As Belize prepares to celebrate Coastal Awareness Week under the theme, “building coastal resilience through innovation” a number of scientists and hydrographic experts are in country to continue work in helping to build the nation’s climate resilience and to develop adaptive measures as part of its efforts to manage and protect coastal and marine resources.
The work forms part of the UK Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme which has over been working through a strategic partnership with the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and National Oceanography Centre (NOC), to gather key scientific data that will change the way the country cares for and utilises its key blue resources.
The experts work alongside key stakeholders including the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), the University of Belize, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, the Belizean Port Authority and Fisheries Department to study key coastal and marine environments to identify trends and threats to the fauna and flora.
British High Commissioner to Belize, Claire Evans OBE praises the collaborative effort, “this valuable data will be crucial for key agencies in Belize working toward protecting the country’s coastal resources against the damaging effects of climate change. It is great to see that the benefits from this joint initiative are not only for the economic and social development of the country but also extend to the environmental sphere to help protect coastal and marine ecosystems and in turn the livelihood of Belizeans who depend heavily of them.”
The scientific data collected will be used to feed into strategies and the decision-making architecture of the Belizean Government, agencies, and NGOs working to protect the country’s coastal and marine resources.
Scientists from the NOC have been working on gathering data on marine habitats in Belize City, ocean acidification and monitoring the effects of land use changes on water quality in coastal environments. Work is currently underway to quantify the impact of sea-level rise on carbon burial in mangrove forests and to install ocean acidification sensors on the coral reef.
Dr Christopher Pearce, programme lead for the NOC, said “ through the activities supported by the CME Programme we are providing the technical capabilities and knowledge required to characterise those environments, which are enabling the Belizean government to make evidence-based decisions on their coastal management policy and how to balance tensions between the different activities and services it provides.”
The UKHO have focused on gathering seabed mapping data to help Belize support sustainable economic growth and protect their communities from the effects of climate change.
To collect this data, the team led the survey of approximately 2760km2 of Belize’s waters between 2017 and 2018. In the first instance, their work will be used to support safe navigation in important trade hubs of Belize City, Big Creek and Commerce Bight through the creation of new nautical charts. In addition to this, UKHO data sets can help Belize develop infrastructure and protect their marine environment.
Ian Davies, UKHO lead on the project, explained, “the depths captured can be used to create data models that can help predict the impact of sea level rise and storm surges in the event of extreme weather events. This information will be key to helping authorities to improve protection of coastal infrastructure and marine environments in low lying areas vulnerable to the effects of storms and rising sea levels.”
Cefas’ work in Belize is aimed to collect and set baselines for carbonate chemistry and fisheries vulnerability to climate change effects.
Dr. Silvana Birchenough, CME Caribbean Science lead and researcher for Cefas said, “the new data sets will provide the much-needed information for accurate protection and management of these very important natural resources, we need to ensure we know their combined vulnerability to climate and fisheries changes.”
Together the agencies are working on combining data to support the creation of marine habitat maps to help Belize assess the health of marine habitats and support sustainable development activities such as the development of aquaculture guidelines and management of coastal assets.
The work will also support ongoing planning and conservation activities as indicated in the Belize Coastal Management Plan drafted in 2016 and led by CZMAI.
As part of the CME Programme, work is underway to create a Maritime Economy Plan for the Country. This is being coordinated locally with CZMAI. The Plan is expected to assess the existing national maritime economies and identify the opportunities and obstacles to development, which individual countries can address to drive economic growth and alleviate poverty.
The team in country will be actively engaged and support several activities during Coastal Awareness Week.