by Larry Smith
In January 2009, the container ship Westerhaven ran aground and destroyed about an acre of Belize’s 180-mile barrier reef – the world's second largest. Fifteen months later the Belizean Supreme Court ruled that the ship’s owners had to pay the government $6 million in damages.
Their ruling was based on scientific studies showing that coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contribute 15 per cent of Belize’s gross domestic product. And when shoreline protection is considered, these ecosystems provide an extra $347 million in avoided damage every year.
With a similar population to the Bahamas, Belize has protected more than a third of its total land area of just under 9,000 square miles in one way or another, as well as about 13 per cent of its marine area.
In fact, this little, out-of-the-way nation (formerly known as British Honduras) is recognised today as a world leader in conservation and ecotourism, and there has been a lot of research on the value of Belize's protected areas.
One of the scientists involved in this research is 32-year-old Venetia Hargreaves-Allen, who has a doctoral degree from Imperial College, London. She was the principal investigator for the Marine Managed Area Economic Valuation in Belize that was recently produced by Conservation International as part of a global initiative involving hundreds of researchers.
Last year, Hargreaves-Allen produced a similar valuation for the Bahamas, using the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and the Retreat Gardens in Nassau as case studies. Tough Call was able to review her 100-page report in advance.