Off the Caribbean coast of Belize, between Mexico and Guatemala, lies the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest reef in the northern and western hemispheres. The reef is home to many species of coral reefs, coastal lagoons, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. It provides a habitat for a large number of fish species and many endangered animals.
With global warming issues, local activities, and mass tourism threatening the very existence of the reef, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ) has made the Belize Barrier Reef part of the World Heritage list, which preserves and protects the cultural and natural heritage around the world. Diversity of Life Forms The Belize Barrier Reef is habitat to a diverse group of animal species. Over 500 species of fish have been recorded to live in its waters. Endangered species such as the marine turtle, manatee, and the American marine crocodile all depend on the reef for shelter, food, and nesting areas.
Four species of dolphins have been sighted, one being the bottlenosed dolphin, and several species of sharks. Approximately 392 species of birds have made Belize their sanctuary, and thousands more depend on the lagoons during the migration and breeding season. In 1982, there were 178 different species of vascular plants identified from the Belize coast, 32 of which are non-native. Mangroves are dominant among many of the southern cayes, while shrubs and coconut trees also thrive in the subtropical temperatures. The barrier reef holds around 247 species of marine plant life.
Most dominant are the seagrass beds, shoalgrass, and manatee grass which host living organisms and trap sediments and nutrients to the ocean floor. The Belize reef system is diverse in the species it supports. Studies have reported 66 species of scleratinian corals and 36 species of soft corals. Also identified are 45 species of hydroids and 350 species of mollusks. Also diverse in this system, is the many species of algae, crustaceans, echinoderms, sponges, marine worms, ascidians, and copepods. Biological Interrelationships Among Life Forms Plant and animal species depend on the ecosystem in the coastal waters of Belize.
In turn, the ecosystem relies on the plant and animal life in order to thrive. Take for example, the seagrass beds, which is a dominant plant in these coastal waters. The endangered manatees have found refuge in the beds from predators. The seagrass beds also play host to many other living organisms such as seaweeds, crustaceans, mollusks, grass and algae-eating fish, and many other creatures of the sea. These creatures work with the seagrass to help stabilize the sea floor by trapping sediments and nutrients, which is essential to the balance of marine life.
The vegetation and animals on the islands of Belize have also evolved to help each other balance the ecosystem. Animals depend on the vegetation for food and shelter. The mangrove forests are home to many species of birds. Through evolution, they have learned to cooperate and work together to survive. Human Intrusions which Threaten the Environment This beautiful and once natural environment is now in danger of losing many plant and animal species, some of which are endangered. Humans discovered the area was rich with marine life and so started a commercial fishery in the mid 19th century.
They harvested turtle, sharks, finfish, crabs, sponges, and seaweed and eventually grew into commercial wholesale marketing. The fisheries are now experiencing a decline as resources are depleted. More recently, tourism seems to be the biggest intrusion on the barrier reef. Drawn to its beautiful surroundings and comfortable climate, tourists flock to the islands for vacations and sightseeing. Approximately 128,000 visitors come to the reef every year to dive or snorkel, sightsee, sportfish from chartered boats, kayak, camp, and picnic.
Human activities have caused trauma to the reef caused by boat anchors and collecting. Sewage pollution from tourist hotels and resorts have contaminated the land and water. Mangrove forests have been eliminated to make way for urban development and oil drilling has threatened the quality of the reef. Human invasion, in addition to natural disasters and climate changes, are contributing factors to the degradation of the Belize Barrier Reef. Protections to Safeguard and Preserve the Area The government of Belize realized the seriousness of the situation and created the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU).
A plan was approved that would help assist in the conservation of coastal resources. This plan included the monitoring and planning of new techniques, the implementation of research, and finally, public awareness. In 2004, a petition was filed by Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) to request the World Heritage Site to list the Belize barrier reef on the endangered list. A press release from Candy Gonzalez states, “Putting the BBRS on the “In Danger” list is a positive step for the reef.
It is something that can bring international focus as well as funding to management efforts. Once Belize has taken steps to better protect the World Heritage Site, it can be removed from the “In Danger” list” (Gonzalez, 2009, p 1). Efforts made to Further Preservation Candy Gonzalez was very influential in making sure that every possible effort was made to further the preservation of the Belize barrier reef. In her press release from June 24, 2009, she calls on the government to implement the following recommendations: 1. Cancel all land leases and titles granted within the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRS) World Heritage Site that took place after 1996 2. Place a permanent prohibition on the sale /lease of lands within the WHS 3. Prohibit dredging and alterations of mangroves within and in close proximity to the WHS 4. Complete, adopt and implement the Coastal Zone Management Plan 5. Adopt and implement the revisions aimed at strengthening the Mangrove Protection Regulations 6. Fill gaps in marine protected areas, including an increase in the amount of marine territory under full protection (now less than 4%) 7.
Revise the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and process to include stronger consideration for the cumulative impacts of developments 8. Adopt and implement the National Protected Areas Co-Management Framework for Belize We urge the government to keep collaborating with non-governmental partners. Unfortunately, reversing the trend of reef decline is increasingly more difficult” (Gonzalez, 2009, p 1). Individual Support Each individual has the power to contribute to the preservation of endangered areas such as the Belize Barrier Reef.
The easiest and most common form of contribution is a monetary donation to an organization that supports this cause. Preservation efforts cost the government large sums of money every year. Donations will help to offset the costs of these projects. A couple of organizations that support the preservation of the Belize Barrier Reef are the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, and the United Nations Foundation. Many people organize fundraisers in order to raise larger sums of money to donate to the cause. An individual can find fundraising materials online or through their local community.
Some people go to further extents and find satisfaction in starting their own organization. Whichever way an individual decides to become involved, the biggest goal is raising awareness in the community of the Belize Barrier Reef. The more people that are aware of what is happening, the better chance the reef has for survival. Additional Measures to Consider I think that one of the most important things to consider when thinking about how a person can help to support a cause, such as the Belize Barrier Reef, is to consider volunteer work.
An organization could not be successful without the help of people who volunteer their time to make a difference. Volunteering provides many benefits to the individual in addition to the cause. It builds bonds between people who are passionate about the same thing. Volunteering can make an individual feel good about trying to make the world a better place to live in for future generations to come. Another measure to consider is teaching our younger generations about the importance of preserving our cultural and natural heritage.
The children of today will make an impact on tomorrow’s world. They should be taught about the roles that humans play in natural areas, such as the Belize Barrier Reef, and the impact of their actions. The Belize Barrier Reef is an important asset to our natural world. Human intrusion has upset the balance created among the ecosystem, and now many plants and animal species are struggling to survive. They will be lost forever if we do not step in to save it. References Gonzalez, C. (2009). “Clear and Present Danger for the Reef”.
Retrieved January 23, 2010, from http://www. elaw. org/node/3874. Tourtellot, J. B. (2009). “A reef takes a dive: the score for Belize’s great coral barrier has plunged in less than three years. What gives?. ” National Geographic Traveler, 24(2), 47. Retrieved January 23, 2010, from Gale PowerSearch database. UNEP-UCMC (2008) Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Retrieved January 23, 2010, from http://www. unep-wcmc. org/sites/wh/pdf/Belize. pdf. World Heritage (2009) World Heritage in Danger. Retrieved January 23, 2010 from http://whc. unesco. org/en/158