Fifteen years ago, we made a commitment to support marine conservation efforts in Belize and surrounding countries for 20 years. During that time we provided USD 46 million to 78 organisations.
As we get close to our 20-year mark in our strategy, we are now shifting our direct support in Belize and will close our offices in July 2016. Even though our physical office will be closed, we still remain committed to Belize and marine conservation.
First and foremost, we have committed to invest USD 10 million to help build an endowment for marine conservation in Mesoamerica. The name of this endowment fund is the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (Marfund). The purpose of Marfund is to provide long-term financial sustainability to natural resource management and conservation initiatives in Belize, Guatemala Honduras, and Mexico. We are requiring a match of an additional USD 15,000,000 for full replenishment of this endowment — which would enable funding for marine conservation in Mesoamerica for many more years. This will require a concerted effort on the part of Mesoamerica.
We have taken many other steps to ensure a responsible transition from Belize and to make sure that marine conservation will continue to receive support for many years. These steps have included: (1) providing large multi-year grants to many of our partners, which will enable them to carry out their work for three to five more years; (2) providing capacity-building support to our partners over the last two years to help ensure their financial sustainability and organisational development; and (3) having Angeline Valentine, Oak’s Programme Associate, continue to work in Belize over the next year to provide support to our partners to follow up on the reporting under existing open projects.
We are proud of our partners’ achievements over the past 15 years. Some of these include the following:
1) Mesoamerica now has over 30 per cent of all its territorial waters under some form of protection, 3 per cent being full no-take replenishment zones.
2) The region is the first multi country eco-region anywhere in the world to have a long-term monitoring system and framework. This helps to better understand ecosystem health, which supports adaptive management strategies across the region. Belize led in the transformation.
3) Several key marine species such as parrot fish have been protected.
4) Key destructive gears have been regulated or banned. For example, Belize achieved a ban on bottom trawling and other kinds of destructive fishing gear which lead to overfishing and cause harm to fisheries and to the marine environment.
5) An integrated management plan for Belize’s coastal zone has been adopted.
6) The land rights of the Maya people have been recognised.
7) Thousands of Belizeans have received field-based learning opportunities through our support in the establishment of the Natural Resources Management Programme at the University of Belize. This programme reaches the wider Caribbean and has the first Masters Degree Programme at the national university. In addition, Oak supported academic studies of several Belizeans in fields of marine sciences, management and law.
Many of these achievements would not have been possible without the support of the committed governments in Mesoamerica. We hope that they continue to support marine conservation and we look forward to celebrating more policies that protect the environment in the coming years.
As we transition our work in Belize and surrounding countries, we hope to bring to scale these achievements and the many lessons learned to our global marine conservation efforts. Imani Fairweather-Morrison will be leading the new, global, small-scale fisheries programme and will be joining our Environment Programme team in Geneva, Switzerland.
For additional information on Oak Foundation’s marine conservation efforts visit here.