BELIZE MARINE

Project Goals 

To establish new fixed survey sites in addition to the sites suggested and used by the BFD and FAMRACC. Continue to collect data on the health of the coral reef via the MBRS SMP methodology. This currently includes the benthic point intercept transect surveys, coral colony characterisation surveys and the adult/juvenile reef fish surveys as well as data on the abundance, sex ratios, maturity and size-frequency distributions of the commercially important Caribbean spiny lobster throughout the year, in order to supplement the biannual data collection by the BFD and FAMRACC. Frontier aims to reinstate and establish sites for data collection on the abundance, sex ratios and size-frequency distributions of the commercially important queen conch alongside the BFD and FAMRACC. Frontier also aims continue and improve the current seagrass surveys on species composition, percentage coverage, abundance and health across the four established survey sites.

Maintain our manatee monitoring project during manatee observation season.

Continue to build upon new connections with the local community, including local NGO ‘Oceana’ and the local private school ‘Ocean Academy.’

Project location 

Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Belize, Central America.

Activities

Research (Conducted in 6 different sites of the Belize Barrier Reef [BBR]):

Caribbean Spiny Lobster surveys help determine the level of threat the species are under, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers this issue to be data deficient. Studying this profitable and popular species supports FAMRACC in their fight against unsustainable fishing, which is leading to population decline.

Our latest data has proven that more lobsters have been found in the conservation zone than in the general use zone, supporting our efforts in protecting this species from over-fishing. Sea Grass & Manatee Monitoring surveys study the relationship between manatee species and their habitat choice, their behaviour and also seek to develop a photo ID database of the manatee population around Caye Caulker. The coastline habitat’s ecosystem is exploited by the fishing industry therefore sea grass coverage and distribution is studied as a direct example of the health of mangroves around the coastline and how is affected by this industry.

Queen Conch surveys support the BFD’s intention in promoting sustainable fishing. Queen Conch is another species affected by over-fishing and the current restrictions are still not sufficient in maintaining a healthy population size. As the BFD recommends sustainable conch fishing to be carried out by snorkelling and skin diving, our surveys are conducted in that precise manner. The team reels a 100m transect line from the boat and search for conchs within a 4m belt (2m from each side of the line). They take the conchs they find to the boat, they examine them and write down their characteristics and once they covered the whole line they carefully place the conchs back on the sea floor where they were found. This survey is conducted once a year and the data is stored by the BFD. We are hoping that an analysis of the data can be carried out in near months.

Background

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is a Central American country on the Eastern coast. Belize is bordered by Guatemala from the West and Mexico from the North with the Caribbean Sea to the East. The small mainland area is roughly 290 km long and 110 km wide.

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. Large areas of the barrier reef are protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS) and have been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO for the past 20 years. Included in the BBRRS are seven marine reserves, 450 cayes and three of the four atolls present: Turneffe Atoll, Glover’s Reef Atoll and Lighthouse Reef Atoll (Home to the Great Blue Hole dive site made famous by Jacques Cousteau). The Belize Barrier Reef (BBR) is the largest single section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), which extends 998 km from Cancun on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula up to Honduras making it the second largest barrier reef in the world. Due to its size and multiple areas of marine protection the BBR provides a wealth of biological and geological diversity.

The Frontier Belize Marine project (BZM) was established in April 2014 within the Caye Caulker Forest and Marne Reserve. The Frontier Belize camp is located on the North island of Caye Caulker (CC) and hosts Marine Conservation and Diving and Beach Conservation volunteers. CC is a small limestone island located approximately 20 miles North-Northeast of Belize City at 17°44’33N 88°1’30W.

TThe project aims to conduct long term monitoring of key habitats and species through the assistance of international volunteers and in collaboration with the governmental Belize Fisheries Department (BFD) and the non-governmental NGO FAMRACC which co-manages CC’s forest and marine reserve. CC spans approximately 8km from North to South and approximately 1.5km East to West at its widest part

The coastal waters around CC provide rich fishery grounds for two of the most important commercial fisheries in Belize: the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and the queen conch (Strombus gigas). Currently there is a strict management regime in place to regulate the fishing seasons for each species which includes catch size and gear restrictions. The hope is that these regulations will maintain healthy and sustainable populations within the area. Size (length and weight) is a useful parameter to control and manage overfishing of conch and lobster populations since the shell of the queen conch and the carapace of the spiny lobster allows for estimation of sexual maturity.

Partners 

SEE’s partners in Belize include: Belize Fisheries Department (BFD) & Forest and Marine Reserves Association of Caye Caulker (FAMRACC)

Staff 

SEE’s field team is comprised of a Project Coordinator, a Principal Investigator, several Research Officers and a team of voluntary Research Assistants.