Summary:

The UNESCO/IUCN Monitoring Mission to the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage property in Belize was undertaken from 23 to 28 March 2009. The overall impression is that there is not clear recognition and understanding of the management implications of a World Heritage property. There is apparently no difference in treatment of areas within and outside of the World Heritage property except for three of the seven components, which are managed as national parks. It is to be noted that the recently approved National Protected Areas Systems Plan includes hardly any reference to World Heritage, which is mentioned sparsely throughout the text and in some cases in a confusing manner. The main impression was that an excessive amount of development has been going on within the mangrove islands of the site. The government appears to be managing mangrove islands already existed at the time of inscription. Given that the Outstanding Universal Value of the site is intimately related to healthy mangrove ecosystems and that indeed, mangrove ecosystems are specifically mentioned in the nomination and inscription documents, the business-as-usual scenario cannot continue without irremediably compromising the property's Outstanding Universal Value.

This situation was especially clear in South Water Caye marine Reserve, inscribed as part of the World Heritage property due in part to the existence of a unique ecosystem found. Two of these cayes have been severely impacted in the last years by clear-cutting of the mangroves and filling with corals and sand, apparently for real-estate purposes. Marine areas just a few meters away have clear signs of dredging, apparently where the landfill material had been extracted. Throughout other cayes (small sandy islands formed on the surface of coral reefs), mangrove cutting and development was also observed. In some cayes, access lines have already been cleared into the mangroves for future clearing. In Bacalar Chico National Park, just recently, only the social uproar managed to stop the sale to developers of crown land within the property. The Minister of Environment can de-gazette protected areas with relative ease and little control. On February 2nd, Fisherman's Caye (also called Pelican Caye, Cat Caye, or Big Cat Caye), was put up on the Department of the Environment website for environmental impact assessment for the Yum Balisi development (http://www.doe.gov.bz/EIAs/YumBalisi.html). It is apparently still possible with the current government for large developments to take place within the World Heritage property.

Other problems are found throughout the BBRRS affecting the Outstanding Universal Value such as over fishing due to insufficient patrolling capacity and/or lack of zoning. No-take zones are currently judged to be small and insufficient. Invasive species, mainly Casuarina, affecting the littoral forest, could be found in the land portions of all parks of the property visited, without any apparent strategy for control.

The institutional framework shows clear signs of weakness due to lack of functioning coordination mechanisms. Mangrove areas, even if just sprouting out of shallow waters are under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Department, despite its lack of capacity to attend to these areas due to lack of boats and resources. The marine areas surrounding the mangroves are under the Fisheries Department but they do not have nay control over what happens with the mangroves, even if the effects of cutting and infilling mangrove areas impact directly the reefs surrounding them. The Mining Department has been allowing dredging within the World Heritage property. Prior efforts in establishing institutions to solve this lack of coordination have not been pursued, such as the Coastal Zone Management Authority, which was deactivated in the last years. The National Protected Area System Plan (NPASP) was adopted in November 2007. This plan establishes the National Protected Areas Commission to ensure coordinated action but to date it has only one position that during our visit was vacant. There is only one person at the national government level responsible for marine protected areas, with a similarly modest budget.

Co-management of protected areas in common practice. NGOs are given full authority to manage sites and to raise the funds to do so and most management activities are carried out by them. In their efforts to raise funds from tourism, sometimes future projects come across as somewhat excessive in relation to their impacts on the property.

Concession for oil and gas exploration could soon pose a potential threat to the different components of the World Heritage property, since all the coast has been mapped in concession blocks, apparently not excluding the World Heritage property.

The mission team was disappointed in that, except for a brief meeting with the Minister of Tourism, no senior government representatives met the mission, thus not allowing for discussion of the findings.

Download the attachment below to read the full report. Click here to read an html version. The document begins with a letter from Francesco Bandarin, Director, World Heritage Centre, who has recommended that the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Property be put on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

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09.Unesco Report.BBRS.doc158.08 KB