Rachel Graham

Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas

Restoring Science, Community Engagement, and Marine Tourism at the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve

This MarAlliance led project aims to establish contemporary knowledge of large and commercially important fish, and develop a basis for scientifically informed and community-based marine wildlife encounter tourism in Belize by focusing on one of Belize’s iconic fish spawning aggregations (FSA) sites, Gladden Spit.  The project will focus on four components that include inclusive monitoring, capacity building, information creation and dissemination for conservation management, and the development of a roadmap for long-term monitoring, responsible wildlife tourism and financial sustainability.  

Historically, Gladden Spit was economically important to the livelihood of stakeholder communities who fished the aggregation during the spawning season with many fishers subsequently participating in whale shark tourism from 1999 onwards.  The decline in the aggregation size and seasonal predictability of whale sharks returning to the site has impacted local and national income, leaving all stakeholders wondering what became of the world’s largest fish at Gladden Spit. Through funding from the Belize Fund for Sustainable Future (BFSF) and support from the reserve co-manager and key project partner Southern Environmental Association (SEA), a three-year project was developed and being implemented to collaboratively investigate and understand the status of multiple species of commercially important finfish and other shark species at the FSA site across during peak spawning months, and identify factors that may have led to the disappearance of visiting whale sharks.   

Project outputs include:

  1. A comprehensive assessment on the status of the FSA, and associated marine megafauna
  2. Capacity building for key stakeholders and local communities, using established and novel techniques to support rewilding of ecologically and economically important marine species at Gladden Spit
  3. Creation of clear communication instruments, capacities, and sustainable protocols/roadmap to support long-term monitoring and financial stability of the area.        

This project is an opportunity to explore and develop new areas for tourism in Gladden Spit, once a jewel in the crown of Belize’s wildlife encounter tourism and protected areas network.   

The “Restoring Science, Community Engagement, and Megafauna Tourism at Gladden Spit Marine Reserve” project seeks to revive the splendor of Gladden Spit’s waters and promote greater understanding of and coexistence with the marine environment by the communities it sustains by fusing scientific inquiry, historical relevance and community engagement.