Glover’s Reef Seascape, Belize

Glover’s Reef Seascape, Belize Photo
©Caleb McClennen

Glover’s Reef Seascape lies at the heart of the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere, just 28 miles off the coast of Belize. An astounding 800 patch coral reefs dot its waters, which encompass 12,500 acres. Glover’s Reef is a critical nursery and feeding ground for sea turtles, sharks and rays, and numerous fish species that gather in massive numbers. It also supports one of the Caribbean’s largest and last remaining Nassau grouper spawning aggregations, where Nassau grouper come together to mate during one or more winter full moons.

Hundreds of licensed fishermen rely on these waters to support their livelihoods. The seascape is also a centerpiece of ecotourism within the greater Belize Barrier Reef—a must-see visitor destination. In 1993, working as a partner with WCS, the government of Belize established the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve to ensure the protection of this outstanding part of its natural heritage.

Fast Facts

  • The Belize Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site.
  • Glover’s Reef is home to Belize’s largest "no-take" marine reserve, where fishing is prohibited.
  • It is one of the only true atolls—strings of coral islands surrounding a pristine lagoon—in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Though the species is now greatly depleted across the Caribbean, Nassau grouper once gathered at Glover’s Reef by the tens of thousands.
  • Evidence of preclassic Maya settlements and shipwrecks indicate that early explorers once traveled here and that these waters were on the route of the slave trade.

Challenges

Like coral reef systems around the world, the Glover’s Reef Seascape faces serious impacts from overfishing, pollution, unregulated tourism, and climate change. These threats can destroy corals, deplete fish stocks, and weaken ecological links across the seascape. As local fish stocks in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras have crashed, foreign fishers increasingly turn to the healthier waters of Belize, placing additional pressure on Glover’s Reef. As one species after another is fished to critically low levels, the impacts cascade across the entire fish community and reef system. Lack of coordinated management strategies, sparse enforcement, and insufficient resources to effectively manage the area complicate matters more.

Dredging, vegetation clearing, and waste dumping caused by unregulated coastal and caye development also destroys critical seagrass beds, corals, and mangroves in the seascape. With climate change anticipated to cause harmful bleaching in 70 percent of coral reefs worldwide by 2100, Belize’s coral reefs are at a tipping point.

WCS Responds

WCS is working with partners in Belize to conserve the Glover’s Reef Seascape through field science, policy expertise, and strong local partnerships. Field investigations on species like Nassau grouper, hawksbill turtles, and queen conch are used to guide new laws and policies designed to conserve the seascape. Our research station, situated on Middle Caye at Glover’s Reef, is on the front lines of conservation of this remote seascape. It provides both a base of operations for enforcement and monitoring as well as a field research and training station for visiting scientists.

WCS and its partners have helped to pass new laws that mandate year-round protection for the Nassau grouper at 11 sites; established a program that trains local fishermen to collect data; and helped complete the country’s new National Protected Area Policy and System Plan.

For more information, visit http://wcsgloversreef.org/.

WCS Projects

Regulating Shark & Ray Fisheries

Shark fisheries have expanded in size and number around the world since the mid-1980s to meet the rapidly rising demand for shark fins, meat, and cartilage. Most of these fisheries are unregulated and undocumented. As a result, numerous shark species now face extinction. WCS is working to improve regulation of the global trade in shark products to reverse the decline of these remarkable fishes.

From the Newsroom

Tallying Turtles on Glover’s ReefJuly 26, 2013

WCS staff and Belizean volunteers joined Google staff volunteers to survey sea turtles at the heart of the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere.

Happy Birthday, Hol Chan Marine ReserveAugust 2, 2012

A recent blog for National Geographic NewsWatch celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize, the country's first marine reserve and one that protects the greatest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Conservation efforts there ensure continued success for blue striped grunts and other precious fish and marine animals. 

Charting New Waters at Glover’s ReefApril 23, 2012

With support from the Summit Foundation, WCS conservationists and their local and international partners have introduced a new system of managed access to the Glover's Reef Marine Reserve’s conch fishery.

A Conversation with Rachel GrahamMarch 26, 2012

The New York Times interviews WCS's Dr. Rachel Graham about her work in the Gulf and the Caribbean to create a constituency for the protection of a magnificent—and often misunderstood—ocean giant: the shark.

Protecting a Lagoon’s Food Chain, Top to BottomDecember 22, 2011

Researchers find that fishery closures in Belize’s Glover’s Reef help barracudas, groupers, and other predatory fish recover while the parrotfish and other herbivores essential for reef recovery still need more protection.

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