Country Profiles

Belize - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Belize, a relatively small country, is located in the northern part of Central America and forests dominate its landscape. Most of the land is composed of broadleaf forest, followed by pine forest and the remaining is mostly savannah land. The Maya Mountain bloc constitutes the second largest in northern Central America and probably the most biologically diverse in the Maya lowlands. Belize is endowed with a very high level of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity and the largest unbroken barrier reef in the western hemisphere. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), which is the second in length only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, stretches the full length of Belize's coastline. Seven sites along Belize’s Barrier Reef System have been declared a World Heritage Site, in recognition of their extremely rich biodiversity and consequent global importance. The country is unique, not only in terms of the total number of species present, but also its vast array of ecotypes and species richness. This wealth of biological diversity, coupled with a rich cultural heritage, have made Belize a very popular tourist destination, providing significant economic benefits for the nation. Mangrove occurs in the offshore areas where the larger decrease in population is observed (the decrease is not as dramatic on the mainland). The terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity have been observed to be negatively impacted in the last few years. The Jaguar (Pantera onca) is considered an important indicator species in Belize; the presence or lack thereof of this top predator can reveal the health of Belize’s forest ecosystems. There is a general declining trend for some species. However, there are limited quantitative data on this trend and more research is needed.

Over the last several decades, agriculture has been important to the economic development of Belize but the sugarcane industry has taken a downturn due to the erosion of preferential markets and prices accorded to the ACP countries by the European Union. However, a cogeneration plant for bagasse should help to finance research and development of sugarcane species by contributing electricity to the national grid with the savings from the new technology. Agriculture has helped to shape the society of the country by diversifying the job market with work in citrus and banana crops technologies as opposed to the traditional timber industry technologies. Also, aquaculture was a rapid growing industry in Belize until recent years when global depressed market prices for shrimp caused the closure of several shrimp farms in the country. A number of shrimp farms are still in operation, culturing mainly the Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) despite economic challenges.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Fifty percent of mangrove loss is due to human activities (corresponding to approximately 344 acres per year) and 50% to storm damage. Belize’s coral reef ecosystems and certain terrestrial ecosystems were found to be at a higher risk from the impacts of climate change due to their low temperature tolerance ranges. Other major threats to the indigenous biodiversity include those associated with the spread and introduction of invasive species, as well as the loss and fragmentation of habitat primarily associated with the expansion of the agricultural and tourism sectors. It was felt that these threats were somewhat more elevated in the marine ecosystem and linked to the rapid development being experienced on some of the cayes. Marine and coastal pollution from land base sources, and that linked to ships with improper disposal methods for solid waste, have been identified as the primary national environmental issue of concern needing urgent attention in Belize. For years, the country has been trying to control this issue but it has been difficult. Another threat identified was the failure to fully and effectively manage protected areas. These threats were linked to constraints, such as the lack of staff availability, essential training, adequate transportation and equipment. Instances of unsustainable agricultural practices have been primarily responsible for riparian and steep slope deforestation and degradation. Environmental contamination due to the use of pesticides and other chemicals has also been experienced.

While the jaguar population in Belize remains healthy, human/jaguar conflicts are on the rise. The causes for conflict were identified as deriving from habitat fragmentation, poor cattle husbandry, overflows or animals displaced due to intrinsic competition, and hunter competition for the prey base. Displaced animals are a recurrent problem to the livestock industry in Belize.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Belize’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), adopted in 1998, highlighted the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to the management of protected areas and the creation of greater efficiencies in the management and conservation of Belize’s national biodiversity. It was felt that these outcomes could be achieved by facilitating greater coordination and increasing capacities in regulatory agencies through legislative reform and targeted management mechanisms. Community participation was emphasized as being critical to the implementation and success of the NBSAP. Significant progress has been made in NBSAP implementation; the document has been used as a reference and influenced the policy and direction of various programs implemented by the Government and international and local NGOs working in Belize. However, there is an immediate need to review the NBSAP in an effort to update its strategies and timelines to ensure its effective implementation. Belize also intends to identify cross-sectoral and cross-cutting issues for integration into new activities, as well as develop a set of national targets with consideration given to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Fisheries Department has passed legislation which focuses on the protection of key species and the application of restrictions as they relate to size, closed seasons, production quota to ensure the conservation and sustainable exploitation of Belize’s aquatic resources. Lobster and conch have seasons during which these species can be harvested with size limits. A moratorium has been placed on the Nassau grouper and any person who contravenes this regulation is faced with heavy penalties (Nassau grouper studies are ongoing). Also, Belize has been effective in controlling the harvesting, use and trade of all threatened and endangered species. It does not permit wildlife to be commercialized and exportation of all its natural resource products are done in fulfilment of CITES requirements.

The Government has very recently strengthened the National Solid Waste Authority and is in the process of implementing a national Solid Waste Management Plan, through an IDB loan, which will guide the management of solid wastes for twenty years into the future. The National Protected Areas Policy and Systems Plan are geared towards species conservation as well as maintaining the integrity of certain critical habitats. The major obstacles in implementation of these programs are universal and apply to all the goals. These were well documented in the recent National Capacity Self-Assessment Reports and include the lack of financial resources, research and development facilities, and technical expertise.

Belize’s main approach to biodiversity conservation has been through the creation of the country’s protected areas system. Consequently, Belize has made significant advances in the development of a comprehensive network of protected areas based on substantial biological, land use and other data. The plan is geared towards species conservation as well as maintaining the integrity of certain critical habitats. According to a national study, protected areas with legal underpinnings cover 22.6% of the country.

The exportation of several forest species has been restricted to preserve the over-harvesting of these species. Since 2005, the Forest Department has transitioned from granting short-term small logging licenses to long-term sustainable forest licenses that places the onus on the license holder to utilize the resources in accordance with the Sustainable Forest Plan approved by the Forest Department. Several of the logging companies in Belize have already put into action programmes for the certification of timber they harvest. Certification is done by independent third-party certifiers that have been accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. This program allows the consumer to make environmentally responsible choices regarding forest products they purchase.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

In order to support current efforts, build the country’s capacity to effectively deal with issues related to the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of national genetic resources, inventory its present biodiversity, among other efforts, much more support is required. Challenged by growing economic constraints and excess national debt, Belize is experiencing difficulty supporting additional staff, in addition to supporting training, equipment and transportation requirements necessary for effective implementation of commitments made. There is a need for additional well-targeted funding from donor countries and organizations to be placed within established and transparent management systems, with specifically defined goals and objectives, to continue moving forward.

The Southern Development Project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), was designed to support economic, social and physical planning activities. Investments were also made in rural enterprises and sustainable farming techniques aimed at enhancing economic opportunity and social development in the region. Also, a national trust was established in June 1996 by the Government of Belize through the application of a tax levied on non-Belizeans departing from Belize through any of the country’s border points. Further, the Government provides support to international and local NGOs and academic institutions to carry out research in Belize. There are presently more than 20 institutions offering research and training opportunities, and many offer educational opportunities for both teachers and students.

At present, no single piece of legislation exists that independently and directly addresses specific biodiversity considerations. However, there are multiple government institutions that assist in the integration and implementation of biodiversity considerations in existing policies, strategies and plans. The present approach taken therefore may sometimes fail to address the specific biodiversity issues related to use and overuse, exploitation or the impacts of unsustainable development on biodiversity. The main pieces of legislation directly related to the sustainable management of Belize’s natural and cultural resources include: Forest Act, National Parks System Act, Fisheries Act, National Lands Act, Wildlife Protection Act and the National Institute for Culture and History Act. However, other pieces of legislation may be seen as supporting elements which envelope the principles of rational and regulative use, such as the Environmental Protection Act and the Land Utilization Act and their respective regulations.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Various programmes for communities adjacent to protected areas have been developed to provide incentives for cooperation and collaboration in conservation. Communities have been employed and incorporated into monitoring, research and other programmes in these areas. The tourism and fisheries sectors have been some of the greatest advocators and supporters of the need to protect Belize’s biodiversity and natural resource base, such as by the presence of a marine biodiversity monitoring programme.