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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
Bobbing gently in the waters of Belize’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a jaunty and unique floating ranger station. The pontoon boat, complete with a porch, murals of ocean life, and a weather station, welcomes visitors to a well-preserved section of one of the Caribbean’s shiniest jewels: the Belize Barrier Reef.
Snorkelers and divers travel from all over the world to dip their heads beneath these crystal waters and it’s no secret why. Here, abundant schools of fish flick their fins simultaneously while nurse sharks roam along the sand. Structural coral rises stalwart from the sea floor—the first line of defense against a storm—and fan-like species sway in the mild current. Seagrass beds stretch into the distance.
It's easy for Hol Chan Marine Reserve ranger Manuel Munoz to characterize this protected area.
“I would use one word,” he says. “Unique."
Hol Chan—Mayan for “little channel”—is a prime example of how a well-operated marine reserve benefits both the environment and economy alike—and makes a convincing case for replicating the model elsewhere. Established in 1987 mainly in response to community concern over uncontrolled fishing and diving, Hol Chan is Belize’s oldest protected area and covers about three square miles of reef, seagrass beds, and mangroves. All three elements are critical to protecting wildlife, coastal communities, and the climate. Coral reefs and mangroves protect the shoreline during storms and serve as critical habitat for wildlife, and mangroves also help prevent erosion. And while seagrass provides a place for species such as manatees and sea turtles to feed and live, it can also capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rain forests—an essential characteristic for curbing the climate crisis.
Rangers like Munoz welcome about 500 people a day to the flourishing reef. They work both to ensure the safety of visitors to the reserve and enforce the security of the barrier reef and its vast marine life.
“You need to be able to have constant eyes on the water, on the reef, to be able to put in place actions to make sure that the reef is safeguarded,” said Nadia Bood, senior program officer for marine science and climate change at WWF-Belize.