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Belize starts drafting its Marine Spatial Plan

GeneralBelize starts drafting its Marine Spatial Plan

BELIZE CITY. Thurs. Oct. 20, 2022

The process of creating a Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) for Belize has officially started. Stakeholders —including officials from the Ministry of Blue Economy and representatives of the Fisheries Department and The Nature Conservancy (TNC)— met yesterday at the Belize Best Western Biltmore Plaza in Belize City to chart a way forward for the implementation of an inclusive, science-based exercise geared towards defining how we use our ocean space. Four overarching goals have been set out, and users of our marine spaces are to work together to design the Belize Sustainable Oceans Plan (BSOP), which is the name that has been selected for the country’s MSP. According to the TNC program director in Belize, Julie Robinson, the process that was started this week will lead to the development of the BSOP — a policy document that will be utilized to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives for our marine ecosystem through an overall mapping of Belize’s marine areas and an overall vision or strategy that could guide critical development decisions that might affect the country far into the future.

The TNC program director had noted in a letter sent to the CEO in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management last month that the creation of the plan, which is to be spearheaded by the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), is a “public, participatory process… that is based on science, information and local knowledge”. It went on to say that such a process “can be used to decide the best locations” for “industrial and large commercial developments such as cruise and cargo ports”.

“This Belize MSP will provide government, local communities, and marine sectors with a transparent, equitable, and participatory process for ensuring that Belize will continue to receive the benefits and services that a healthy ocean can provide,” a post on the TNC Facebook page had also stated.

The process of designing and implementing the plan will fulfill one of the principal commitments made by the country under the Blue Loan Agreement and the Conservation Funding Agreement, which was facilitated by TNC. During his remarks, Prime Minister John Briceno said, “It signals my government’s commitment to ensuring the wise use of the blue natural capital for the benefit of all of us.” Milestones 1 and 2, which were also outlined in the agreement, were reached earlier this year when the total protected ocean space in the country was increased to 20.5 percent, Briceno noted. Ultimately, however, the marine conservation goal that was set out in that agreement which enabled the country to significantly reduce the national debt through Blue Bond financing is the legal protection of up to 30% of Belize’s oceans.

The TNC country director, Julie Robinson, additionally noted at the launch of the MSP design process that the protection of our ocean space in Belize, an ecological objective, is the primary goal of the MSP, but she pointed out that the economic and social objectives are just as important.

“It’s really about how do we best design ocean spaces to meet all these multiple objectives to ensure that while we are maintaining our natural resources we are developing in a sustainable way,” Robinson said.

This is in line with another key goal that has been laid out: supporting the growth of the blue economy, which will require the protection of our marine ecosystem while supporting those citizens whose livelihoods depend on the ocean — particularly those in the fisheries and tourism sectors. CEO in the Ministry of the Blue Economy, Kennedy Castillo, thus commented, “…it will not only focus on the conservation aspect but also on how we make the smartest decision in terms of the sustainable and responsible use of our marine space as well as our resources. It is extremely important for us to highlight that this must be a consultative process that engages all the different sectors. Particularly, I want to emphasize the role of those sectors that depend, and have depended on the oceans for many many years. We are speaking about the fishing communities – they must be an integral part.”

The Director of Fisheries, Beverly Wade, agreed on the importance of protecting the livelihood of fisherfolk while also protecting the natural capital that exists in our marine spaces and which is the foundation of the eco-tourism sector.

“Ensuring that we have the systems in place, we have the policies in place which ensures that the functional integrity of natural capital is maintained — and all that means is that they are healthy, they continue to be productive and that they are central to all these economic activities that at the end of the day leads back to the everyday man’s livelihood,” Wade said.

The MSP is used largely as a tool for ocean zoning and is the first step in making ecosystem-based management a reality. According to MSP Global, about 100 countries around the world have embarked on MSP initiatives — with some, like Belize, being at the initial phase of such a process while others have planned, revised, and adapted their MSPs.

The Minister of the Blue Economy, Hon. Andre Perez, has described Belize’s commencement of its own MSP process as historical and said that we in Belize will be looked at as an example by other countries and as a leader in marine conservation in this region.

“We as a country have to lead,” Perez said. “We are at this point in time, by launching the MSP right now, make us create history — that we are going through uncharted waters, and it is going to work.” Minister Perez further said.

He noted that challenges, conflicts, and controversies may arise, but the MSP will be viewed as a guiding document to protect the country and will enable all stakeholders to stick to the principles of developing the nation sustainably.

Notably, the TNC program director in Belize, in a letter sent to the CEO in the Ministry of Sustainable Development to present comments on an EIA that was submitted in August for Waterloo Holdings Limited’s cruise terminal project, had stated that it would be best that an MSP be completed before decisions are made about such high-impact projects. “ A national Marine Spatial Plan will facilitate decisions on a coordinated way forward… and will be inclusive of all major coastal and marine developments, including the other cruise port developments,” the letter, dated September 30, had pointed out.

The letter had also noted that a completed MSP could be of aid to the country when it is seeking financing. “An MSP can be an important asset for Belize when applying for large grants or loans, as it demonstrates that there is an integrated plan for the coastal and marine waters for uses and activities,” the letter stated.

“The zoning plan provides a level of business certainty for economic development and secures marine space,”noted the TNC program director in that letter.

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