Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca K. Zarger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas J. Pluckhahn, Ph.D.


Sustainable Tourism Development, Fishing Livelihoods, Heritage Imaginaries, Anthropology of Public Policy


Local coastal fishers in Belize are adapting novel strategies to manage, exploit, and market marine and coastal resources in an effort to promote fishing livelihoods and coastal environmental sustainability. These resilience strategies respond to diminished fishing stocks, fisheries and environmental policies and regulations, climate change, shifting seafood markets, and expanding tourism development. With growing foreign investment and nationally-directed infrastructure improvement projects on the Placencia Peninsula in recent years, tourism development is shifting toward mass tourism, and local residents are seeking avenues to sustain their livelihoods. In Placencia, the need for effective monitoring and management of Marine Protected Areas, fisheries, and coastal tourism, and enforcement of environmental regulations is being met through collaborations between the fisheries sector, governmental departments, regional environmental NGOs, and international aid agencies. Drawing on an “anthropology of public policy” approach and ethnographic research (including interviews, participatory mapping, surveys, and participant-observation) between 2013 and 2015 on the peninsula, this thesis investigates the implications of collaborative coastal resource management strategies developed between the Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited and regional environmental NGOs such as the Southern Environmental Association (SEA), among others, to promote marine conservation, local fishing livelihoods, and heritage tourism.

In particular, I consider how fishing livelihoods, conceptions of local history and heritage, environmental knowledge, tourism development, and fisheries and environmental policies inform the relationships and trajectory for “sustainable” local fisheries management through these collaborations. Many local fishers recognize a complementary relationship between tourism and fishing occupations through the ways that they can impart an ecological conservation ethos, centering coastal environmental knowledge, education, and local “embodied heritage” experiences and skills to sustain local marine livelihoods while preserving coastal ecosystems for visitors and future generations of residents. With the declining prominence of commercial fishing for Caribbean spiny lobster, queen conch, and fin-fish in the village, several Placencia fishers are applying their generationally inherited and embodied marine knowledge to livelihood diversification strategies such as seasonal, full- or part-time transitions to tour guiding and NGO coastal conservation, monitoring and enforcement, restoration, and outreach positions. Moreover, many fishers in the Placencia producers fishing cooperative have ventured into alternative fisheries and mariculture activities including fishing and marketing of invasive lionfish as well as seaweed farming and value-added product promotion with variable support from the Belize Fisheries Department, SEA, other environmental NGOs, and international conservation and development organizations. Recognizing these livelihood diversification strategies and relationships for sustainable coastal resource management, I discuss the opportunities and challenges of three recent and emerging alternative livelihoods programs directed by the Placencia fishing cooperative including the seaweed farming project, the lionfish eradication and marketing initiative, and the development of a heritage tourism program centering fisher livelihoods in connection with a proposed local fishing history museum.

To explore the possibility for fishing heritage tourism as a pathway to “sustainable tourism development” on the peninsula in the future, I investigate how local conceptions of fishing as heritage in Placencia village converge with or diverge from tourist “imaginaries” of culture and heritage on the peninsula as well as heritage assets and products conceived in national sustainable tourism development policy and commercial tourism markets. Residents of the peninsula, Belizean workers and visitors residing off of the peninsula, and foreign tourists alike recognize fishing and activites, events, and places associated with fishing as aspects of local heritage, although foreign visitors generally ascribe only cursory significance to fishing in the peninsula’s culture(s), heritage, and identities as compared with Belizean nationals. Rather, these visitors often imagine local heritage in terms of beaches and relaxation, the Belize Barrier reef and cayes, and especially the local friendly vibe, “quaintness,” and cultural diversity of people, drawing partly from national and local tourism marketing media portrayals of major attractions on the peninsula (such as on websites and in magazines and guidebooks) and resident and visitor word of mouth. Local and national sustainable tourism policies for the peninsula that recommend cultural tourism as a secondary product for future tourism development on the peninsula align with interview and survey results that suggest widespread resident and visitor interest in seeing the development of cultural heritage attractions on the peninsula such as a local cultural and historical museum. For many residents, conceptions of heritage tourism fit within the scope of local plans and visions for sustainable development that aim to maintain the integrity of the peninsula as a “low impact,” “authentic,” integrated, and primarily overnight tourism destination with a laid-back vibe, beaches, cultural diversity, and access to a variety of inland and marine-based attractions.

Drawing from these results, I conclude by discussing the implications of these alternative fisheries and tourism initiatives and markets to support local livelihoods and coastal environmental conservation, and consider the potential viability of collaborative coastal resource management approaches between fishers, NGOs, and governmental organizations for future sustainable development in Placencia and other coastal Belizean communities. This thesis represents an applied case study of collaborative fisheries management and how heritage is conceived and applied in a coastal Belizean context. It builds on previous coastal environmental resource management, heritage studies, and anthropology of tourism research, and considers the significance of local heritage and livelihoods in crafting locally accountable, relevant, and sustainable development policies and plans in coastal settings.