WCS focuses on FRER, RZ’s & SPAGs for Reef Week 2018 Print E-mail
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Thursday, 03 May 2018 00:00

By Deseree Cain-Arzu, WCS

Since 2013, local and international conservation organizations in Belize, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, have been collaborating to celebrate Reef Week, where, individually and collectively, we create awareness of the ecological, economic and cultural significance and value of the Belize Barrier Reef to our country, as well as a number of environmental issues affecting this precious resource. The week of activities, supported by local businesses and the media, is held throughout the country, and   coincides with International Year of the Reef, celebrated annually on March 10.

Under the theme: Our Reef Rocks – Protect It!  Don’t Neglect It!, activities, this year, began with a Declaration of the Reef Launch on Opening Day, March 9. The Declaration, which has since been signed by numerous organizations and individuals, is aimed at engaging the public’s commitment to support efforts in green policies, reducing and eliminating plastic use, sustainable fishing practices, environmental research and sustainable development. The week ended with an all-day Reef Fair in Dangriga, where several members of the Reef Week Planning Committee, manned display booths, which highlighted the 2018 theme, as well as current initiatives undertaken by these organizations; such as SPAGS Monitoring and the Replenishment Zone project by WCS, to protect the Reef, and to support the activities outlined within the Declaration.

During the Launch on March 9, WCS’s Assistant Country Director, Ralna Lewis, highlighted the Fish Right Eat Right (FRER) initiative, a certification program for restauranteurs, fishers, and fish vendors, aimed at promoting best practices and curbing illegal fishing in Belize.

“It links responsible seafood consumption with responsible fishing practices as seafood purchasers, and consumers have a vital role to play in curbing illegal fishing and ensuring the viability of Belize’s fisheries sector by demanding responsibly sourced product,” Lewis explained.

The FRER initiative is a partnership among several non-government and government organizations”. They include the Belize Tourism Board (BTB); Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Belize Federation of Fishers (BFF), Belize Fisheries Department; Oceana; Environmental Defence Fund (EDF); and WCS.

Launched in January 2016, the Fish Right Eat Right program established an advisory committee focused on guiding the development of the program. To date, this has resulted in the promotion of the program among restaurant owners, development of draft compliance criteria, and signage needed for promotion of the program.

Within the coming months, there are plans to start piloting the implementation of the criteria with selected restaurants, which will be used as best practice models. Furthermore, with the development of a FRER app, website and signage materials the FRER brand will be marketed extensively among seafood consumers.

A promotional video on the FRER program, recently produced by Oceana and WCS, can be found on the WCS Belize Facebook page at as well as the recently-created Fish Right Eat Right FB page at

As a complement to the FRER program, WCS has launched the OurFish App, in collaboration with RARE, and funded by Oceans 5. Over fifty restaurants, majority from San Pedro and Caye Caulker have already signed up to use the OurFish App. A video, produced by Smithsonian Institute, detailing the OurFish app, can be found at

Meanwhile, WCS’s participation in the closing activity for Reef Week 2018, included manning of a display booth at Reef Fair, which was held at the Alejo Beni Park in culture capital, Dangriga. The main focus of WCS’s display was on Replenishment Zone (RZ’s), also a friendly re-branding of no-take zones; and the Spawning Aggregation (SPAGS) Monitoring for commerically significant groupers and snappers initiatives.

Currently, no-take, or replenishment, zones represent approximately 3% of Belize’s territorial sea, but the Government of Belize (GoB), institutional partners, and several NGOs, along with the Wildlife Conservation Society, have collaborated on a national project to expand replenishment, zones to incorporate at least 10% of the country’s territorial sea as strictly protected areas. Legislation supporting this milestone are expected to be finalized before the end of 2018.

During the Reef Fair in Dangriga, WCS highlighted to students and visitors the importance of RZ’s in enhancing fish stocks and enabling the recovery of damaged or degraded ecosystems.

Additionally, WCS underscored its comprehensive communications campaign, developed in 2015, and which features the nationally-broadcasted radio drama, ‘Punta Fuego’. The show, caters primarily to fisher-folks and their families, promotes positive change in the relevant knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours towards replenishment zones and other MPAs around Belize.  Season 3 of Punta Fuego is expected to be launched in the coming months.

WCS’s booth also featured information posters on Spawning Aggregation Monitoring. WCS and reserve staff have been conducting counts of Nassau groupers at the spawning aggregation site at Northeast Point for more than a decade. Through an established protocol, used by all participating NGOs in Belize, counts are made by visual census techniques of species aggregating at the site, documenting the time and location. In addition, WCS has initiated the use of a paired laser and video system to size individual spawning and adding another layer of critical information.

This year’s SPAGs monitoring revealed a reduction (approximately 1000) in the peak numbers of Nassau grouper for February 2018 at the main spawning site, North East Point, Glover’s. “There was evidence of fishing gear including a disposable anchor and fresh fishing line; which are clear signs of poaching,” said WCS Marine Scientist, Dr. Alexander Tewfik.

But the good news, according to Dr. Tewfik, is that “monitoring of tiger grouper at another Glover’s site (SW caye or ‘Tiger bank’) yielded some amazing observations on the spawning behaviour of that species which is much less well studied than Nassau”.

WCS is a leading member of the Belize National Spawning Aggregation Working Group, comprising 13 representatives from various organizations whose main goal is “to develop strategies to maintain the aggregation sites for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the fishery” through monitoring of the aggregation sites, public awareness and training.

Information on WCS’s Glover’s Reef Research Station (GRRS) was also shared during visits to our booth; and students were able to participate in a raffle if they were able to answer questions based on the display at our booth.

Overall, the consensus is that Reef Week was a success. The commitment, by more than 30 organizations, as well as financial and in-kind support by various businesses and the media, were influential in this accomplishment!