Belize: On July 31, 2020, a statutory instrument was signed by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development to expand the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, now approximately 321,623.5 acres.
This expansion includes but is not restricted to protecting a portion of a vital coral reef ecosystem called as the Corona Reef or Cayman Crown, which straddles the maritime boundary between southern Belize and Guatemala.
The Cayman Crown is described as the most underrepresented habitat in the marine protected areas system of Belize and Guatemala. It is believed to be a biologically significant hotspot, a fish spawning aggregation site (FSA) for numerous finfish species and a habitat for deep-slope snapper and bottom-dwelling species. In 2020, the Cayman Crown was declared protected in both Belize and Guatemala.
After obtaining a valid research permit from the Belize Fisheries Department, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) commenced research for FSA’s at the Cayman Crown in February of 2020 and plans to research for 6 to 8 months of the year. Scientific information gathered will inform the Cayman Crown zone’s effective management within the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve.
During FSA monitoring expeditions conducted in February and March of 2021, TIDE’s research team was accompanied by a research team from FUNDAECO, Guatemala, responsible for managing the Guatemalan portion of the Cayman Crown site. The FUNDAECO team obtained a valid research permit from the Belize Fisheries Department to participate in the research trips within Belize’s territorial waters.
TIDE intends to access research permits from Guatemala when researching the Guatemalan marine protected area. TIDE, FUNDAECO and Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative have pledged through a cooperation agreement to work jointly on research, protection, and management of the newly formed transboundary marine protected area.
A management plan for the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve will be developed, and we look forward to the participation of stakeholders in the consultation meetings.