EJN Wraps Up Project in Belize, Training Journalists to Report on the Country’s Blue Economy Plans

aerial photo of a boat in the water
EJN Wraps Up Project in Belize, Training Journalists to Report on the Country’s Blue Economy Plans

In 2021, the government of Belize committed to conserve 30% of its ocean and protect the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), the biggest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. This undertaking, part of the largest debt restructuring for marine conservation to date, could serve as a blueprint for coastal countries around the world. Accurate and engaging media coverage is crucial to investigating solutions and navigating potential challenges in implementation. 

With the support of the Summit Foundation, EJN undertook a project to improve the quality and quantity of reporting on the environmental health of the MAR and Belize’s commitment to a Blue Economy. Through an in-person workshop, story grants for local journalists and a collaborative project between Belizean newsrooms, EJN was able to strengthen the capacity of local reporters and media outlets to produce and disseminate trusted information on this topic. 

A hands-on workshop about marine issues  

From January 14-16, 2023, EJN hosted a three-day workshop in Belize City with 10 local journalists to provide context on some of the broader issues and current threats to the MAR, including offshore drilling, marine protected areas (MPAs) and strategies to enable sustainable coastal development, reef management and tourism.  

The selected journalists had the opportunity to network and interview blue economy experts, visit an atoll on the MAR, and receive editorial guidance from seasoned EJN mentors.   

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." 

During the workshop, EJN also streamed a live webinar moderated by Latin America Stories Mentor Lucy Calderón Pineda with EJN grantees Isabel Alarcón 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. They also highlighted the importance of talking with the people who are benefited and/or impacted by circumstances related to the topic of interest. 

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. You can read more about the field trip and the rest of the workshop in this project update.  

Story grants for Belizean journalists investigating reef health, fisheries and more 

EJN also opened a call for proposals for journalists in Belize looking to report on the protection, conservation and management of reef health and the advancement of a sustainable Blue Economy in the country.  

Eight journalists produced in-depth stories on their chosen topics: 

  • From Breaking Belize News, Aaron Humes investigated potential solutions to Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, an illness affecting the MAR.  
  • Alindy Marisol Amaya from KREM TV highlighted initiatives to control the invasive lionfish population in Belize, as the five-year national management strategy draws to a close.  
  • Courtney Menzies of Channel 7 explored the motives behind illegal fishing and its effects on Belize’s protected areas.  
  • From the San Pedro Sun, Dion Vansen illuminated the benefits of sustainable use of blue economy resources and potential solutions in response to overfishing threats. 
  • Channel 5’s Hipolito Novelo documented the role mangroves play in providing a safe home for endangered Antillean manatees and their young calves. 
  • Jomarie Lanza of Channel 7 highlighted the degradation of mangrove habitats causing the coastline of Corozal to erode into the sea.  
  • Jose Sanchez from PGTV and Channel 7 investigated efforts by NGOs to restore shallow water coral on the MAR using microfragmenting, a new technique.  
  • Freelancer Marco Lopez explored the recent boom in cruise tourism and resort construction for Amandala, and how blue carbon sinks are impacted. 

Grantees were also paired with an experienced journalist and mentor, who guided them through the production and drafting of the story across many months. Overall, the journalists produced 13 stories, including broadcast television and digital pieces. 

“The journalists selected for this project produced stories on the state of marine ecosystems and species on which their economy as a country depends, as well as the impacts that unplanned development can cause in the short-, medium- and long-term,” said their mentor, Lucy Calderón Pineda. “For the grantees, this grant meant having the necessary monetary resources to travel and do their fieldwork, where they were able to illustrate their stories with photographs and videos. They also received feedback to improve their research and deliver robust reporting,” she added. 

A collaborative look into Belize’s blue economy 

In addition to the individual grants, EJN also embarked on a collaborative project with four Belizean journalists, who received grants to work together on investigations that will examine issues, solutions and developments in Belize’s efforts to shore up the blue economy. 

Hipolito Novelo and Jose Sanchez (Channel 5 Belize, PGTV/Channel 7) investigated how stony coral tissue loss disease, the deadliest coral disease outbreak in history, is ravaging Belize's reefs and blue economy, with an eye to conservationists who are developing solutions. 

Marco Lopez and Andre Habet (Amandala, PlusTV) explored the history and current context for Belize’s often fragile environmental impact assessment process—newsworthy given three major port projects being planned for Belize’s marine environment in the coming years.  

“I was very inspired to see these journalists take on a subject, the Blue Economy, that all were admittedly new to covering,” said EJN’s Special Projects Editor Sam Schramski, who mentored the collaborative journalism grantees. “They not only approached their story angles in original ways but also showed a real willingness to work with each other in innovative ways—even when they reported for rival media houses.”  

Read all of the stories from the project on our website and stay tuned for more deeply reported ocean stories in 2024. 


Banner image: A still from "Stony Coral Disease Decimates Belize's Reef" / Credit: Jose Sanchez for PGTV.  

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