The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI) opened Coastal Awareness Week on Monday, February 22, with the announcement that Cabinet has approved and is ready to push forward the National Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Plan.
Belize has the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, stretching approximately 280 kilometer from the northern to southern borders of the country and those who depend on the reef system for their livelihood have been pushing for a comprehensive management plan since 1989. The Government of Belize has taken steps to protect and regulate the reef system and activities since stakeholders made their voices heard. Government passed the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Act in 1998 to address issues such as rapid development, overfishing, and population growth. That act gave the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute the responsibility to develop an integrated management plan for the sustainable use of coastal resources. Designing this comprehensive plan has been an extremely tedious exercise and Government abandoned it from 2003 to 2008. A new administration revived the project in 2010 but by then much of the data had been lost and the dynamics in the industry had changed. The CZMAI had to start almost from scratch by holding a series of consultations with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, industry guardians, private sector representatives from business and tourism, community groups and indigenous communities.
The consultations resulted in the draft of the Belize Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan 2013 with the motto, “Promoting the Wise, Planned Use of Belize’s Coastal Resources”. The plan takes into consideration the many coastal habitats and destinations in Belize that are part of the second longest unbroken reef system in the world; including, three atolls, several coastal lagoons, mangrove forests, and over 300 cayes. According to the CZMAI, over 40 percent of the Belizean population live and work in the coastal zone and over 30 percent of the GDP comes from operations linked to the zone; example, fisheries, aquaculture and tourism industries.
The Belize Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan is basically a balancing Act. The recommendations are aimed at ensuring sustainability in the use of coastal resources by “balancing conservation ideals with the economic and social needs of the country”. There are nine coastal planning regions: Northern Region, Ambergris Caye, Central Region, Caye Caulker, Turneff Atoll, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Southern Northern Region, Southern Central Region and Southern Region. According to CZMAI, there was collaboration with several partner agencies, both nationally and internationally, “to collect physiographic, oceanographic, climatological, biological, infrastructural, geopolitical, economic, cultural and social data to create a data base to manage data, in addition to data layers for use in a geographic information system (GIS).”
There were concerns by fishermen across the country when the ICZM was presented over the call for more areas to be protected. These concerns were loudest from fishermen in the South who had long been complaining about the huge protection area in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the largest marine protected area in the country. Further consultations were held for those concerns to be heard and considered or clarified by the CZMAI advisory council. There were also concerns by members of the conservation community about the “opening for development in sensitive areas” and similar meetings were held with this section to make assurances that only sustainable development will be allowed in Belize as is expressed by law.
The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute believes that they have developed a document that strikes the right balance between promoting the ideals of conservation and providing an enabling environment for development in the fastest growing tourism market in the hemisphere.