Stretching for 625 miles along the coast of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. However, less than 10% of the reef is fully protected from fishing, with most marine-protected areas in the region still allowing fishing.
According to the Healthy Reefs Initiative, a collaboration of over 70 organizations dedicated to the conservation of the MAR, Belize has experienced a reduction of over 50% in both commercial and herbivorous fish biomass, likely due to reduced enforcement and sustained fishing during COVID restrictions.
At this juncture, accurate and engaging media coverage is crucial to inform the public and hold policymakers involved in marine resource management accountable to their commitments.
However, reporting on fisheries and reef health often requires a data-driven approach to demonstrate change in stocks over time, illustrate the impacts of threats to fishery populations and highlight the potential efficacy of solutions to the decline. Yet data journalism training can be a luxury for newsrooms with limited resources, who often cannot afford to send their reporters for in-depth professional development opportunities. In addition, the training that may be offered internationally lacks local relevance and context to assist journalists in utilizing their new skills after they are trained.
To increase and improve the quality of news coverage focusing on the environmental health of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) in Belize, with a particular focus on the state of the country’s fisheries and potential solutions to curb and prevent their decline, EJN is pleased to announce a new year-long project, funded by the Summit Foundation, that will build the capacity of local reporters, communicators and media outlets to produce data-driven, in-depth reporting about the challenges and solutions to protect and conserve reef health and local fisheries.
As part of this project, EJN will organize:
- A data journalism workshop to train selected journalists on innovative data journalism techniques relevant for reporting on fisheries.
- A media training workshop on fisheries issues which will bring together journalists from Belize and MAR-adjacent countries, subject matter experts and community leaders. Participating journalists will learn more about fisheries management issues at the local, country and regional levels, including threats to fishery populations, the perspectives of local fishers and proposed solutions to prevent decline, among others.
- Story grants for journalists to produce in-depth data-driven and enterprise stories with the objective of raising public awareness, and driving conversation among communities and policymakers.
This project has been launched after the successful conclusion of our previous work in Belize, also undertaken with support from the Summit Foundation, to strengthen journalists' capacity to to report on the country's efforts to shore up its blue economy.
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 effort, part of the largest debt restructuring for marine conservation to date, could serve as a blueprint for coastal countries around the world. The ocean contributes around $3 trillion per year to global GDP, and it is hoped that blue bonds such as this will help maintain marine biodiversity and shore up a robust blue economy. According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem."
Through a training workshop, story grants and a collaborative reporting project, EJN developed a network of journalists in Belize knowledgeable about sustainable marine, reef and coastal management, who are better equipped to disseminate trusted information about the effects of climate change, tourism development and environmental degradation on marine ecosystems, as well as strategies for sustainable reef management and developing a healthy blue economy.
Caption: Sea fans in San Pedro, Belize / Credit: Fabrice Dudenhofer via Ocean Image Bank.