Belize is one of the jewels of the Caribbean, known for its Mayan temples, lush forests, and remarkable coastline. Its coastal zone contains a rich diversity of habitats and attractions, including three offshore atolls, coastal plains and lagoons, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and over 300 cayes. This highly productive coastal zone is home to 35% of the population of Belize as well as endangered species like the West Indian manatee, American crocodile, sea turtles, and several bird species.
With over 280 km of barrier reef, Belize is home to the planet’s second longest unbroken reef system. World-renowned snorkelling and diving draw around 900,000 tourists to the region annually, driving construction of new coastal development, airports, urban areas, and cruise ship ports. The same coastal ecosystems also support several commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries.
The importance of the coastal zone in the productive sector of Belize is increasing rapidly. Most industries in Belize are either directly or indirectly reliant on some component of the coastal environment to function. Industries such as fishing and tourism are dependent on the organisms that inhabit the coastal area to sustain them. Other industries such as agriculture, aquaculture, and petroleum use the coastal waters to transport their products, thereby allowing them to engage in overseas trade. It is estimated that $350 to $400 million BZD is generated directly through resource-based economic activity in the coastal zone. Perhaps a further $450 to $500 million BZD are transported through the area in exports (sugar, citrus, bananas, timber, and other agricultural products). However, responsibility for undertaking functions related to the economic development, resource and environmental management in the coastal zone of Belize is divided among numerous agencies which may lead to fragmentation of management responsibility and ad-hoc decision making on development; inadequate resource allocation and cumulative effects on the natural resource base.