With one of the world’s largest barrier reefs located roughly 1,000 feet offshore from the mainland, Belize maintains an extensive system of marine reserves aimed at preserving its diverse marine life and maritime culture. 

Eight marine reserves have been identified along the Belize Barrier Reef, which stretches 186 miles from the Mexican border at the north end to the border of Honduras on the south. 


Bacalar Chico, H01 Chan, Caye Caulker, Southwater Caye, Glover’s Reef, Port of Honduras, Sapodilla Caye and Gladden Spit are the eight reserves that compose Belize’s marine reserve system. (Laughing Bird Caye is actually a national park instead of a marine reserve, and therefore governed by a different set of regulations.) 

Though it attracts roughly half of Belize’s roughly 260,000 annual visitors, the marine reserve system was originally created as a lisheries management tool, according to Miguel Alamilla, manager of the H01 Chan Marine Reserve. 

“These areas were set aside and divided into several zones,” said Alamilla. “Within these zones there were areas that were ‘no take’ zones, no fishing and no extraction (of marine life) were allowed.” 

The “no take” zones acted as a sanctuary where the fish could reproduce unchecked. Fishing was allowed in other areas of the marine reserves, but the more damaging practices such as spear fishing and the use of nets to capture fish were discouraged, while the more traditional ~ .forms of fishing and catching lobster and 1 { conch were encouraged. 

“Traditional users are allowed, and encouraged, to continue their fishing £5 practices the way they used to do it many years ago,” Alamilla added. 

With fishing either limited or prohibited entirely within the marine reserve system, fish and other forms of sea life flourished. 

The beauty of the Belize Barrier Reef began to attract a huge inHux of tourists, who were interested in viewing the abundant numbers of fish and other creatures of the sea to be found there, many of which had been fished or harvested to the point of near extinction elsewhere. 

At one point, the daily infiux of tourists at the Ho] Chan Reserve became so large, Alamilla said, that local tour guides found it difficult to enforce the “no take” policies as stringently as would be desired. Tourism officials took a slightly different approach to curbng the problem. Rather than actively limiting the number of tourists at the reserve at a given time, they raised the entry fee. 

Cruise ships largely stopped coming to the reserve, which greatly reduced the daily numbers. Yet with the higher entrance fee, the actual revenue that came into the reserve decreased only slightly, according to Alamilla. 

“That was a management strategy that helped us control the number of visitors, but didn’t affect our revenue,” he added. 

Manuel Heredia Jr., Belize Minister of Tourism, said it’s a conscious strategy that is being applied to the Belize tourism industry as a whole.