growth, overfishing, invasive species and the multiple impacts of climate change (coral reef bleaching events, increased frequency and severity of storms; and sea level rise) are all very serious factors that negatively affect the overall integrity of the site. While at the level of component protected areas of this serial staff the managers and the staff are generally doing an adequate job of controlling visitation, fishing and other in-water activities, the broader issue of adequate coastal zone management and zoning of land development is still lacking. The Coastal Zone Management Plan which is in the final stages of approval will hopefully provide this broader management framework to help support the MPA management. The most serious potential threat to the values of the site is, however, oil exploration and drilling. Until the Government places the site and its buffer zone off-limits to oil exploration, the conservation outlook for the site is of significant concern.

Values

High Concern Trend: Deteriorating
Current state and Trend of values
High Concern

The values for which the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List are still clearly demonstrated; however, they are being affected by a number of threats, including coastal development, invasive species and climate change. The 2012 Report Card for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef indicates that while 29% of the reefs were in critical condition, 44% of the reefs were in poor condition, 22% were in fair and 5% were in good condition (Healthy Reefs, 2012). However, these figures are for the whole part of the Mesoamerican Reef located in Belize and the condition of the reefs within the World Heritage Site is expected to be better. High concerns also remain for some unique habitats, notably in the highly diverse Pelican Cayes area, where existing development proposals remain legally viable.

Threats

Very High Threat
Overall Threats
Very High Threat

Coastal development, tourism growth, overfishing, invasive species and the multiple impacts of climate change (coral reef bleaching events, increased frequency and severity of storms; and sea level rise) are all very serious factors that negatively affect the overall integrity of the site. The most serious potential threat to the values of the site is oil exploration and drilling. Until the Government places the site and its buffer zone off-limits to oil exploration, the assessment level for potential threats remains “very high”.

Protection and Management

Some Concern
Overall Protection and management
Some Concern

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System comprises 7 component protected areas. While management of these components can be quite effective and certain issues, such as tourism and fishing, are well-controlled, some issues, particularly land development, require cooperation across the whole site. While the main management agencies (Fisheries and Forestry Departments, Coastal Zone Management Authority, NGOs involved in co-management) are cooperative, permitting agencies do not always issue permits in accordance with management plans of the component PAs. It is therefore essential that new legislative instruments that are currently being developed, particularly, the Coastal Zone Management Plan, provide clear guidance for any kind of development activities within the World Heritage site and its buffer zone.

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Assessment Information
Finalised on 29 Oct 2014

Values

The values for which the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List are still clearly demonstrated; however, they are being affected by a number of threats, including coastal development, invasive species and climate change. The 2012 Report Card for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef indicates that while 29% of the reefs were in critical condition, 44% of the reefs were in poor condition, 22% were in fair and 5% were in good condition (Healthy Reefs, 2012). However, these figures are for the whole part of the Mesoamerican Reef located in Belize and the condition of the reefs within the World Heritage Site is expected to be better. High concerns also remain for some unique habitats, notably in the highly diverse Pelican Cayes area, where existing development proposals remain legally viable.

High Concern

World Heritage Values
High Concern Trend: Deteriorating

Important habitat for a number of internationally threatened marine and bird species
High Concern Deteriorating

The site provides an important habitat for a number of internationally threatened marine species. Remaining pristine areas of the cays, with remnant stands of littoral forest, provide critical habitat for several endemic and migratory bird species. The area is also of major importance for research (IUCN Evaluation Report, 1996).

Classic example of the evolutionary history of reefs
High Concern Deteriorating

This site is unique for its array of reef types and provides a classic example of the evolutionary history of reefs through fringing, barrier and atoll reef types. The geological history of the reefs and coastline of Belize differs from that of the Caribbean islands, the other main area of reefs in the region. The history of the Belize Barrier Reef Complex illustrates the major role that reefs have play in the history of humankind. Such interaction between human and reefs is particularly evident in Belize today, where a large part of the economy is dependent on the Barrier Reef through fisheries and tourism (IUCN Evaluation Report, 1996).

One of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere
High Concern Deteriorating

The site is one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere. As early as 1842, Charles Darwin referred to it as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. The barrier reef and atolls exhibit some of the best reef growth in the Caribbean (IUCN Evaluation Report, 1996)

Other Biodiversity values
NA Trend: NA

Threats

Coastal development, tourism growth, overfishing, invasive species and the multiple impacts of climate change (coral reef bleaching events, increased frequency and severity of storms; and sea level rise) are all very serious factors that negatively affect the overall integrity of the site. The most serious potential threat to the values of the site is oil exploration and drilling. Until the Government places the site and its buffer zone off-limits to oil exploration, the assessment level for potential threats remains “very high”.

Very High Threat

Current Threats
Very High Threat

Coastal development, tourism growth, overfishing, invasive species and the multiple impacts of climate change (coral reef bleaching events, increased frequency and severity of storms; and sea level rise) are all very serious factors that negatively affect the overall integrity of the site.

Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
Very High Threat

The invasion of Indo-Pacific Lionfish would appear to be the most exigent threat posed by an invasive species to the OUV of the property (Mission report, 2013). The State Party has been actively addressing the issue and the recently prepared National Lionfish Management Plan is a good basis to continue the efforts in a systematic ways. However, the level of this threat remains very high.

Water Pollution
Low Threat

Near shore environments are being polluted by runoff from construction sites, home sites, and tourism infrastructure, inappropriate disposal of wastes. Improper handling of fuels and other toxic substances adds to the pollution (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Erosion and Siltation/ Deposition
High Threat

Reef siltation is caused by sediments carried by rivers into coastal environments, which originate both from Belize and neighboring countries (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Housing/ Urban Areas
Very High Threat

Coastal development has been an ongoing issue for this property. Lands on islands and cays within the property have been sold off and leased by government for the development of private homes and tourism infrastructure. Despite some progress achieved in halting sale and lease of lands and tightening the regulations, there is no clear evidence that the permanent cessation of sale and lease within the site’s boundaries had been legally guaranteed (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009; State Party Report, 2012; Belize NGOs Resolution, 2008; IUCN Mission Report, 2013).

Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
High Threat

Illegal fishing by vessels from neighboring countries, and overfishing of finfish, conch, and lobster is prevalent and has resulted in the loss of fishing aggregations, low populations of key species and the proliferation of macroalgae covering the reefs. (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report 2009; State Party Report, 2012). The State Party has developed a number a measures to address the issue, including newly established Managed Access program, the seasonal closures for conch, the protection for spawning aggregation sites and the development of several legislative instruments (Mission Report, 2013). However, it still remains to see how effective these measures are.

Temperature extremes
High Threat

Large scale mortality of coral cover occurs periodically, caused by rising sea temperatures and acidification of the marine environment, both of which are attributed to climate change (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Ocean acidification
High Threat

Large scale mortality of coral cover occurs periodically, caused by rising sea temperatures and acidification of the marine environment, both of which are attributed to climate change (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Temperature extremes
Very High Threat

Sea level rise is already occurring gradually as a result of climate change. The rising sea levels and the potential increase in significant hurricane events associated with the expected change in climate will severely impact the future of Belize. It is likely that all seven component sites that comprise the property are facing a significant threat in the medium term (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009; IUCN Mission Report, 2013).

Potential Threats
Low Concern

The most serious potential threat to the values of the site is oil exploration and drilling. Until the Government places the site and its buffer zone off-limits to oil exploration, the assessment level for potential threats remains “very high”.

Oil/ Gas exploration/development
Very High Threat

In 2013 the number of Petroleum Sharing Agreements (PSA) in the marine areas decreased to five (from eight), however oil concessions overlapping with the property or adjacent to it still remained (Mission Report, 2013). In April 2013 the Supreme Court of Belize declared all off-shore oil concessions void (SOC report 2013); however no recent information on this decision is available. According to the most recent State Party report (2014) oil concessions in the marine environment still exist and the Government of Belize is currently not prepared to relinquish them all, however a Petroleum Exploration and Development Framework is being developed (SP report, 2014).

Protection and management

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System comprises 7 component protected areas. While management of these components can be quite effective and certain issues, such as tourism and fishing, are well-controlled, some issues, particularly land development, require cooperation across the whole site. While the main management agencies (Fisheries and Forestry Departments, Coastal Zone Management Authority, NGOs involved in co-management) are cooperative, permitting agencies do not always issue permits in accordance with management plans of the component PAs. It is therefore essential that new legislative instruments that are currently being developed, particularly, the Coastal Zone Management Plan, provide clear guidance for any kind of development activities within the World Heritage site and its buffer zone.

Some Concern

Protection and management

Research
Effective

Various research programmes have been carried out by the management authorities and a number of NGOs.

Monitoring
Effective

Monitoring is undertaken on the level of component protected areas by the respective management organizations, but also across the whole reef when it comes to broader issues, such as for example the invasion of Lionfish (Mission report, 2013).

Tourism and visitation management
Effective

The recently (2012) developed National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan for Belize 2030 recognizes the importance of the World Heritage site and outlines a vision for future tourism development.

Education and interpretation programs
Data Deficient

Data deficient

Sustainable use
Some Concern

Habitat modification on different cays and islands for vacation homes and tourism infrastructure is clearly incompatible with the conservation of the values of the site. Recreational uses such as sailing and diving could potentially be carried out in sustainable ways, but would require rigorous management to define capacities, appropriate management, and regular monitoring to detect impacts. Though some impact assessments are being undertaken with the tourist industry, full management programs are not in place. (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009)

Staff training and development
Data Deficient

No recent data available

Sustainable finance
Some Concern

A protected areas fund, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, has helped to increase the levels of funding available for protected areas. However, given the lack of government funding, the overall availability of finance for the management of property is insufficient. (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009)

Boundaries
Effective

While the boundaries of the 7 components of the Property are well described, the calculations for the area of each of these components given in the nomination document differs from the area indicated in the Protected Areas Policy and System Plan. (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009)

Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Serious Concern

Several corrective measures identified by the 2009 reactive monitoring mission have been addressed; particularly expansion of no-take zones and development of a co-management framework (SOC report, 2013), however, a large number of issues remains to be resolved.

Management effectiveness
Some Concern

While management of the component protected areas of the site can be quite effective, even if sometimes constraint by lack of human and financial resources, certain issues, particularly land development, require cooperation across the whole site. While the main management agencies (Fisheries and Forestry Departments, Coastal Zone Management Authority, NGOs involved in co-management) are cooperative, permitting agencies do not always issue permits in accordance with management plans of the component PAs. It is therefore essential that the Coastal Zone Management Plan that is currently being developed provides clear guidance for any kind of development activities within the World Heritage site and its buffer zone.

Management system (for transboundary/serial properties, integrated management system should also be described/evaluated)
Some Concern

This is a serial property composed of several protected areas. While on the level of these component protected areas the existing management structures can be effective, there is no single management system or management plan to guide management of the site as a whole. However, the recent formation of the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development at least brought together Departments responsible for various aspects of protected areas management in Belize (Mission Report, 2013).

Integration into regional and national planning systems (including sea/landscape connectivity)
Some Concern

A number of legislative instruments are currently being developed, including e.g. the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan, the Land Use Policy Implementation Plan, the National Protected Areas Bill and the Fisheries Resources Bill (Mission Report, 2013) and their adoption and effective implementation are essential to ensure the long-term conservation of the property.

Legal framework
Serious Concern

There is no legal framework and no enforcement specific to World Heritage status. Rather, enforcement is based on the varying legal designations attached to each component of the site, and the governance arrangement in place for that component (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Relationships with local people (including stakeholder relationships, participatory management, rights, and access to benefits and equity)
Serious Concern

There is little recognition and understanding of the World Heritage status of the property among local communities. As a result, there is no relationship with local people based on management of the property as World Heritage site (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009).

Overall assessment of protection and management

Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Serious Concern

The most significant threat originating from outside the site is potential off-shore oil exploration and development and the site has very limited capacity to deal with this issue.

Overall assessment of protection and management
Some Concern

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System comprises 7 component protected areas. While management of these components can be quite effective and certain issues, such as tourism and fishing, are well-controlled, some issues, particularly land development, require cooperation across the whole site. While the main management agencies (Fisheries and Forestry Departments, Coastal Zone Management Authority, NGOs involved in co-management) are cooperative, permitting agencies do not always issue permits in accordance with management plans of the component PAs. It is therefore essential that new legislative instruments that are currently being developed, particularly, the Coastal Zone Management Plan, provide clear guidance for any kind of development activities within the World Heritage site and its buffer zone.

Best Practice Examples

Additional Information

Key Conservation Issues

Issues

Oil exploration
National

Oil concessions overlapping with the property or adjacent to it represent a very high threat to the property’s integrity.

Sale and lease of lands for private development
National

Coastal development has been an ongoing issue for this property. Lands on islands and cays within the property have been sold off and leased by government for the development of private homes and tourism infrastructure (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report, 2009; State Party Report, 2012 ; Belize NGOs Resolution, 2008; IUCN Mission Report, 2013)

Overfishing
Regional

Illegal fishing by vessels from neighboring countries, and overfishing of finfish, conch, and lobster is prevalent and has resulted in the loss of fishing aggregations, low populations of key species and the proliferation of macroalgae covering the reefs. (UNESCO/IUCN Mission Report 2009; State Party Report, 2012). The State Party has developed a number a measures to address the issue, including newly established Managed Access program, the seasonal closures for conch, the protection for spawning aggregation sites and the development of several legislative instruments (Mission Report, 2013). However, it still remains to see how effective these measures are.

Invasive species
Regional

The invasion of exotic marine species, notably the lionfish is of high concern despite the significant efforts undertaken to address the issue.

Benefits

Knowledge

The site could be used as a center for reef research and education.

Food

Provided that an effective no-take zones network is in place and is effectively enforced, the site would have a major impact on restoring fisheries in the whole area of the Barrier Reef.

Health and recreation

The site has become a major draw internationally because of the beauty of the islands, cays, and reefs.

Projects

Active Conservation Projects

N0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 . .

Compilation of potential project needs

N.O0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
Data is not available
Rn0 References
1 Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, 2012. Report Card for the Mesoamerican Reef.
2 State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize), 2012
3 State Party Report on the State of Conservation of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Belize), 2014
4 UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring Mission Report, 2009
5 IUCN Evaluation, 1996
6 SOC report, 2012
7 IUCN Mission report, 2013
8 SOC report, 2013

Site Description

The coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

ⓒ UNESCO