By André Habet
Belize’s mangroves have received another tool that might further their protection. On January 31, 2023, the first national carbon stock estimate for Belize’s mangroves was published, providing scientists and policymakers with a clearer sense of the amount of carbon currently sequestered by this boundary system.
Mangroves are a vital part of Belize’s environment and national climate change strategy. They provide protection from storms along the coasts, serve as nurseries for various marine species, and mitigate coastal erosion.
The loss of mangroves globally has largely been attributed to human activity with its alteration or destruction conducted for the purposes of private development. According to two studies’ findings, Belize has experienced relatively less loss of mangrove coverage than its regional neighbors. Nevertheless, the report by Emmil Cherrington released in March 2020 demonstrated that approximately 94 hectares were lost between January 2014 and December 2019, the equivalent of roughly 131 football fields. Additionally, Cherrington’s report showed that mangrove loss was heavily concentrated in a few areas with a little over half of the Central Region’s clearing occurring in the area around the popular tourist destination Ambergris Caye.
The Government of Belize has attempted to limit the further loss of mangroves by requiring a permit to alter mangroves starting in 2018 with any unsanctioned alterations resulting in a minimum fine of $25,000 BZD. Despite this requirement, unsanctioned mangrove alteration has continued due to a lack of resources at the Forestry Department to monitor these systems and enforce their protection.
The blue carbon report was notable because it was a true transnational collaboration with Smithsonian Environmental Research Center lead author Hannah K. Morrissette at the helm. Morrisette worked with scientists and conservationists from Belize and the United States to conduct field estimates at 10 sites across the country to later complete a lab-based sediment core analysis.
This allowed them to estimate carbon for not only the leaves and stems but also the roots and soil, which coauthor Nadia Bood states “contain the majority of the stored carbon.” Of those 10 sites, one assessment was completed entirely by a Belizean team. The study provided over 35 people training in blue carbon assessment that Senior Program Officer of WWF Mesoamérica Nadia Bood says will be used for future studies. Additionally, those trained in blue carbon assessments are now in a position to train others across CARICOM to conduct their own.
According to Bood, who is also a member of the Belize Mangrove Alliance, this study is significant because “unlike previous reports, it does not extrapolate from regional data” to achieve its results. The increased accuracy of the report’s findings makes it more reliable and usable when the government approaches financial institutions seeking to support blue carbon investments.
Bood says those blue carbon opportunities “will whet the appetite of landowners who need some type of incentive to maintain the integrity of mangrove on their land.” Currently, Bood’s team is in talks with at least one landowner who would like to complete a rapid assessment for potential carbon across 4,000 hectares, containing potentially 1-2% of the country’s carbon stock.
The results from the study can be used to determine what locations to prioritize for mangrove restoration as part of the National Landscape Restoration Strategy to restore 382,592 hectares of degraded land. The study can also be potentially integrated into the national REDD+ baseline assessment to aid in refining the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Similar carbon stock studies are currently being undertaken on Belize’s seagrass by the Coastal Zone Management Authority. However, Bood states “it is a bit challenging [to conduct estimates] along the coast due to the water’s turbidity.”
The government is currently planning a workshop on March 14 and 15 to discuss the lessons learned from the study. Meanwhile, the Forest Department is working on a path to revive its defunct Mangrove monitoring team to more effectively enforce the ‘Forest (Protection of Mangroves) Regulations.’
Mangroves are a nature-based solution to the effects of Climate Change in Belize. Their protection is of high priority. As the country works towards developing a National Carbon Strategy, this assessment stands as evidence that Belizean scientists and policymakers can build the skills and capacity necessary for the country to plot its own future in the dual faces of climate change and biodiversity loss.
At the Climate Change Conference (COP 27) which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt leaders from the Caribbean renewed their calls for Climate Justice, specifically for climate reparations and loss and damage. Leaders of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) united in demanding that "big polluter" countries honour their commitment to providing vulnerable countries with the financing needed to mitigate and adapt to the effects of Climate Change.
At the opening of the CARICOM 44th Regular Heads Meeting in The Bahamas, Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett said on February 15, "Our member states again face the continued onslaught of Climate Change with the destruction caused by storms, rain events and droughts."
Dr Barnett told reporters, "We are really in a situation where vulnerable countries are paying the price and the larger countries are really not bearing their part of the burden. The reality is that the larger emitters in the world need to take charge and do what is right. Some of the terms that you hear us talking about are about climate justice because those who are causing the impact are not bearing their burden of dealing with the effects of that. We are the smallest emitters. We do not cause the problem. We just bear the burden.”
"This story was published with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations."