Belize protected areas 26% - not 40-odd percent
Posted: 02/07/2010 - 10:30 AM
Author: Adele Ramos - firstname.lastname@example.org
On April 22, 2010, the newest protected area, the Hopkins Nature Reserve, was established via statutory instrument signed by Minister of Natural Resources and Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega, setting aside 1,565.628 acres as a wetlands reserve, spanning north of Sittee River, east of Carib Hills, south of the Freshwater Creek Lagoon and west of the Village of Hopkins.
At the same time, the boundaries of certain other protected areas were adjusted, and as we understand it, a portion of the Vaca Forest Reserve de-reserved, which one conservationist told us was a decision made to resolve encroachment into the protected area.
The adjustments have not substantially changed the landscape of Belize’s protected areas, according to Edilberto Romero, chairman of the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO) and executive director of Programme for Belize.
Romero confirmed that just over a quarter of Belize’s land and marine territory are under some form of conservation management and protected status – a figure corroborated with official numbers we have been able to peruse today.
For several years, it had been said publicly by local experts that over 40% of Belize had protected status; however, it turns out, said Romero, that it was “a mathematical error.”
The figure was derived by adding the percentages for marine (13%) and terrestrial (36%), rather than adding the acreages (1,069,426 hectares) and figuring them as a percentage of the total land mass (4,078,065 hectares).
While that error has been corrected on the books for nearly five years now, the new figures have not been widely publicized to ensure the public understands the true landscape – and some still believe the percentage of Belize land under protected status to be much higher.
We note, however, that as we had reported last April, on the occasion of the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009, Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow had given a presentation at a sustainable development session, saying that 26.2% of Belize’s territory is under legal protection by the Government, while 17.8% constitutes private protected areas, and 70% of the forest remains standing.
Romero had told Amandala, when the call for a ban of petroleum exploration in sensitive Belize habitats and protected areas was first declared, that the area in question was 36%. He clarified today that the 36% figure is in reference to Belize’s land mass only.
The numbers are detailed in a document we obtained this week, giving a complete breakdown: According to the National Protected Areas System Assessment and Analysis (2005), roughly a million hectares of Belize (out of over 4 million hectares) is under protected status. Specifically, 63.54% of land (terrestrial acreage) does not have any form of conservation management, while 74% of national territory is unprotected. Belize’s marine habitats have 13.64% of the area under protected status.
There are a range of protected areas. For example, there are seven bird sanctuaries which only make up 14.7 acres or six hectares – a figure well below 1%. Examples are Doubloon Bank, Little Guana Caye and Los Salones in northern Belize, Bird Caye in central Belize, and Man of War and Money River in southern Belize.
Also protected are archaeological reserves, such as Santa Rita, Altun Ha, Barton Creek and Caves Branch. The total surface area of these 12 sites is approximately 27,826 acres or 11,261 ha (0.7 % of national territory).
In the category of extractive reserves are 16 forest reserves and 8 marine reserves – including Bacalar Chico, Glovers Reef, Sapodilla Cayes, Mountain Pine Ridge and Vaca – which comprise 13% of national territory. Specifically, forest reserves comprise 939,809 acres (380,328 hectares) or 9.3% of total national territory; marine reserves —372,730 acres (150,839 hectares) or 3.7 % of total national Territory.
There are 53 areas falling within different classes of conservation management categories: nature reserve, wildlife sanctuary, marine reserves, national park, and natural monument. They make up 9.3% of the total national territory. Among them are: St. Herman’s Blue Hole, Hol Chan, Blue Hole, Laughing Bird Caye, Spanish Creek, Mayflower Bocawina, Aguacaliente, and Sarstoon-Temash.
Finally, there are private protected areas: eight of them covering 325,346 acres (131,663 hectares) or 3.2% of national territory. Golden Stream, Rio Bravo, Shipstern Nature Reserve and Runaway Creek are examples.
On the issue of de-reservation, Imani Fairweather-Morrison, M.Sc. in regulation planning and development, comments: “…there are always legitimate reasons for de-reservation, such as the need for village expansion or land distribution, as well as the fact that sometimes in ecosystems analysis, one may determine that an area which was declared did not necessarily have the high biodiversity and may be low on the list of priority for protection.”
She also clarified that “protected” simply means that activities in the area are to be managed. There are areas that are “no-take” zones, where no one should, under law, extract any resource from that area.
According to Romero, de-reservation was not the main reason for the change in the percentage of protected areas from 40-odd percent to 26%.