Engaging Fishers in MPA Design A Reef Resilience Network Success Story

Belize Marine Protected Area Network

Belize is home to a vast array of habitat types including mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reef communities and coastal wetlands. The Country's coastal waters house part of the Meso-American barrier reef system, which is the largest reef system in the Americas, creating ecosystems rich in biodiversity with thriving fish populations. For local communities, the health and productivity of fisheries is especially significant as the resource provides a source of food and income. In order to safeguard these fragile ecosystems and valued marine resources, Belize's marine waters are managed under a network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Non-extractive zones or replenishment zones (RZ) represent 3% of the Belize's MPA network, however due to small zone size and fragmented distribution, the effectiveness of the RZ has been limited. Over time, it became evident that current RZs needed to increase in size as important fish stocks, like spiny lobster and queen conch, were continuing to decline.

The need for strengthened marine resource protection was acknowledged by the Government of Belize and local and international NGOs. These groups formed a partnership to implement a National Replenishment Expansion Project to expand protected RZs within Belize’s MPA network. The first phase of the RZ Expansion Project focused on increasing protection of open, deep-sea areas, as this habitat type is the most underrepresented in the MPA network.

Meet the Manager

Seleni Cruz (center), Conservation Coordinator of The Nature Conservancy's Belize Program

Seleni Cruz, Conservation Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy's Belize Program, became involved in the RZ Expansion Project in 2013, where she used technical computer modeling to identify best sites for expansion and habitat protection. She also helped develop an economic alternatives strategy for seaweed and sea cucumber farming for fisherman to support sustainable fisheries management.

To ensure stakeholders (deep sea fishers and sport/tour fishers) were included in the RZ expansion design, Seleni planned a series of consultation meetings on the importance of RZs and the long-term benefits of protecting marine resources. These meetings were also deigned to foster new relationships with stakeholders and encourage them to participate in the RZ design process by providing local knowledge and input to incorporate into the proposed plans. Before conducting consultation meetings, Seleni recognized the importance of building her communication and facilitation skills to lead productive and effective meetings.

Reef Resilience Network Support

Seleni was recommended by her supervisor to attend a training led by the Reef Resilience Network (the Network) to help prepare her for the consultation meetings. During the training, she learned about resilient marine protected area (MPA) design for fisheries management and how to use the latest science when developing recommendations for no take areas. She also gained experience in strategic communication planning and facilitation methods and tactics.

Reef Resilience Training Puerto Rico 2015
The Reef Resilience Training was an introduction to communication and facilitation for me and provided an excellent foundation for me to refer to. I still find myself using and building upon the skills and framework I learned from this training. – Seleni Cruz

During the training, Seleni worked with experts to develop key messages for the RZ Expansion Project and discussed methods to use when communicating with stakeholders. In addition, Seleni connected with participants from the training who shared their challenges and successes in management which introduced her to new approaches to coral reef management.

Reef Resilience Training Puerto Rico 2015

After the training, Seleni was awarded a seed funding grant from the Network to support implementation of the stakeholder consultation series as part of the first phase for the National Replenishment Expansion Project. With the seed funding grant, Seleni also created a map to identify potential areas for seaweed and sea cucumber farming as an economic alternative for fishermen. Seleni applied the communication and facilitation skills she learned from the Reef Resilience training into her work on the RZ Expansion Project by creating a targeted communication strategy and developing key messages to use during stakeholder consultation meetings. She also used message development tools from the training to create clear and concrete messages about how the RZ Expansion Project can benefit this stakeholder group.

Successes and Next Steps

Seleni used the seed funding grant to hold total of ten consultation meetings, over a two months, where she rolled out her communication strategy. She used key messages she created during the training when presenting to deep sea and sport/tour fishermen on the importance of MPAs and RZs and revealed sites considered for RZ expansion. Before the consultation series, stakeholders were concerned that the RZ Expansion Project would impact their livelihood and were guarded when it came to discussing their local fishing sites. As the meetings progressed, the group’s understanding of habitat protection and fisheries management improved.

Seleni Cruz presenting to stakeholders during consultation meetings
The training helped me articulate key messages to use during stakeholder consultations and provided helpful skills on how to facilitate conversations with fisher folk which was a big component of the work I was doing. - Seleni Cruz
Seleni Cruz presenting to stakeholders during consultation meetings

During these meetings, stakeholders also had the time to review design plans and discuss their opinions about the expansion. Because of Seleni’s effort to engage stakeholders in resource management decisions, they were more open and willing to participate in the expansion design planning process. Through these meetings, Seleni gathered valuable input from local fishermen about fishing sites and habitat types and created a new map to include their feedback. The new map was incorporated into the first phase of the National Replenishment Expansion Project and will be presented to the Government of Belize for approval and implementation.


Photo Credit: Image 1 © Ethan Daniels. Image 2-6 © Reef Resilience. Image 7-9 © Seleni Cruz. Image 10 © Jeff Yonover

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