South Water Caye Marine Reserve

South Water Caye Marine Reserve is the second largest marine reserve in Belize, covering 117,875 acres (approximately 47,700 hectares), and was established by the Fisheries Department in 1996, in recognition of the exceptional integrity of the marine ecosystems, and its national, regional and international importance. The Marine Reserve is located on the shallow reef platform of the Atlantic coast of Mesoamerica, and is part of the Mesoamerican reef, stretching approximately 1,000km from the Yucatan to the Bay Islands in Honduras. The majority of the Mesoamerican Reef lies within Belize, a country with a low population and relatively low rate of coastal development, leading to its recognition for having some of the least impacted reef areas in the region, and the highest diversity of fish species.  The area is a priority for conservation due to its particularly rich biodiversity, supporting an important oceanic mangrove system and extensive seagrass meadows, which provide valuable habitats for commercial and non-commercial species – including queen conch (Strombus gigas) and lobster (Panulirus argus), the foundations of the traditional fishing industry on which a number of coastal communities in Belize are dependent. The sheltered waters and mangrove systems of the Pelican cayes in the southern area of the Marine Reserve have been identified as one of the most biodiverse marine systems within the western hemisphere, supporting a number of endemic species, and species new to science. Mangrove cayes provide nesting sites for several nationally important bird species and include Man O’ War Caye, protected in its own right as a Crown Reserve. The numerous sand bores adjacent to Wee Wee Caye include an established nesting beach for the rare roseate tern (Sterna dougallii), and the area is also utilized by marine turtles for nesting. South Water Caye Marine Reserve is one of the seven protected areas that form the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO. The Marine Reserve lies on Belize’s continental shelf, and encompasses numerous submerged mangrove islands.

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