Belize - Challenges & Opportunities

By chrisfraser64, Jan 16 2020 02:47PM

I’ve been coming to terms with the death of a friend of mine. Richard Foster was a wildlife filmmaker in Belize who was abducted from his remote home and killed. Sadly, there is a huge gap in wealth between the richest and poorest members of the population and violent crime and drug-running are on the increase. Richard had lived and worked with his wife Carol for 40 years and they had won many international awards for their documentaries. Both of them were generous and well-liked in the local community and hugely respected by wildlife filmmakers worldwide.

The Belize Zoo, which was initiated by Richard and directed by noted environmentalist Sharon Matola, only collects animals that have been injured or maltreated and hosts a popular outreach programme for schools

Belize is about the size of Wales and 2.6 million acres, a quarter of the land and coastline, is protected in 95 reserves. There is a wide range of wildlife including Jaguars, Howler Monkeys, Tapirs, Keel Billed Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Frigatebirds, Pelicans and Harpy Eagles. One of biggest of these reserves is Bladen Nature Reserve – 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness which has the highest level of protection in that permits are required to enter the area and are restricted to researchers only. The aim, at some stage in the future, is to link all these reserves into the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which will allow for the migration of animals from Mexico to South America.

The reef which stretches the complete length of Belize's coast, is part of the 600 mile-long Mesoamerican Reef from Mexico and Honduras – the second biggest in the World. An epic battle was waged recently by local conservation organisations together with international groups like WWF and Oceana to push through legislation to ban oil exploration on the Reef. Eight marine reserves have also been created along the coast and local fisherman have been confined to restricted areas and enlisted to ensure that only those with licences can fish there.

The Smithsonian Marine Research Station on Carrie Bow Caye monitors sea level rises, the state of the reef, and health of the fish population. The 2018 report initiated by the Smithsonian's Healthy Reefs for Healthy People initiative showed a small but significant improvement in the health of the Reef and helped remove it from its World Heritage danger list.

Despite the tragedy of Richard's death, Belize still holds a magic for me. I went back three years ago and revisited the Marine research station and stayed at Richard’s base where we discussed the film Belize - the Turning Point we had made together in 1988. Great progress has been made since then but there is still a great deal to be done to protect and extend the forests and regenerate the reef in the face of the threat from climate change.

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These are a series of talks I gave as part of the 'Apothecary' spoken word meetings at the Beach and Barnicott in Bridport