In the IOC experts’ view, Belize in Central America is an international model of best practice in successful marine spatial planning. Here, the marine spatial planning process, in which marine conservation was a priority, has now concluded, although the plan has yet to be approved by Parliament.
The coast of Belize is home to the world’s second longest unbroken reef system, the Belize Barrier Reef, which contains a rich diversity of species, including three atolls and extensive mangrove forests. Around 40 per cent of the Belizean population of approxi-mately 300 000 live and work in the coastal zone, many in tourism, which generates more than 10 per cent of GDP. Other revenue sources are aquaculture and fishing. Belize also has an oil and petrochemicals industry.
As in other maritime states, the Belizean coastline was under severe threat from population growth, construction and overfishing. However, the government was relatively quick to respond. It adopted the Coastal Zone Management Act in 1998 – long before MSP became a topic of discussion. A Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI) was set up at the same time, although it took more than 12 years to produce the Belize Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan, whose aim is to balance economic development and marine conservation. Various non-governmental organizations assisted the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute with the preparation of the management plan.
As the first step, a review of the current human uses of the marine and coastal zones was conducted, with gathering of all the available data and information on aspects such as coral reefs, manatee and turtle populations, lobster fisheries, commercial shipping and cruise tourism, popular sites for recreational activities and diving, areas of oil/petroleum leases, and much more.
fig. 4.21: In order to visualize possible future development, three alternative scenarios were produced as part of the marine spatial planning process in Belize. The country, which lies along Central America’s Atlantic coast, opted for the informed management scenario, a strategy which allows cautious development with no adverse impacts on coastal habitats. It is clear from the above that oil production should only be permitted on the periphery of the planning regions. © after CZMAI
Nine use zones, i.e. coastal agriculture, aquaculture, coastal development, dredging, fishing, oil exploration, marine recreation, marine transportation and conservation, were identified along the coast and offshore, and nine planning regions were established. Stakeholder consultations were then held in all the regions and included community-level group meetings. Representatives from all sectors and interests – from business to fishing and conservation – were encouraged to share their ideas and suggestions.
Based on this overview of local opinion, which was continuously updated, it was possible to develop ideas on future development, usage and conservation in the various coastal and marine regions. Using the latest modelling and planning software, three scenarios were developed in this way:
fig. 4.22: Using professional planning and modelling software, it is possible to forecast the catch and revenue for local lobster fishing in Belize in the nine planning regions in 2025. This shows that the highest values are achieved with the conservation scenario, while the development scenario produces the lowest figures. © after CZMAI
The informed management scenario was ultimately endorsed as the best option for Belize, as it represents the most sustainable future for Belize’s coastal zone while ensuring more prosperity for Belizeans. All development projects and approval procedures must comply with this management plan in future. An evaluation of the plan will take place every four years. Despite this comprehensive approach to marine spatial planning, which has received international accolades, criticism has also been expressed in various quarters. Scientists point out that the impacts of climate change have not been factored into the calculations, and that technological advances and changing market prices have not been considered.
A far more serious issue is that the plan has still not entered into force. At present, Belize lacks the governmental and political structures required for its successful implementation. Otherwise, it is impossible to explain why, in 2015, the Energy Ministry announced plans to expand oil production in the immediate vicinity of the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. This unleashed a storm of protest around the world. A final decision on the expansion of oil production has yet to be taken.