In 2021, the government of Belize committed to conserving 30% of its ocean and protecting the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), through one of the largest debt restructuring projects for marine conservation to date.
Blue bonds such as this could serve as a blueprint for coastal countries around the world to maintain marine biodiversity and shore up a robust blue economy, which the World Bank defines as the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem."
As part of EJN’s Strengthening Blue Economy Reporting in Belize project, EJN aims to strengthen the capacity of journalists in Belize to report on this critical subject.
From January 14th – 16th, EJN hosted a three-day workshop in Belize, to provide context on some of the broader issues and current threats to the Mesoamerican Reef, including offshore drilling, marine protected areas (MPAs) and strategies to enable sustainable coastal development, reef management and tourism.
The journalists had the opportunity to network and interview blue economy experts, visit an atoll on the Mesoamerican Reef, and receive editorial guidance from seasoned EJN mentors.
The journalists who were selected to participate in the workshop are:
- Aaron Humes (Breaking Belize News)
- Marisol Amaya (Krem FM)
- Britney Gordon (The Reporter)
- Courtney Menzies (Channel 7)
- Dion Vansen (San Pedro Sun)
- Duane Moody (Channel 5)
- Hipolito Novelo (Love FM)
- Paul Lopez (Channel 5)
- Shayanne Dena (Love FM)
- Vejea Alvarez (Love FM)
On the first day, Allyssa Noble, Communications Director at Oceana and Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA) discussed blue economy developments in Belize and current campaigns to strengthen it, including efforts to promote responsible fishing practices in Belize’s waters.
“There’s a lot of information out there for reporters,” said Andrade. “We have to do more investigations in the blue [economy] space.”
Journalists asked the panelists several questions and voiced the challenges that the media faces when covering the blue economy.
“We need to better understand how the environment has changed,” said journalist Marisol Amaya, an Editor at KREM FM. “But, we also need resources to cover [these kinds of] stories.”
Julio Maas, Small-Scale Fisheries Coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) spoke to journalists about the use of technology to monitor IUU fishing, and how the WCS could better communicate with journalists about the type of work that they are doing in Belize.
“Media is a two-way street,” Maas said. “We need to spend time and work with you as much as you with us. "Later in the afternoon, EJN hosted a webinar, ‘Telling Compelling Coastal Stories: Tips for Journalists, from Journalists,’ which was live streamed to a public audience. EJN’s Latin America Stories Mentor Lucy Calderón moderated a discussion between EJN grantees Isabel Alarcon and Victor Rodriguez, who spoke about the importance of relating factual information about complex issues in a way that audiences find engaging, particularly when reporting marine and coastal stories.
Sam Schramski, EJN’s Special Projects Editor, gave a presentation to journalists on the importance of collaborative journalism as part of reporting on the blue economy.
The next day, journalists boarded a boat to Calabash Caye for a two-day field trip to the Turneffe Atoll, the largest of Belize’s three atolls. The presence of extensive terrestrial and mangrove vegetation, and well-preserved coral reefs and seagrass beds make Turneffe unique within the Belize reef system.
The seagrass and mangroves provide important nursery habitats for commercial species such as lobster, conch, and finfish. But despite its unique biodiversity and importance for coastal communities, threats to the Turneffe Atoll persist — including the destruction and degradation of critically important habitats by dredging, clear-cutting of mangrove forests, and lack of sustainable development.
Journalists were given a tour of the atoll by Protected Areas Director Shane Young and engaged in one-to-one interviews with Valdemar Andrade and members of the Turneffe Patrol Team, who regularly surveil the reef system using vessel monitoring systems.
“This workshop was important because, in addition to contributing to the constant training that every journalist should have (which has been limited to online only during the pandemic), participants were able to reinforce their knowledge of marine issues and the challenges that Belize must resolve in order to move towards a blue economy,” says Calderón.
"It is vital to investigate the threats to the country's marine ecosystems, especially fisheries and coral reefs. Uncurbed, these will destroy the natural capital on which many lives depend,” she adds.
The journalists left the workshop equipped with the skills and knowledge to continue reporting on the development of the blue economy in Belize. Many expressed interest in applying for EJN’s current story grant opportunity, Reporting on Marine Ecosystems and the Blue Economy in Belize, which closes on January 31.
Banner image: Workshop participants snorkeling in the clear blue water of the Turneffe Atoll, the largest atoll in Belize and in the Mesoamerican Reef system / Credit: Andrea Polanco.