Currently, no-take, or replenishment, zones represent approximately 3% of Belize’s territorial sea. The effectiveness of these zones in replenishing fish stocks and enabling the recovery of damaged or degraded ecosystems is limited in part by their small size and fragmented nature, as well as by the mobility of many species of fisheries concern and the effects of both proximate and distant pressures. The Government of Belize (GoB), institutional partners, and several NGOs, along with the Wildlife Conservation Society, have committed to collaborate on a national project to expand no-take, or replenishment, zones to incorporate at least 10% of the country’s territorial sea as strictly protected areas by the end of 2018. This project includes four major activities: • ecological mapping to support no-take designation;
• a synthesis of performance results of no-take zones;
• design and implementation of a communications campaign; and
• development of economic alternatives for fishers and fishing communities.
A phased approach is being utilized to meet the 10% target. Phase 1 includes an expansion in the open, deep-sea area, areas that are the most underrepresented habitat types (coastal shelf, mesopelagic, bathyal and abyssal) in the current MPAs system. This expansion will result in 7% of Belize’s territorial sea designated as strictly protected areas by 2016. Phase 2 focuses on expanding in the inshore area and would result in reaching the national target of 10%. A review of the performance results of no-take zones, in Belize and elsewhere, in replenishing fisheries and conserving biodiversity was conducted. The objectives of the review was to provide positive examples, elucidate the factors contributing to positive results, and develop scientific arguments and data to generate and sustain stakeholder support for replenishment zones and their expansion, as well as develop messages for the project’s communications strategy. The implementation of viable economic alternatives and fisheries diversification that will increase employment, and improve quality of life for fishers while reducing fishing communities’ vulnerability to climate change is critical for the success of this project. The Nature Conservancy, in conjunction with the Government of Belize and fishers, have developed an Economic Alternative and Fisheries Diversification plan, aimed at guiding and informing investments and interventions that directly address the impacts of fisheries management actions, such as the expansion of replenishment zones and national roll-out of Managed Access, on stakeholders. Furthermore a comprehensive communications campaign was developed that features the nationally broadcasted radio drama called ‘Punta Fuego’ (link). The drama promotes positive change in the relevant knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors towards replenishment zones and other MPAs around Belize.