Impact of land-use changes on marine environments


Impact of land-use changes on marine environments

Determining the resilience of marine based economies to environmental perturbations induced by land-use changes

Belize is an important biodiversity hotspot, being the most forested country in central America and containing the second longest coral reef in the world along its coast. Belizean Coastal ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass beds, rainforests, corals) are integral to the Belize economy as they support biodiversity, fish communities, tourism, and offer some resilience against coastal flooding from hurricanes and sea-level rise. However, mainland Belize has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the Caribbean, with land being converted to agricultural use for sugar cane, bananas and oil palms. Elsewhere in the world such perturbations in land-use have significantly impacted coastal water quality through increased turbidity, sediment levels, and nutrient concentrations, thus it is possible that similar changes in coastal water quality may occur in Belize with associated impacts on the marine-based economies and services that Belize relies upon.

In order to address these potential impacts it is important to develop systems that document baseline environmental status and introduce effective monitoring and preservation techniques. Successfully introducing such systems will allow the sustainable use of these areas to continue and their dependent economies to develop further. In recognition of these factors Belize introduced the Coastal Zone Management Act two decades ago, with the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan facilitating cross-sectional decision–making and technical coordination. This project aims to support the Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI; the principal agency responsible for the development and execution of this plan) by:

  1. Undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the Belize off shore environment, focussing specifically on regions impacted by rivers draining into the coastal ocean. Observations will include basic hydrographic parameters plus estimates of terrestrial influence (sediments, biomarkers), ocean acidification, coral and blue carbon habitats. This will (i) establish a baseline against which future change can be evaluated, (ii) allow the current environmental status of Belizean coastal waters to be established, and (iii) allow the initialisation of the numerical modelling efforts.
  2. Developing, and providing training in the usage of, a coastal ecosystem model tailored to Belizean conditions that enables a basic suite of climate change and land usage change scenarios to be assessed in support of decision making. This will provide local stakeholders with the capacity to interrogate the ‘what if’ scenarios they require to inform their existing socio-economic expertise, and permit robust evidence based policy making and activity licencing.


Alternative test



Claire Evans
Principal Investigator

Richard Sanders


Latest News

Oct 2019
A month long fieldwork campaign has begun in Belizean coastal waters which will enhance understanding of the sensitivities of these fragile environments to the impacts of both human activities and...
Coral Reef Belize
Sep 2019
A study led by National Oceanography Centre (NOC) scientists, recently published in Frontiers in Marine Science, presents the first ever images of animals living below 4000 metres within the...
Apr 2019
NOC Southampton hosted a week of workshops and meetings (25 – 29 March) to discuss progress and plan future collaboration with partners and stakeholders from Belize. The event was attended...
Belize Partners at NOC Southampton
Nov 2018
On 29 October 2018, scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) began a multi-disciplinary program of fieldwork in Belize that aims to help characterise the impacts of changes in land-use...


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Taking cores of seagrass meadows in Belize

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River sampling fieldwork in Belize