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Happy Birthday Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize

By Archie Carr III

The Hol Chan "Cut" - © Tony Rath / tonyrath.com

News today of conditions in the marine environment seems mostly something to be dreaded; a litany of decline and morbidity.  Whether it be the seemingly intractable force of ocean warming; ocean basin catastrophes like the BP oil spill; the bloody farce called “scientific” whaling by the Japanese; or simply the eerie appearance of lion fish in the Atlantic Basin, the marine conservationist — the enlightened observer, for that matter — can surely be forgiven for having adopted a protective shield of cynicism regarding the future of our planet and our ability to effectively address the challenges of conservation.

So, by way of relief from the weight of these troubles, it was a pleasure to hear of a birthday on July 2nd, happening in Belize, site of the greatest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.  It was a birthday marking the authorization of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, 25 years ago.  Joining in the commemoration were Belizeans and ex-patriot friends of Belize from around the world.  Among those friends, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Green Turtle - © Tony Rath / tonyrath.com / courtesy Oceana

The story of Hol Chan is laden with good news and useful guidelines for conservation efforts elsewhere.  And there are several positive, encouraging themes in the tale.  First, of course, is the marine reserve, itself.  Hol Chan is exceedingly popular, heavily visited during the course of a year, yielding massive financial rewards to numerous stakeholders.

But beyond that happy circumstance is the story about how Hol Chan came to be the first marine reserve in the country.  It was no accident.  It was part of a strategic plan conjured up by staff and associates of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  And the plan was to start with Hol Chan as a model the public and the government could contemplate, and learn how the benefits and lessons derived from a modest-sized marine park might be extended to the entire coral reef ecosystem.

Today there are small MPAs scattered along the barrier reef from the Mexican border in the north (Bacalar Chico), to the Sapadillo Cays in the extreme south.  It is a “string of pearls” along the barrier reef.

Blue Striped Grunts - © Tony Rath / tonyrath.com

From the momentum developed following the gazetting of Hol Chan, the notion of comprehensive “coastal zone management” (CZM) was advanced.  The international community took heed, and Belize was granted funds to implement CZM in one of the first tranches of money to come out of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

And there was more.  UNESCO agreed to declare major components of the greater Belize coral reef ecosystem as a World Heritage Site.

Horse-Eye Jacks and Bermuda Chub - © Tony Rath / tonyrath.com

And the Wildlife Conservation Society committed itself to adopting one of three coral atolls in Belizean waters, Glovers Reef, to work with the Department of Fisheries for the long-term stewardship of this remarkable marine ecosystem.

So, happy birthday, Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  You’ve meant a lot.  We’re looking forward to another brilliant quarter century.

 

Archie Carr III recently retired after 30 years with the Wildlife Conservation Society, working mostly in Central America.

Black Grouper and Horse-Eye Jacks - © Tony Rath / tonyrath.com

 

Comments

  1. David Stein
    New York City
    November 7, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Hi, I’ve been dreaming of Hol Chan ever since snorkeling there several times twenty years ago. Is it still as alive and thriving now as it was then? I keep reading terrible news stories about coral die-off in the Carribean.

  2. Snorkeling in Belize
    San pedro islands
    September 24, 2012, 4:18 pm

    One of the most amazing wonders of the world, where you will find a landscape and natural wonders, this is one of the beauties that Belize offers

  3. [...] For the full article in National Geographic click here. [...]

  4. Anna
    New York
    August 4, 2012, 12:15 am

    I just went to Hol Chan and it is truly a magical place! To be able to swim with nurse sharks, sting rays, turtles, schools of brightly colored fish in crystal clear pristine water? It is a priceless experience. Thank you to all who have helped preserve this reef ! After visiting a place like this it makes me sick that Belize is even thinking about allowing drilling in its waters. I hope they come to their senses and see that the value of what they have may not always be monetary.

  5. [...] Happy Birthday Hol Chan Marine Reserve, BelizeNational GeographicSo, by way of relief from the weight of these troubles, it was a pleasure to hear of a birthday on July 2nd, happening in Belize, site of the greatest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. It was a birthday marking the authorization of the Hol Chan … [...]

  6. Lloyd Reyes
    Philippines
    August 1, 2012, 7:54 pm

    Hapy Birthday Hol Chan! Keep it up!
    This proves that this world has a lot to show! There’s still hope for this wondrous place :)

  7. Rachel Graham
    Belize
    August 1, 2012, 8:58 am

    Chuck: Lovely tribute to an amazing place! Thank you for highlighting this gem for the world to see and for Belize to be continuously proud of.

  8. Cayo Scoop
    Belize
    July 31, 2012, 10:44 pm

    Thanks for a great article. You’re on the Cayo Scoop, again!

    http://www.scoop.it/t/best-of-san-ignacio-cayo/p/2289450828/happy-25th-birthday-hol-chan

  9. [...] Happy Birthday Hol Chan Marine Reserve, BelizeNational GeographicNews today of conditions in the marine environment seems mostly something to be dreaded; a litany of decline and morbidity. Whether it be the seemingly intractable force of ocean warming; ocean basin catastrophes like the BP oil spill; the bloody farce … [...]