Mangrove Conservation and Preserves as Climate Change Adaptation in Belize, Central America: A case study

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Grey Literature

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Executive Summary

The effects of climate change present growing challenges to low-lying developing nations in the Caribbean Basin. Sea level rise, increasing frequency of large tropical cyclones, loss of reef-building corals and other effects are projected to result in direct economic losses consuming over one-fifth of the gross domestic product of nations in the region by 2100. Resilient mangroves shorelines provide multiple buffers against climate change effects. In addition to serving as habitat for marine species and wildlife, mangroves also provide storm protection for coastal communities, a buffer against coastal erosion, carbon sinks, and additional resiliency for economically important habitat such as coral reef. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Belize has initiated community-based adaptation projects to educate local populations and stakeholders about these emerging problems and to implement "no regrets" adaptation to climate change effects.

Understanding of climate change science varies among demographics and opinion leaders within Belize but the value of mangrove habitat for storm protection and fish habitat is generally accepted. Unfortunately, some also see mangroves as a harbor for biting insects and an unpleasant eye-sore that impedes some kinds of economic development. As a result, most Belizean contractors reflexively remove mangroves when a development project begins, replacing them with seawalls or even leaving shorelines bare. GIS analysis shows that 2% of the total mangroves in the country have been removed, primarily around tourist and population centers like Placencia. Most mangrove clearance has occurred around residential or tourism construction. Currently over 70% of the coast is owned by foreign interests, presumably to be developed in a similar manner at a later date.

This case study describes WWF's programs developed to conserve mangroves for climate change adaptation in and around Placencia, Belize. These efforts have raised local awareness of mangrove habitat as an adaptive tool against climate change, widened the scope of conservation efforts by using national contests to highlight successful efforts to incorporate them into development, educated students of all ages about mangrove conservation and climate change, informed the public of the need for climate change adaptation through workshops, and conserved existing stands of mangrove by soliciting land owners to reserve mangrove forests and planted over 23,000 mangroves.

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