Sarteneja, a traditional fishing community on the northeastern coast of Belize, is considered one of the primary stakeholders of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System – World Heritage Site (BBRRS-WHS). The economic foundation of the community is based primarily on the traditional harvesting of marine resources. These marine resources have declined in productivity as a result of unsustainable coastal development, invasive species, watershed contamination and unsustainable fishing practices including other anthropogenic factors.
To address these threats to the marine ecosystems, the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD) -an organization that has a co-management responsibility of the Corozal Bay Wildlife- received technical and financial support from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Belize to Strengthen Stakeholder Engagement for Conservation and Sustainable Development Activities in the area. By helping protect Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest wildlife sanctuary in Belize, the project contributes to the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the BBRRS-WHS.
In particular, the project supported the development of the Northern Belize Coastal Complex (NBCC) - Conservation Action Plan which strengthens the communication, collaboration and management effectiveness of the river to reef seascape, as well as transboundary collaboration for the protection of West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) and Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara (IUCN: critically endangered) and a number of other threatened species. The river-to-reef seascape, which comprises 397,691 acres of estuarine and reef ecosystems, is important for reef formations, shallow coastal seagrass beds, extensive inundated mangroves, and for maintaining a healthy and viable population of threatened species. Recent scientific studies identify the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary as the only documented bull shark nursery in Belize, as well as a pupping area for the bonnethead shark (Sphyrna tiburo). Joint surveillance patrols have also increase to an average of 3 per week with the Fisheries Department, Belize Coast Guard and Forest Department.
As for results, Mrs. Rasheda Garcia, from the Forest Department of Belize states that "the Conservation Action Plan for the NBCC has been integral in identifying the key threats to the complex and even more importantly the strategies needed to address these threats. SACD plays an important role as a community based organization in working with communities and other partners toward creating ownership and fostering involvement in management of this very important area".
In addition to the environmental results, the project also enhanced the knowledge, capacities and livelihoods of the local population. Four hundred and fifty five (455) community stakeholders including men, women and youth now have increased knowledge of the ecosystems they rely on. Twenty five (25) young fishermen are now trained tour guides and are now employed in the tourism sector; ten (10) teachers were trained on the importance of the BBRRS-WHS and are utilizing modules on the importance of the BBRRS-WHS as part of the primary school curriculum.
"It was a fabulous reef trip. It helped me to understand and to appreciate the importance and beauty of our Belize's World Heritage." Mrs. Tomasa Cruz, Teacher at the Sarteneja Nazarene School
Furthermore, a volunteer and internship program for sixty (60) youth was established in the community and youth are now actively supporting SACD in its co-management efforts. A 4 year scholarship program to support youth to attend high school was established and as a result 23 youth have been supported and eight have already graduated.
"Many times my parents have difficulties finding the funds to pay for my educational expenses, but my scholarship has enabled me to complete high school and contribute to the development of Sarteneja and Belize" - Mr. Luis Us, Corozal Community College, 4th Former, SACD Scholarship Recipient
The Executive Committee and members of the Sarteneja Homestay Group were trained in hospitality management and are now complying with the Belize Tourism Board hospitality standards. Traditional fishers are empowered to actively participate and voice their concerns in national sustainable fisheries dialogue platforms, and are advocates for the establishment, replication and mainstreaming of the Managed Access Sustainable Fishing Initiative in other marine protected areas.
One of the most important results of the project was the establishment of a system-level coordinated planning model for seascape management. The model is in line with the National Protected Areas Policy and System Plan (NPAPSP) and strengthens the capacity of protected areas managers of the NBCC by enhancing collaboration for conservation and sustainable management of the biodiversity resources at the seascape level. As such, SACD has developed a reputation for use of best practices, transparency and integration of community participation. At the national level, the alliance led the NBCC CAP process, working closely with the Belize Fisheries and Forest Department, and has been leading the process for formation of a Transboundary Working Group with engagement of SEMA, CONANP and ECOSUR, the Mexican counterpart agencies, to ensure communication and collaboration between adjacent protected areas in the two countries. In addition, to the 161,800 hectares of the NBCC, an estimated 72,000ha will also benefit from enhanced conservation including the Sancturio de Manati and Arrecifes de Xcalak Parque Nacional.
Ana Maria Currea, Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist
Mr. Leonel Requena, National Coordinator, SGP Belize
Photo credits: SGP Belize and Manatee pictures by A. Hagan
Note: The Small Grants Programme is funded by the GEF and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.