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A look at Mangrove clearing in Belize

This morning Research Scientists, Dr. Emil Cherrington and Dr. Robert Griffin of the University of Alabama presented their findings of a study conducted regarding mangrove clearings in Belize and the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System-World Heritage Site. Over a period of three months, Dr. Cherrington and Dr. Griffin used satellite images from NASA to study mangrove clearing over a period of 37 years, from 1980 to 2017. Dr. Cherrington says that the main areas of mangrove clearing were observed around Belize City, Ambergris Caye and Placencia. He says that the primary contributing factor is land development.

Dr. Emil Cherrington, Research Scientist

“There has been minimal clearing within the World Heritage site however outside of the World Heritage site mangrove clearing is still an issue. Right now Belize still has roughly 95% of the mangrove cover it had in 1980, again according to the satellite imagery however the country probably doesn’t want to go the route of some of our neighbors in other Central American countries like for example El Salvador I think the studies indicate that over a 50 year period they lost half of their mangrove cover. Again mangroves are important economically in terms of the protection they provide to our areas and also tourism, biodiversity etc. In terms of Belize’s image we are a country that is very progressive in terms of conserving our resources for our people it is important that we continue to protect our mangroves. Mangroves aren’t clearing themselves it’s people who are clearing the mangroves and they are being cleared for the most part to put in housing developments on the islands for resorts, hotels or whatever that seems to be what is happening.As we heard from earlier on the workshop where we had participants from Belize Audubon Society, the different NGOs the Government Departments it’s really up to the country and different partners to kind of decide where Belize wants to go in terms of its development. There are clearings within protected areas, the laws of Belize state that protected areas are not supposed to be modified so one can consider that disconcerting however there has to be a consensus of the different partners to figure out which areas are going to develop, how we are going to do that etc. I don’t know that the state of discussion is there yet but that is something that has to be done.”

Dr. Griffin is optimistic that the data collected will positively influence policy makers.

Dr. Robert Griffin, Research Scientist

“Well hopefully this helps to contribute on the conversation on how to address these types of mangrove clearings and sort of what the future of mangrove forests in Belize look like. So we used NASA satellite imagery that is freely available to everyone so we downloaded data sets and processed them and analyzed them in different ways and developed statistics based on the different protected areas within the country. I think Belize is doing really well, obviously there are areas where you can do better. We certainly don’t like to see any clearing of mangroves within the World Heritage Sites but there are other areas around the region that are certainly not doing as well as Belize is so it’s great to see that the country as a whole is really on top of this issue.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love News Reporter

Did you encounter any challenges during the research?

Dr. Robert Griffin, Research Scientist

 “No major challenges, we’ve done this work in the past so we are pretty familiar with the methodology that we developed. As part of this work we are also giving a workshop on how to essentially process the data so our hope is really to build that capacity here in Belize so again it’s not us doing the work in the future but people that are enabled and empowered to do this sort of data analysis within Belize and so there is going to be a two day workshop on that.”

In terms of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System-World Heritage Site mangrove clearing was observed at the South Water Caye Marine Reserve.