Three key services provided by coral reefs and mangroves in Belize are worth an estimated US$395 million to US$559 million per year, according to a report released in this Carribean nation this week.
The report, Coastal Capital: Belize, jointly issued by the World Resources Institute and the US-based World Wildlife Fund, estimates the annual economic value of coral reef and mangrove-associated tourism, in Belize, at between US$150 million and US$196 million, accounting for between 12 and 15 per cent of the country's GDP. Benefits from reef and mangrove-dependent fisheries contribute a further US$14 million to US$16 million to the economy.
Reefs and mangroves also protect coastal properties from erosion and wave-induced damage. WRI estimates that Belize's coral reefs provide an estimated US$120 million to US$180 million in avoided damages per year. Mangroves protect the coastline from both waves and storm surge, providing an additional US$111 million to US$167 million in protection annually.
Despite growing recognition of the economic importance of coastal resources, reefs and mangroves face growing threats from unchecked coastal development, over-fishing, and pressures from tourism. Climate-related changes such as warming seas and fiercer storms will compound these impacts in the future.
"The goods and services offered by coral reefs and mangroves are frequently overlooked or underappreciated in coastal investment and policy decisions," said Emily Cooper, a research associate at WRI and lead author of the study. "The amount currently invested in protecting Belize's coral reefs and mangroves is very small when compared to the contribution of these resources to the national economy."
Belize's Marine Protected Area (MPA) system is widely hailed as an example of forward-thinking in marine conservation. Consisting of 18 protected areas managed primarily by the country's fisheries and forestry departments in collaboration with local NGOs, the MPAs are an important draw for divers, snorkelers and sport fishermen, and contain no-fishing areas that help to maintain stocks of key commercial species. The system, however, is under-funded, and staff, fuel, and equipment limitations make it difficult to curb illegal fishing and monitor such activity in most of the reserves.
The Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere, shelters most of the windward coast of Belize. About two-thirds of the mainland coast is protected by coral reefs, as well as the windward coast of most cayes. Credit: WRI "Belize's reefs and mangroves offer crucial socio-economic benefits but are already threatened by overuse, degradation and fragmentation. Climate change will undoubtedly compound these through increased frequency of impacts from mass bleaching and storm occurrences, as well as coastal erosion and sedimentation," said Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican reef scientist and climate change officer for WWF Central America. "This makes urgent the need to act now to alleviate human threats and increase the resilience potential of these very importance ecosystems."
"Putting a dollar value on the goods and services provided by reefs and mangroves helps to translate them into a language that everyone speaks," said Lauretta Burke, a senior associate at WRI. "Hopefully, these findings will contribute to well-informed decisions regarding the management of these critical resources."
WRI's Coastal Capital project receives key financial support from the Oak Foundation, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, SwedBio, the Campbell Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.