Marine Reserves


Marine protected areas are one of the most important conservation tools available to Belize. They ensure the conservation of the internationally acclaimed Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, with its protective barrier reef, pristine atolls, sheltered seagrass meadows and rich marine life. The Belize reef is recognized for its global importance through the designation as a World Heritage Site. A series of 7 sites are nominated for the designation, and like the terrestrial protected areas, contribute towards global goals and standards laid out under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Management is either direct, by the Fisheries Department, or in partnership with a co-management agency. The Belize Fisheries Department directly administers 5 reserves and the remaining 4 are managed with co-management partners. The co-management partners include: Southern Environmental Association (SEA), Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), and Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA)). Marine Reserves are established under the Fisheries Department as fisheries management tools and have clearly defined zones allowing for extractive and non extractive use, and conservation protection, with use concentrating on sustainable fishing, tourism, research and education. The Department has also established 11 protected Spawning Aggregation Sites, covering the majority of the sites known within Belize waters. A further 2 have seasonal protection for Nassau grouper. There is provision for continued fishing by traditional fishermen under special license for several of these sites.

NATURE SectionNature

The Marine Protected Areas of Belize encompass some of the best representative examples of the Mesoamerican Reef. They form part of the largest, and possibly the least impacted reef in the Atlantic–Caribbean region, with the highest diversity of fish species. Marine reserves include: littoral forest and mangroves; seagrass meadows rich in marine life; crystal clear lagoons scattered with numerous cayes and near-pristine reefs; and the barrier reef itself, where grouper and snapper gather in huge spawning aggregations. From the immense, impressive whale sharks to the smallest coral polyp, the reef and the associated seagrass and other marine ecosystems are a complex, integrated series of ecosystems that support viable populations of threatened species, sustain coastal fishing communities, and draw significant tourism to Belize.

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CULTURE SectionCulture

The Marine Protected Areas of Belize form an integral part of the cultural way of life for many Belizeans. Coastal communities preserve a traditional way of life that is closely tied to the marine resources, with fishermen free-diving for lobster and conch from locally built sailboats, or catching snapper and grouper on hand lines for local fish markets. These communities are seeking to maintain their cultural values and heritage, and their link with the marine environment. The decline of marine resources has resulted in the emergence of alternative livelihoods such as tourism. Tourism provides a unique opportunity for protected area stakeholders to whole-heartedly share the richness of our proud Belizean identity with guests.

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LIFE SectionLife
Marine Resources: the reef is of economic importance to Belize, supporting the traditional lobster, conch and finfish fisheries and providing incomes for fishermen from coastal communities. The replenishment zones within the marine protected areas ensure that there are viable populations of commercial species for subsistence and commercial fishing. Spawning aggregation sites, mangroves, seagrass and coastal lagoons provide critical habitats as spawning and nursery areas, and are vital in the maintenance of commercial species.

Coastline Protection: the barrier reef and coastal mangroves provide significant protection against the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes, protecting property and infrastructure, as well as lives. Mangrove ecosystems protect shorelines and cayes and enhance the resiliency of coastlines against erosion.

Tourism and Recreation: dazzling arrays of coral and fish are of high touristic value. They attract snorkelers and divers from all over the world, benefitting Belize’s growing number of tourism operations providing over 20% to Belize’s GDP.
Educational and Outreach Resources: access to pristine marine areas and marine life support educational activities, building awareness of Belize’s natural resources, and encouraging future good stewardship.

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Listing Management Establishment Area (Acres)
Bacalar Chico Fisheries Department 1996 15,766
Hol Chan Fisheries Department 1987* 3,813
Caye Caulker Fisheries Department 1998* 9,670
Turneffe Atoll TASA, Fisheries Department 2012 325,412
Glover’s Reef Fisheries Department 1996 86,653
South Water Caye Fisheries Department 1996* 117,875
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes SEA, Fisheries Department 2003 25,978
Sapodilla Cayes SEA, Fisheries Department 1996 38,594
Port Honduras TIDE, Fisheries Department 2000 100,000



*Expanded after initial designation.

TASATurneffe Atoll Sustainability Association

SEASouthern Environmental Association

TIDEToledo Institute for Development and the Environment