The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Its clear warm waters from its rivers and stream sources form a very good marine environment for the coral reefs. This series of coral reef stretch around 190miles and it consists of seven marine reserves, three atolls and 450 cayes. In total, it is 96,300 hectors. It is the top tourist destination in Belize. It is most popular for diving, snorkeling and its good fishing area. The ecological and biological processes supported here are of utmost importance and has led it to be named a world heritage site. The Belize Barrier Reef platform lies on the Atlantic-Caribbean coast and extends 260 km from the border with Mexico on the northern side, and near the Guatemalan border to the south.
Life Forms in the Barrier Reef Reserve System
The flora and fauna life in this barrier reef is remarkable; there are a total of 178 terrestrial plants and 247 taxa of marine flora. Vegetation types include178 species of vascular plants, 32 non-native species, White mangrove, Occasional black mangrove and lagoons. Animal Life is prevalent here too. There are over 500 species of fish, 65 scleritian corals, 45 hydroids and 350 molluses. Only 10% of the reef has been researched (Harrabin, Roger, 2006). Belize world heritage site is made up of the following proposed protected areas:
1)Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve – It has amazingly beautiful coral around eight hundred in number. It also supports wide variety of fauna including the endangered type of fish called Nassau Grouper (Handwerk & Lauri, 2003). It is home for several types of rays, sharks and sea turtles. In Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, you will find the best biologically developed atoll in the Caribbean, the Glover's Reef Atoll. It is 394km2 and has the greatest diversity of reef types on earth.
2)Hol Chan Marine Reserve: It is considered as the best dive spot in Belize.It covers approximately 18 km² and consists of interlinked system of coral reefs and mangroves. It is a natural break in the reef and a very productive fishing area. Here sport fishing is allowed. It is considered the best place to be for any scuba diver.
3)Half Moon Caye Natural monument: Situated 100 km east of Belize City, on the south-east edge of the Lighthouse Reef, it is located in 15 square miles of an area surrounded by waters and 10, 000 acres of the atoll. It holds the entire caye, large portion of the fringing reef and lagoon. The national park is the home to the rare red-footed booby birds, which are found only in Belize and the Galapagos Islands (McField, & Bood, 2007).
4)Great Blue Hole: Located at the center of the Lighthouse Reef; it is a huge circular hole about one quarter of milecrossunderwater sinkhole.The water is 480 feet deep inside the hole. The depth of the water is what brings about the blue color. It was said to be a limestone cave during the earlier glacial period. When sea levels rose, the caves got flooded and the roof collapsed resulting in the hole. Today, this wonder hole is ‘The Ultimate Dive Location’ for scuba divers. The waters house various species of fish, Nurse Sharks, Giant groupers and Black tip shark. Great Blue Hole is one of the most famous astounding dive sites in the world.
Ecology of the area
The ecosystem of the Belize coral reef is amazing. Blue-green algae give off oxygen which helps sustain polyps. In turn, the polyps give off carbon dioxide that is needed by the algae, organic plant, animal material and solar energy. Water that flows in from rivers and the mainland streams help the Belize coral reef to survive.Many organisms and living in the reef community contribute skeletal calcium carbonate by breaking down coral skeletons into fragments. The fragments settle into spaces found in the reef structure. Examples of these organisms are sea urchins, sponges and grazing fish. Forces like that of waves also help in fragmenting the settle.
Coralline algae are also important contributors to reef structure to those parts of the reef subjected to great forces by waves (such as the reef front facing the ocean). These algae deposit limestone in sheets on the reef surface, thereby strengthening it
The communities of coastal Belize as well as urban centers nearby have access to marine and near-shore resources. The reef is significantly important to the economy of Belize. Belize Barrier reef Reserve was initially important in fishing industry because of its wide range of species that was harvested. Recently, they have specialized with queen conch and lobster (Programme, U.N., 2009). This two make up the biggest percentage of exported seafood. There is also a domestic fishery and commercial fishery for deep slope snappers. The main use of the barrier reef though is tourism. People travel from everywhere around the world to tour the Belize barrier reef. It is famous for diving and snorkeling.
Climate issues and flora issues
The climate change has increased concerns on the well being of the reef. The main issue is global warming that increases ocean temperatures and when this happens there is coral bleaching. There has been two mass bleaching events. According to biologists and costal management institute in Belize, the first resulted in 10% mortality of coral colonies (1995) and the second caused a 48% reduction in live coral across Belize reef system.
Hurricanes also do significant damage to Belize’s coral reef.
How Human Interference Affects the Area
The population around has increased and thus significant human interference. Belize barrier reef reserve, its marine resources and forests are under threat mainly the following human activities;
- Over-exploitation of reef resources. This is mostly by fishing and tourism. The boat's anchors damage the reefs within especially near the Hol Chan area, the reefs are showing signs of stress also caused by over collection (Furley &Ratter, 2002).
- Rapid coastal development leading to hotel and marina constructionand this is causing habitat alterations because of the high deforestation rate.
- Improper solid waste management like Sewagefrom urban centers, residential andtourist resorts causing pollution.
- Removal of vegetation including mangroves and seagrass areas resulting in erosion of the shoreline also, native vegetation on cays has been eliminated to create space for coconut plantations; this mostly affects the unique bird fauna found in the reef as it is deprived of nesting area (Flomenhoft, Cayetano & Young, 2007).
- Sand mining and dredging causing choking of corals by siltation.
Steps taken to Protect the Belize Barrier Reef.
Management is being delegated to local communities and non-governmental organizations, but the government agencies are giving the support and assistance required. There are also Seasons or size limits descriptions of the types of activities permitted, descriptions of programs of research.Priority for clear-cutting by urban development steps to stop the threat of breeding colonies (Government of Belize, 2004).
If funds were made available, the following could be done to help in Belize reef conservation.
- Environment education especially to the local people on how to conserve their environment and empowerment to the local communityto an extent of involving them when making decisions regarding their environment.
- Management plans for the Barrier reef that has been prepared to be enforced. These plans include
- Surveillance of certain areas in the barrier reef
- Training staff in environment conservation.
- Seasonal tourism recreation activities.
This Plan will develop the conservation of the country's coastal resources through, development in monitoring and planning techniques, implementation of applied research, institutional strengthening and enhancement of public awareness.
Actions an individual can undertake to ensure preservation of the barrier reef.
An individual can play a significant role in Enhancing public awareness on the need to preserve this amazing barrier reef. The local community should be the main target as they can help in enforcement of rules set, example reporting those who fish illegally
In conclusion, there are major concerns about the damages to the Belize barrier reef as the resources are deteriorating. Reef ecosystem is of remarkable biological importance and amazing beauty. It also provides a habitat for plenty of marine life species and is an area of great scientific value. All this is in danger of being lost. Only 10% of the reef has been researched.90% of the reef is not well known and if the funds are available, a lot will be done to ensure that the reef is safe and that it retains its biological and aesthetic value.