In many ways, Belize is dependent on its natural resources related to the coast and the ocean, socially, culturally and economically.
A report titled "Ocean Solutions that Benefit People, Nature and the Economy," produced in 2020 by The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy details that coastal habitats, such as mangroves, provide protection for hundreds of millions of people, nurture biodiversity, detoxify pollutants flowing off the land, and provide nursery areas for fisheries, increasing the supply of food and providing livelihoods. They are also a source of revenue.
According to the World Bank, The 'Blue Economy' as a concept is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth and improved livelihood and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems.
Yet, even as Belize seeks to bolster its blue economy, these resources are at risk. during A Natural Disaster Hotspot study done by the World Bank in 2005, Belize ranked at # 61 as the highest exposed country for relative mortality risks from multiple hazards in the world, and ranked 8th out of 167 countries at climate risk. These hazards range from cyclones to droughts and even flooding, particularly in coastal areas such as Corozal.
Corozal was named in 1847 by English Settlers, for its countless Attalea cohunes, commonly known as cohune palms. The coastal town, which borders Mexico, is admired for its sage green waters, diverse culture, and Mayan history. It is home to over 13,658 people, according to a census conducted in 2010 by the Statistical Institute of Belize. The perimeter of the Bay extends over 4.6 km, with numerous main roads, schools, churches, and business properties within its jurisdiction.
According to some of the oldest locals in town, even in the early 1950's Belizean residents claimed that there were no mangrove systems along the shoreline; that there were only a few patches out in the waters along certain sections; the largest concentration of mangroves in the town is located on the North side, according to an assessment done by biologist Ryan Rivera, a representative from OCEANA.
The shoreline stabilization and restoration project, in the north, is an attempt to conserve the dense forests of "red mangroves ("Rhizophora mangle")". In 2012, the area was named a mangrove park, and quickly became a popular location for families to spend the day, and for students to conduct research. But what happened to all the other Mangroves in Corozal? And why are they so important anyway?
If we consider mangroves as a key currency of a country's blue economy. It becomes clear their disappearance affects the goal to boost our Blue economy.
Mangroves are known to be the most productive biodiverse forests according to a 2017 report "Mangroves in the spotlight" on Mangrove conservation and restoration from the United Nations. They create a natural barrier for coastlines against hurricanes and erosion and provide habitats for local wildlife.
Yet, around the world, Key coastal habitats such as mangroves are being lost at an alarming rate: global mangrove cover has declined by around 25-35 percent (up to about 57,000 km2 from 1980 to 2000), largely due to land reclamation. Seagrass and coral reef ecosystems depend on mangroves as a shelter for juvenile fish and to hold back sediment and nutrients that would otherwise smother the underwater systems. Without mangroves, the planet would be a much emptier place.
In an interview with the Minister of the Blue Economy, Andre Perez thoroughly discusses the balance in protecting and growing our blue space, meaning our oceans, mangroves and natural bodies of water. He says while they strongly vouch for coastal protection and stabilization, they must also consider the importance of coastal development, which aids in growing the economy and increasing the country's gross domestic product.
"We cannot be just going arbitrarily and raiding and plundering our waters. We have to have a balance. We have to some studies; how much is it that we can extract from our waters? We have to find our limits as it relates to the mangrove," said Andre Perez, Minister of the Blue Economy.
"The mangroves are highly important, but we cannot at the same time say that a mangrove should be protected 100%. The blue economy calls us to develop our coast. Development is important, growing our economy, growing the GDP and the coast of course is there for us to enjoy, but there is a word called "balance" and balance is what really defines the blue economy. Wherever investments are coming, mangroves need to be cleared. The proper studies must be done."
Upon entering the town at the southern entrance, one may observe that the coastal perimeter has little to no mangroves. The balance that Perez speaks of appears to be nowhere in sight. How did this species begin to decline as the municipality grew from a farming community to a town?
Watch Part 1 of the video here:
Watch Part 2 of the video here:
This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published on July 18, 2023 in 7 News Belize and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Aerial view of Corozal's coast / Credit: Dioni Marin.