Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY March 24, 2021

Resilience and Conservation in a Changing Climate: The Case of Belize


World Bank

As a small state situated on the Caribbean Sea, . Sea temperatures are rising every year, resulting in coral bleaching and reduced fish catch, both of which significantly impact local livelihoods. Storms are becoming more intense and more frequent – the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season had a record 30 named storms – disrupting economic activities and severely impacting the lives of local communities.

Conserving the country’s ocean resources is critical – marine and coastal resources support many of Belize’s key economic industries, are essential for food security, and provide invaluable ecosystem services. At the same time, these marine resources also support climate change adaptation and mitigation. In fact, the barrier reef and mangrove ecosystems are essential for protecting Belize’s coastal communities from the increasingly strong storms that are likely to occur in the future.


Recognizing the urgency of this issue, the Government of Belize, supported by the World Bank, implemented the five-year Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Project (MCCAP), financed by the Adaptation Fund. The project had the overarching goal of strengthening climate resilience of the Belize barrier reef. It took a multifaceted approach: helping to build sustainable and alternative livelihoods for coastal communities to relieve human pressures on the reef and to help them adapt to a changing climate; increasing protections and restoration efforts to conserve coastal resources; and building public awareness about climate change and the importance of marine resources.



Additional footage used with permission by Fragments of Hope, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, and Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation Development.

Local Belizeans, like secondary school teacher Kieron Xiu, are aware of the urgency of these threats. “MCCAP invited teachers…to a training about climate change specifically, and overfishing. What I learnt in the training is alarming: there’s a lot of coral bleaching going on in Belize. We have to change the way we’re taking out fishes, and how we’re interacting with the environment.”

Marine protected areas can offer nature-based solutions to support global and local efforts towards climate change adaptation and mitigation. Recognizing the key role of marine protected areas, the project supported over five years an expansion of marine protected area coverage from 13% to 22% , increased marine replenishment (no-take) zones from approximately 2% to 3.1%, and supported the drafting of updated Forest (Protection of Mangroves) Regulations that came into effect in 2018.

In addition to contributing to conservation efforts and providing a buffer against storms, marine protected areas are key drivers of the local economy. Sustainable management of fish populations ensures that fisherfolk will continue to have a catch, season after season, and provides opportunities for locals to diversify their livelihoods beyond fishing. The stunning reefs in Belize’s marine protected areas have supported the country’s tourism industry, particularly in high-value areas like diving. Considering that in 2019 travel and tourism contributed nearly 45% of Belize’s GDP, preservation of the barrier reef is essential to the sustainability and growth of this industry.

To support these efforts, MCCAP helped to mainstream climate change into the Belizean education curriculum. In addition, with MCCAP’s support, some schools started vocational training for secondary school students living in fishing-dependent communities. Kieron teaches agriculture, and regularly takes his students out to the experimental farm and livestock area on the school campus for practical classes.

“Belize has prioritized climate change. Why? Because we’ve seen the effects in other countries, and we need to prepare ourselves. Climate change will happen in Belize and it’s happening already. And we can see the effects already sprouting in our barrier reef, especially coral bleaching. The world is getting warmer, so the reef life is dying. And that’s alarming. Imagine there are no fish, no fish meat to eat, how will we survive? We have to diversify to agricultural production,” Kieron explains.

MCCAP took an integrated approach to developing and delivering climate adaptation options. In other fishing communities around Belize’s coastal areas, the project supported a variety of vocational trainings to help locals dependent on this vulnerable industry and coastal resources to supplement their income, which enables them to adhere to the new fishing and marine regulations. Some communities are focusing on organic farming, others are growing high-value forms of seaweed, while others have trained in cooking, hospitality, English, and skills for the tourism sector.

Abisai Canul is a fisherman in the northern town of Sarteneja. Through MCCAP, he was trained in English and tour guide skills, while other members of his family received culinary or hospitality training. “We now have a schedule when we can only set traps from March and November. Before, we didn’t do this and the amount of fish we caught was less every year. Now, we can do something else other than just fishing, helping the fish not to go extinct, and generating more income to help our families.”

The reef and its marine life are essential to Belize’s economy and way of life, so trainees like Abisai feel proud to be able to play a part in conservation, while making a living. As fishing communities are doing their part to reduce human pressures on the reef, others, like the volunteers with Fragments of Hope, are helping replant the reefs with more resilient types of coral. This is a labor of love for many local divers who also work in tourism and see firsthand the impression that a healthy reef makes on visitors to Belize.

Yasir Teck is one of the students at Kieron’s agriculture school. He dives in his free time and is a member of the school’s environmental club, which reaches out to primary school students to teach them about the environment.  “Our main aim of the club is to create awareness of the marine ecosystem. My father is a fisherman, and I would like to be a marine biologist.” With climate change now an integral part of Belize’s curriculum, Yasir is just one among a new generation growing up who are passionate about protecting their country’s natural resources far into the future.

Related links:

Feature story: Investing in Nature, Investing in the Future of Belize

MCCAP: Belize Fisheries Department

Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association

Fragments of Hope

Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation Development

MCCAP Results story