Charles Darwin was quoted in 1842 describing the Belize Barrier Reef as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” (Encyclopedia). This description still holds true today. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which includes the Belize submarine shelf and its barrier reef is the world’s second largest barrier reef system and the largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Caribbean area (Programme-wo, 2009). What makes a reef like the Belize Barrier Reef system so special is that coral reefs are the most diverse of all wetlands and are home to more species than any other marine ecosystem (Wells).
Also the reef system offers more varieties of coral formation than anywhere else in the Caribbean (Encyclopedia). For people to appreciate and understand the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system, they need to know about the many species that call this place home, the threats against the preservation of the reef, and what is being done to protect and preserve the reef. Once this happens my hope is more people will become involved in the safeguarding of this wonderful place. The Belize Barrier Reef system is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
The Belize Barrier Reef system is home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species, more than 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrate species. The hundreds of invertebrate species include 350 mollusks, plus a vast diversity of sponges, marine worms, and crustaceans (Programme-wo, 2009). Beyond the waters of the reef system, the atolls and cayes with stands of littoral forest and mangroves provide a important habitat for certain birds. A few of the species of birds found here are the brown booby, brown pelican, the magnificent frigate bird, laughing gull, and the red-footed bobby.
More important, the Belize Barrier Reef system is a significant habitat for threatened species and species of conservation concern, such as manatees, marine turtles, American marine crocodile, and the red-footed booby. Amazingly three species of sea turtles the loggerhead, green, and hawksbill use several of the cayes and atolls for nesting. Also despite the manatee being a threatened species, this area harbors probably the largest population of West Indian manatee in the world with around 300-700 individuals (Programme-wo, 2009).
Within the reef system interrelationships amongst all the diverse life forms is important to the maintenance of the ecosystem. The mangroves found growing on the cayes protect the reef from terrestrial sediment and provide shelter among their roots for many juvenile reef species. The seagrass beds that cover the submarine shelf stabilize sediments and also provide an important food source for many reef animals. In turn the coral reefs protect the mangroves and seagrasses from erosion during storms and strong wave actions.
A similar interrelationship occurs between the coral reef and the numerous species that call the Belize Barrier Reef System home. With so many species living within the coral reef, they have developed a careful system for utilizing the reef. Some species will use the coral reef at different times of the day. For example, some species are nocturnal and therefore only use it at night. Other species do their part by utilizing different food sources from the rest. However, the very many species that call the reef home do not have to worry about each other only humans (Wells).
Humans have become one of the biggest threats to the Belize Barrier Reef system and; therefore, protection measures have been put in place to safeguard and preserve the area. Tourism has become one of the main uses of the barrier reef ecosystem, which has caused several threats to the Belize Barrier Reef system. One of these threats is over-exploitation of the reef’s resources by the tourism industry. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system is a very popular destination spot for tourists looking for spectacular diving and snorkeling experiences.
However, most of these places can be reached only by boat, and the anchors are causing damage to the reef. Also because more and more tourists are flocking to the area and people are moving there, construction and development have caused habitat alterations and shoreline erosion because of the removal of vegetation growing there. More alarming though is the run-off of agrochemicals and sewage pollution (Programme-wo, 2009). Another big aspect of the economy is the fishing industry, which has started to take a toll on certain species of fish, conchs, and lobsters that live in and around the reef.
Two other problems, which have devastating effects are dredging and sand mining. Dredging and sand mining are choking the corals that live in the reef system. All of these issues are causing devastating effects to the reef and; therefore, is why 370 square miles of the Belize Barrier Reef system is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System includes seven marine reserves, 450 cayes, and three atolls (UNESCO). A marine reserve is an area of the sea that has legal protection against fishing or development.
To further the effort in 1990, the Government of Belize created the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) within the fisheries department. The CZMU has created different ministries, which are responsible for the management and preservation of different areas of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system. The three main ministries involved in the coastal management are the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (responsible for marine reserves and fisheries management), the Ministry of Natural Resources (responsible for terrestrial protected areas), and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment (Programme-wo, 2009).
The fact that there are these protection measures in place is great; however, more can and needs to be done to protect this special place. Continual efforts are being made to further preservation of this area, and individuals can do their part to help as well. The Government of Belize is currently developing a national protected areas system plan and the site they nominate will be included in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Programme-wo, 2009). The most recent preservation effort was the inscription of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System to the World Heritage in Danger List in 2009.
Another group that ensures continuous efforts are being made to protect and preserve this area is the Rapid Response Facility (RRF). “The RRF is an emergency small grant programme that provides rapid support to allow immediate responses to major threats to wildlife conservation, primarily in UNESCO-designated natural World-Heritage sites” (Rapid Response Facility grant for conservation group to benefit Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, 2010, para. 6). Since the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system was listed as a World Heritage site, the RRF has awarded several grants to aid in the effort.
Although in order to protect and preserve this reef system successfully more organizations, funding, and individuals doing their part are needed. This effort is too large to leave to just a few organizations. Individuals may believe that they are too small to make a difference, but that is not the case. Individuals can aid in the effort by raising awareness of the issue and using the reef system responsibly. Responsible tourism would help limited or prevent the amount of damage inflicted on the reef system. Another way would be for individuals to put a stop to the development of the cayes and atolls.
Individuals need to realize that with the development of tourist hotels and homes for individuals wanting to relocate here comes a heavy price, which is the destruction of the beautiful reef system that drew them there in the first place. Individuals can also work together to limit the fishing industry before whole species of fish and crustaceans are lost. This can be accomplished through the creation of more no-take zones for fishing. Beyond participating in these changes or working to make them happen, individuals can also become volunteers or donate to the cause in any way that they can.
Even the smallest efforts can go a long way to helping a big cause. The Belize Barrier Reef system is the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef system is also one of the most diverse ecosystems containing vast numbers of fish, corals, crustaceans, and birds, to name a few. The Belize Barrier Reef system has been utilized and appreciated since the time of the Mayans. However, this spectacular place is under threat from humans through the tourist, fishing, and development industries.
These industries are posing significant threats to the many species that live here, the surrounding areas, and also the coral reef itself. According to scientists since 1998 over 40% of Belize’s coral reef has already been damaged (Encyclopedia). Therefore, the Government of Belize and other organizations have been working to protect and preserve this spectacular place. Some of these measures include establishing a section of the reef as part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system, creating the Coastal Zone Management Unit to oversee protection of certain aspects, and inscription to the World Heritage in Danger List.
However, if people want to see their children and grandchildren enjoy this place for many years to come then more needs to be done to preserve this place. The only way to ensure that the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system is protected and preserved for many years to come is by more people and organization becoming involved in the effort along with funding to ensure that policies and protection efforts are carried out. ? Encyclopedia, N. W. (n. d. ). Belize Barrier Reef. Retrieved June 20, 2011, from New World Encyclopedia: http://www. newworldencyclopedia. org/entry/Belize_Barrier_Reef Programme-wo, U. N. (2009, June 22).
Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, Belize. Retrieved 2011, from The Encyclopedia Of Earth. Rapid Response Facility grant for conservation group to benefit Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. (2010, April 12). Retrieved June 22, 2011, from World Heritage Convention: http://whc. unesco. org/en/news/600 UNESCO. (n. d. ). Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from UNESCO- World Heritage Convention: http://whc. unesco. org/en/list/764 Wells, S. U. (n. d. ). Case Study 3: Belize. Retrieved June 20, 2011, from Belize Barrier Reef: http://www. westminister. edu/staff/anthrock/BELIZE/Reef. html