In the crystal-clear waters of Belize’s marine environment lies a challenge: how to ensure the effective conservation of marine biodiversity while ensuring sustainable financial and human capacities and the rights and values of local rightsholders and stakeholders in and around the marine and coastal areas.

A transformative wave is rising, driven by a collaboration between the Government of Belize (GOB), the UK’s Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This tripartite cooperation aims to bring the country’s marine protected areas (MPAs) to the forefront of global conservation standards, specifically the IUCN Green List. Under the Belize Blue Bond Agreement, Belize has shown its commitment by setting the ambitious goal of applying for the Green List Programme for at least three of its marine protected areas by 2027. This also supports the country as a member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HAC), which championed the adoption of Target 3 (30x30) of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

IUCN's initial engagement in Belize was also highlighted by the BNCFF (Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility) to award one of the Belize MPAs, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, for establishing Nature-based solutions (NbS) in their marine protected and conserved areas.

Green List Logo

Nurturing conservation through global standards

The IUCN Green List Standard for Protected and Conserved Areas is more than just a Standard; it’s a promise of quality. It ensures that protected and conserved areas not only achieve their conservation objectives but also do so with fairness and effectiveness. The Green List, with its rigorous criteria spanning four components, 17 criteria, and 50 indicators, serves as a guiding star for sites aiming for conservation excellence.

The UK’s OCPP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation (MBECA) and the Belize Fisheries Department (BFiD), hosted the IUCN in Belize for a workshop focused on Green Listing of marine protected areas (MPAs) from 31 August to 7 September 2023 as part of Belize’s marine conservation ambitions.

The five-day workshop hosted by the IUCN, OCPP, MBECA, and BFiD was a stepping stone towards this aim, focusing on the Green Listing of MPAs as a cornerstone of Belize’s marine conservation approach.

The power of local voices – equitable governance

South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWC) provided a window into the intricacies of conservation on the ground. Here, during the site visit of the workshop participants, fishers emphasised their deep connection to the sea and its ecosystem and their wish to be included in the decision-making processes of the SWC management that shape the future of their marine territories. This sentiment was echoed by Asad Magaña, Executive Director of the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and co-manager of Port Honduras Marine Reserve, who stressed the indispensability of local stakeholders in creating effective site management plans. “It is vital for local stakeholders to be meaningfully and actively engaged in the preparation of the site management plan during its implementation and eventual evaluation. The management of the site will only be successful when the people, whose lives are being impacted are involved in the decision making.“, he mentioned.

Fishermen in the water of Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. Photo: Siska Sihombing.

The dialogue between MPA co-managers at SWC revealed a pressing need: structured stakeholder mapping and continuing to build and maintain a good relationship with the local stakeholders, including the fishers. Such a process would ensure that every voice, every concern, and every hope is captured, laying the groundwork for conservation strategies that are inclusive and sustainable in the marine protected areas.

Belize MPA co-managers discussing challenges and opportunities during the site visit. Photo: Siska Sihombing.