Mapping Nature's Value

How do Belize’s coastal ecosystems touch human lives?

Can understanding lobster fisheries, tourism and coastal defense help Belize chart a smarter course?*

In Belize, more than 40% of the population lives and works along the coast. Mangrove forests, coral reefs, seagrasses and other natural resources provide protection from storm surges, support abundant fish for food, and shelter beautiful beaches and wildlife that attract tourists. But these ecosystem services can be seriously affected by the unchecked expansion of human activities, putting coastal communities and livelihoods at risk.

Now, WWF and the Natural Capital Project—a partnership among WWF, The Nature Conservancy, University of Minnesota and Stanford University—are helping Belize’s Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute, and other partners, incorporate information on nature’s value as they evaluate alternative management decisions for their coasts and oceans. The question was: How do we support the development of a coastal zone management plan that considers the needs of multiple sectors and stakeholders, advances the management and conservation of coastal and marine environments, and accounts for nature’s benefits to people? To answer this, WWF employed a blend of stakeholder engagement and scientific modeling to better understand lobster catch and return, tourism visitation and revenue, and protection of coastal land and value.

By mapping these activities, researchers at WWF found that delivery of these three services varied among Belize’s nine coastal planning regions, and by identifying zoning conflicts and compatibilities, it is possible to minimize the risks to habitats posed by human activities. All this information was folded into the new Belize Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan, which will help the people of Belize choose a more sustainable course of action when it comes to managing the incredibly valuable resources provided by their ocean and coast.

*In other words: Through an iterative process of mapping human use activities, can we quantify nature’s ability to deliver three important benefits to people: lobster catch and return, tourism visitation and revenue, and avoided damages to property from storms?

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