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Belize mangrove

NatCap Approach in Action: Belize

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The Natural Capital Project has been working closely with partners in Belize for almost two decades. Although Belize’s economy relies heavily on healthy coastal ecosystems, historically, information about its natural capital was not tracked and used in policymaking or finance decisions. However, the government of Belize decided in 1998, through the passage of the visionary Coastal Zone Management Act, to create a coastal management and development plan that would allow for economic growth while protecting current livelihoods and the country’s cultural and natural heritage. While this webpage shows only part of Belize’s story, these are some key components of its journey to becoming a global leader in using natural capital approaches for the betterment of its people and ecosystems (see for example a recent announcement about its “People-Centric Conservation Agenda for Belize’s Blue Space”). Thanks to its efforts at restoring coral reefs & mangroves, Belize has saved about half a billion US dollars in climate damage costs, tourism expenditures, and fisheries revenue.

Belize community meeting
Community meeting in Placencia, Belize for the NSF Strong Coasts project, led by the University of South Florida. Credit: Natasha Batista

Natural capital assessment informs integrated coastal zone management plan

Anne Guerry in Belize
NatCap’s Anne Guerry at a participatory mapping session in Belize City in August 2023; Photo courtesy of Maya Trotz

The Natural Capital Project worked with the Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute in Belize to co-create the science necessary for its first Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan. We engaged with local communities to understand what they cared about most – their vision for the future. Then we together developed a natural capital assessment, which helped Belize understand and prioritize the most important places for restoration and conservation of mangroves and other ecosystems. Their goal was to harness coastal ecosystems to maximize benefits for people and sectors like fishing, tourism, and coastal protection. The assessment led to an integrated management plan, outlining zones of human use and activities. 

The Belizean government approved the plan in 2016 (and after a new assessment, an update in 2021). The plan also led the country to ban all oil exploitation. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called the plan “one of the most forward-thinking ocean management plans in the world.” In 2017, UNESCO took the Belize Barrier Reef off the list of world heritage sites in danger because of the protections the plan provided for. Read more about our work on integrated coastal zone management planning in Belize

Capacity development and updating coastal zone management plan with new information

From the beginning, NatCap also trained local experts in using natural capital approaches and tools, including engagement processes, and supported the update to its plan in 2021. We led trainings on every NatCap model that was used, and automated some of the analyses to make future updates easier.

Informing climate targets under the Paris Agreement

Our team worked with Belize to use the information from the spatial assessment to show how carbon sequestration from mangroves will help achieve more ambitious targets and meet the country’s commitments (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement. Read more about our contributions to Belize’s climate targets

Mangroves are an important part of global climate change mitigation efforts because they absorb significant amounts of greenhouse gases, in addition to providing numerous local benefits.
Mangroves are an important part of global climate change mitigation efforts because they absorb significant amounts of greenhouse gases, in addition to providing numerous local benefits. Credit: Jess Silver

The Belize Blue Bond

The assessment work has also supported the development of financial innovations like Belize’s Blue Bond program, which reduces its national debt by 12% and provides long-term financing for ocean conservation. Learn more.

Climate adaptation in the Mesoamerican Reef

Healthy reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves provide essential habitat for marine life, which contributes to local economies in a variety of ways.
Healthy reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves provide essential habitat for marine life, which contributes to local economies in a variety of ways. Credit: Jess Silver.

The team worked with country experts around the Meso-American Reef to co-develop a portfolio of climate change adaptation measures for coastal watersheds and marine protected areas, aimed at supporting local communities and the environment. NatCap applied an optimization modeling tool called ROOT for the first time in a coastal environment for this project. As part of this work, Belize is now conducting mangrove restoration and conservation (connected to its Nationally Determined Contributions). Read more about our work on climate adaptation across the Mesoamerican Reef

Engaging communities in equitable nature-based solutions 

NatCap is working to understand the additional benefits to communities provided by different nature-based solutions like coral reef and mangrove restoration, to help inform more equitable project design, and is co-developing tools to support the implementation of these solutions. Read more about our work on the NSF Strong Coasts project.

Developing a process for monitoring progress to inform finance mechanisms for conservation

With the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility, we are working with the Belizean government to develop scientific ways to track Belize’s progress toward its ecosystem commitments. Protection and restoration of marine habitats requires funding, and this work will help bring in more financing by increasing investor confidence, securing Belize’s economy, culture, and the environment it depends on. This work is part of a larger effort, the People, Planet, Prosperity project. Read more about this phase of our work in Belize in this fact sheet and news story

NatCap’s Jade Delevaux talking with Belizean government leaders during an event at Stanford in April 2023.

NatCap’s Jade Delevaux talking with Belizean government leaders during an event at Stanford in April 2023. Credit: Casey Valentine

Credit: Impact Media Lab.

NatCap Executive Director Mary Ruckelshaus and Research Associate Natasha Batista at a workshop in Belize in January 2024. Credit: Impact Media Lab

Top banner image credit: Antonio Busiello, WWF-US