Case study: Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) – Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa (historic)

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“Knowing real-time meteorological parameters and having access to suitable information has given us the opportunity to understand and improve maritime analyses in terms of maritime incidents.”

– Captain Franck Razafindraibe, Director of the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre (NMIFC), Madagascar


Coastal communities are exposed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related phenomena, such as sea surges, cyclones and flooding, due to climate change. The predictability of such events can be improved with knowledge gained from the acquisition and analysis of satellite-derived data on oceanic and atmospheric variables. However, the skills to perform such analyses and to harness their potential to benefit on-the-ground scenarios and mitigate risks are not widespread.

The C-RISe project has sought to improve this situation by offering training opportunities to coastal management practitioners in southern Africa through courses on how to acquire necessary open-access datasets (hosted by South Africa) and licence-free analytical software. Further training on how to apply such datasets and analytical skills to resolving specific challenges locally was delivered via the choice of 27 real-world cases from coastal settings in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Coverage of C-Rise programme
Coverage of the C-RISe programme. The area within the light blue box gives the overall coverage of the programme, red lines represent ground tracks for Jason-series Earth Observation satellites, and yellow pins are tide gauge locations against which satellite data can be validated.

Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, health and safety at sea, as well as ongoing development and disaster prevention initiatives. Nine of these cases have been identified as having an impact, and findings from this work have been shared regionally, fostering further collaboration with Mauritius.

The challenges encountered during this project have largely pivoted on the age and computational capacity of available hardware in the region, as well as on the diversity of software versions still in use. Upgrading computational capacity to a common useable standard whilst also being limited by slow and intermittent connectivity to the internet – hampering access to data and training materials – has been a significant challenge.

The issue

The coastal populations of Southwest Indian Ocean nations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In particular, there are climate-sensitive, economically important coastal resources, such as port and aquaculture infrastructures, as well as ecologically important habitats that are exposed to the sea surges associated with evermore frequent and forceful cyclones.

Access to regional data on coastal risk factors (i.e., sea level change and wave and wind extremes) can support plans to protect coastal communities and safeguard economic activity. This information can also contribute to improving industrial and commercial competitiveness in the maritime sector (e.g., by improving maritime navigation security, or by monitoring seawater quality, pollution or toxic algal blooms in relation to coastal fisheries).

Training workshop participants in Madagascar Training workshop participants in Mozambique
Training workshop participants in Madagascar and Mozambique

However, access and use of such data are hampered by limited technical capacity locally, with knock-on effects on the region’s ability to provide support for scientific decision-making regarding strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas and building resilience to coastal hazards.

The development of local capacity to access and use available data alongside other information sources is necessary to ensure a viable long-term service to manage coastal risks, mitigate potential losses and improve self-sufficiency.

The response

The Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) was created – in partnership with Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa – to facilitate access to satellite-derived data on sea levels, wind speeds and wave heights and to build local capacity for data analysis and application.

The goal was to enable stakeholders to improve socioeconomic resilience to coastal hazards associated with sea level changes such as floods, storm damage, wetland loss, habitat change, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

C-RISe was funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) under the International Partnership Programme, whose aim is to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing countries and economies by identifying space solutions to solve their specific development challenges and so increase their capacity.

C-RISe’s objectives were threefold:

  • Deliver a coastal risk information service, providing satellite-derived information about sea levels, winds and waves to support coastal vulnerability assessment and hazard management efforts.
  • Apply and evaluate the C-RISe service through the application of its products to selected real-world scenarios that address local priorities.
  • Build local capacity to use satellite data to provide scientific decision support for strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas to increase resilience to coastal hazards.

The C-RISe programme ran from 2016 to 2019, although its success generated further interest and additional funding from UKSA during its legacy period (March 2020-March 2021), enabling the acquisition and inclusion of higher resolution spatial data. A bid to expand the extent of the project was not successful; this option continues to be explored.

Partnerships and support

The C-RISe partnership comprised three contributors from the United Kingdom (Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd, the National Oceanography Centre and Bilko Development Ltd) and ten international contributors from southern Africa: the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa; the Mozambique Hydrographic Office; Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique; the Madagascar Meteorological Office; the National Oceanographic Research Centre, Madagascar; the Institute of Fisheries and Marine Science within the University of Toliara, Madagascar; the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre, Madagascar; the University of Mauritius; WWF Madagascar Country Office; and Conservation International.

Support for the partnership came from the UKSA’s International Partnership Programme funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports challenge-led interdisciplinary research while strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange.

Whilst funding for the initial three-year C-RISe programme ended in 2019, programme leaders have continued to investigate a range of potential funding options that centre on opportunities for C-RISe to work with other organisations, initiatives and donors in southern Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. As of April 2021, a joint bid to continue work with partners in Madagascar is awaiting a final decision.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Following five introductory and training workshops using C-RISe data, African coastal and marine scientists selected 27 applications (16 in Madagascar, 9 in Mozambique, 2 in Mauritius) with which to embed the skills they learnt into their organisations for the long term. Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, better understanding of sea state and safety at sea. Specific examples include:

  • Sea state information for improving maritime navigation security and safety for Madagascar
  • Marine protected area management (Nosy Hara and Ambodivahibe) in Madagascar
  • Impact of coastal climate change on mangroves on Madagascar’s west coast
  • Pollution from rare earth metal mining in Madagascar
  • Wave climatology for the Mozambique channel
  • Analysis of regional variability in sea-level change in Mozambique’s coastal seas
  • Effects of climate variability on semi-industrial shrimp catches in Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Results from all 27 cases were shared at regional workshops and conferences in Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique, allowing attendees to understand how data can be used whilst also fostering local cross-organisational partnerships. Nine applications have already been identified as having achieved significant impact by enhancing local capabilities, strengthening resilience towards natural hazards and improving management of protected areas, and all of them are available publicly via the C-RISe website.

The impact from these applications has included:

  • Enabling law enforcement in cases of drug trafficking and illegal migration;
  • Improved management of mangroves and reefs;
  • Improved management of Marine Protected Areas, leading to their expansion.

A set of comprehensive training resources has also been made available online, which includes introductory materials, examples of applications for earth observation data, software installation instructions and capacity development tools.

WWF Madagascar Use Case
Results of the WWF Madagascar Use Case to analyse vulnerability of mangrove forest at Ambaro Bay.


A major limitation to the implementation of the programme and the pace of work was intermittent and slow internet connectivity. This can severely compromise access to and acquisition of satellite data resources as well as access to the free, open-source analytical software on which the programme depends. Hand-to-hand sharing of datasets via portable disk drives helped overcome this issue, but this temporary solution is not compatible with the long-term sustainability and legacy of the programme. The age and computational capacity of available hardware, as well as the lack of up-to-date software versions, were also limiting.

In-country training was limited to the duration of visits by. implementing partners using training datasets. This did not always allow for in-depth road-testing of acquired skills with real data and adequate support. Necessarily remote and protracted training sessions in 2020, however, allowed participants time to apply their training between sessions while still being supervised.

When governments change, the leadership of key government partner agencies can also change. Building strong relationships with managers at lower levels within partner organisations was vital to re-establishing contacts with leadership following any restructuring.

Key lessons learnt

  • The need for reliable data and the skills with which to use them is well recognised throughout the region, although the breadth of potential for the application of such data is underestimated. The creation of compelling narratives and the connection of earth observation data to clearly defined, policy-relevant questions can only help emphasise the value and benefits of existing data resources as well as promote the acquisition of valuable skills locally to harness those benefits. Showing how C-RISe data can complement data from other sources to resolve policy challenges can enhance their potential for impact.
  • Engaging actors with knowledge of policy issues to ensure maximum impact is also paramount. Policy briefs are being compiled to further engage managers and politicians to expose and promote the range of issues that can be addressed by initiatives such as C-RISe, especially with the availability of data and improved local capacity to use them.
  • Improved connectivity, communication and prolonged skill and information sharing within and between countries in the Southwest Indian Ocean offer significant benefits to the region’s overall prosperity and collective ability to address impending challenges.

Lead contacts

David Cotton, Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd
(SatOC), Project Lead: [email protected]

Amani Becker, National Oceanography Centre, Project Lead: [email protected]

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Case study: The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS)

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 “The Indian monsoon and its vagaries are tightly linked to the changing environmental conditions in the Indian Ocean. Hence high-resolution ocean observations can help improve our monsoon forecasts. In terms of cyclones, forecasting has improved a lot. The India Meteorological Department can now predict the genesis, track and landfall of cyclones with greater accuracy, so that we are able to save many lives, from tens of thousands of casualties in the 1990s to tens of hundreds by 2020.” 

– Roxy Mathew Koll, Co-chair of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel 


The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS), established in 2006, is a network of interdependent and complementary instruments deployed in the Indian Ocean for measuring seawater temperature, salinity, ocean currents, atmospheric humidity and wind. Originally set up to better understand and forecast the onset of the seasonal monsoon, it now serves to enable the modelling of future climate scenarios under climate change and to predict extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and cyclones – at a regional scale. Such predictions can help prepare for and mitigate the worst effects of extreme weather on vulnerable communities across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Continued financial support for maintaining the existing network of instruments and to expand its reach into new areas to improve the system’s prediction ability is necessary and would be enhanced by the establishment of more partnerships in the region as well as political will to allow observational access to the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal states. Training of personnel at a local level to deploy and maintain the instruments, as well as to analyse the measurements, is also addressed by IndOOS. Improved coordination of all activities that utilise the recorded observations, as well as the continuing development of data recording, calibration and management standards, should improve the system’s capacity to inform science and be of use to Indian Ocean communities into the future. 

Illustration of the Indian Ocean Observing System

The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) (from Beal et al., 2019).

The issue 

The Indian Ocean basin is surrounded by 22 countries – home to almost one third of humankind – many of which are vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change. These countries rely heavily on fisheries and rain-dependent agriculture, both tightly linked to the monsoon, which is itself driven by dynamic temperature gradients across the Indian Ocean. Variations in ocean surface temperature have been shown to influence monsoon rains across the basin, flooding in East Africa, droughts and wildfires in Australia and Indonesia, changes in upwelling intensity and even sea level rise. Associated shifts in water oxygenation, salinity and nutrient levels also influence marine productivity and ecosystem stability as a whole. Disruption of ecosystem stability on this scale is predicted to increase the number of undernourished people in the region by 50 per cent by 2030. 

The Indian Ocean’s influence extends beyond its boundaries, redistributing heat across the planet and modulating the climate in the Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. 

Regular observations of different ocean attributes over the entire Indian Ocean are the key to informing and improving our understanding of how the climate works and varies over time. Mathematical models that use data from such observations to simulate future climate conditions can be used to forecast the timing and intensity of the monsoon or extreme weather events, which in turn can help mitigate any potential damage to crops and livelihoods. 

The response 

The goal of the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) is to provide sustained, high quality oceanographic and marine meteorological measurements to support knowledge-based decision-making through improved scientific understanding, weather and climate forecasts and environmental assessments for the benefit of society. Its objectives are to foster agreements and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries and beyond, creating opportunities for them to enhance long-term monitoring and forecasting capacity. 

The framework for IndOOS comprises five observing networks: 

  1. Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA)
  2. Profiling floats (part of the global Argo array)
  3. Surface drifters (Global Drifter Program, GDP)
  4. Repeat temperature lines (eXpendable Bathy Thermograph (XBT) network)
  5. Tide gauges 

Augmenting and cross-calibrating these networks are remotely sensed (via satellite) observations of surface wind, sea level, surface temperature and salinity, rainfall and ocean colour, as well as a coarse network of decadal hydrographic survey lines (The Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program, GO-SHIP).

Partnerships and support 

IndOOS emerged from discussions among scientists at the First International Conference on the Ocean Observing System for Climate (OceanObs) in 1999, a time of new and advancing observing technologies, such as profiling floats (Argo), satellite missions and surface meteorological buoys. Based on scientific and societal needs, an implementation plan for IndOOS was put together by the Indian Ocean Panel (now the Indian Ocean Regional Panel) in 2006, established under the Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability, and Change (CLIVAR) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission – Global Ocean Observing System (IOC-GOOS) programmes. 

Since its inception, the CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel has provided scientific and technical oversight for implementation of IndOOS and coordinated research on the role of the Indian Ocean in the climate system. Members of the Panel currently include representatives of research institutions from Australia, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Norway, Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Funding for the development and continuation of IndOOS is the responsibility of the Indian Ocean Resources Forum (IRF), following the business plan devised by the Panel at its inception. The IRF works year-round to facilitate and coordinate the provision of the resources required for the implementation of IndOOS, promoting contributions from international aid and development agencies as well as from institutions in participating countries. The IRF also monitors and critiques the rationale for implementation of IndOOS as articulated by the Panel and other relevant expert bodies. 

A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030

IndOOS-2: A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030 (from Beal et al., 2020).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

To date, IndOOS has provided unprecedented measurements of weather, ocean and climate phenomena. These observations have, for instance: 

  • supported the study and forecast of tropical cyclones and marine heatwaves; 
  • improved our understanding of the variables driving tropical seasonal variability and their influence on sub-seasonal variations of the global climate; 
  • mapped equatorial and monsoon circulations and captured variability of the Indonesian throughflow (an ocean current with importance for the global climate); and 
  • revealed year-to-year climate variations in the tropical Indian Ocean and their relationship to tropical Pacific climate variations (i.e., the El Niño Southern Oscillation). 

In addition, approximately 20 capacity development workshops have been held across the region to ensure broad understanding of the social and economic applications and benefits of IndOOS, as well as technological training in the sustainment of these vital meteorological and oceanic observations. 

Examples of capacity development programmes include: 

  • Partnerships for New GEOSS (Global Earth Observing System of Systems) Applications (PANGEA), which has delivered in-country training (e.g., in South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania) on the applications of ocean data (for understanding and predicting regional weather, ocean and climate and their impact on fisheries, coastal zone management, natural disasters, water resource management, human health and others), and fostered partnerships between developed and developing countries (including Comoros, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and the United States) to realise the socioeconomic benefits of ocean observing systems. 
  • Provision – through the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition 2015-2025 (IIOE-2) – of berths on research vessels and opportunities for young and emerging scientists and practitioners from India. 

A review of IndOOS’s performance was completed in 2019, addressing the way societal and scientific priorities and measurement technologies have evolved, especially considering the accelerating pace of climatic and oceanic change. The review has provided a roadmap to sustained observations of the Indian Ocean up to 2030. 


Aside from logistical challenges presented by maintaining unattended equipment at sea (e.g., piracy, vandalism, ship time for servicing), a major challenge of the IndOOS programme has been to gain authorisation from coastal states to extend the observation network into their EEZs. Access to these waters would enable the study of important coastal, shelf and slope systems that are integral to sustaining fisheries and to understanding the entire basin. Installing and testing new observing platforms within EEZs, together with building trust, national capacity and resource sharing across state boundaries, may help address this challenge. 

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and compatibility of data across all ocean observation programmes is an ongoing universal challenge, addressed by the creation of best practices for instrument calibration, data recording, integration, reporting and quality control, as well as regular provision of national and regional training workshops. 

Another significant challenge is the flat or declining levels of national funding for sustained ocean observation networks. Ongoing commitment to IndOOS by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Science Council through their support of the World Climate Research Program is essential. Importantly, improvements and enhancements to the system require increased participation by countries and institutions willing to provide resources. 

Key lessons learnt 

  • Despite the significant efforts invested in IndOOS and the unprecedented amount of information it has generated, with tangible benefits in capacity building and harm prevention, its inherent limitations mean it still falls short of meeting many of society’s demands for climate forecasting and prediction. The relatively low prediction skill of forecasts is a result of a lack of sufficient information, which can only be addressed by more sustained observations. Enhanced vertical (at depth) and temporal resolution of upper-ocean measurements, in addition to those from existing and expanded measurement platforms, would improve the situation. 
  • Increased engagement and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries are needed, fomented by recognition of the national benefits that arise from participating in such international initiatives. Much of the expansion of IndOOS into coastal regions is reliant on increased involvement and cooperation of regional countries and agencies, along with their commitment to building and supporting national capacity and observing best practices, and on data sharing and dissemination. 
  • More ought to be done to connect Indian Ocean countries and institutions with the benefits, principles and tools of IndOOS to encourage engagement, collaboration, resource sharing and capacity development. Enhanced multilateral partnerships – fostered and supported by the Indian Ocean Region Panel, Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System and IRF – can help ensure that international resources are optimised, national cases for funding are strengthened, capacity building is conducted in priority areas and data are shared. 

Lead contacts 

Juliet Hermes (South Africa, [email protected]) and Roxy Mathew Koll (India, [email protected]), Co-chairs of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel, 

YouTube presentation on IndOOS-2

Supporting documentation: 

Synthesis of the IndOOS-2 Report: Beal, LM, J Vialard, MK Roxy and co-authors (2020) ‘A Roadmap to IndOOS-2: Better Observations of the Rapidly-Warming Indian Ocean’. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101(11): E1891–E1913, doi:10.1175/ BAMS-D-19-0209.1

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Case study: Impact Investing for Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste” by Blue Finance, Dominican Republic

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“Quite simply, MPAs [Marine Protected Areas] are one of the best tools we have right now for improving the health of the marine ecosystems. We can’t depend only on governments and grants to pay for marine conservation. We need a new source of financing that will allow for proper management – sustainable financing – and that is our role, to find investment opportunities that will contribute to better marine reserve management.” 

– Nicolas Pascal, Founder and Director of Blue Finance


The Marine Sanctuary Arrecifes del Sureste (“the Sanctuary”) in the Dominican Republic provides for the sustainable use of almost 8,000 km2 (800,000 ha) of highly biodiverse marine park, covers 100 km of coastline and supports the livelihoods of approximately 15,000 households. The Sanctuary is one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Caribbean, consisting of the Eastern, Central and Southern Marine Management Areas. It encompasses vibrant coral reef ecosystems, several major urban centres and two of the country’s primary tourism centres that receive over 4 million visitors annually and consists of fisheries, tourism and conservation areas.

However, protection of the Sanctuary has not been implemented (essentially relegating the Sanctuary to the status of a “paper park”) as the Dominican Republic’s government struggles to deliver and enforce effective protection measures. The problem is not restricted to the Dominican Republic or the Caribbean: inadequate budgets and staffing are problems for many MPAs, making it difficult to meet even basic management needs.

Partners gather to launch the partnership for Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste.”

Blue Finance is a social enterprise that has partnered with the Dominican Republic’s government, communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), investors and entrepreneurs to design a novel co-management framework to enable the conservation of the Sanctuary. The co-management framework is a system of carefully crafted public–private partnership agreements that deliver social, environmental and economic outcomes to benefit all parties.

It is a 10-year renewable agreement that involves the creation of two co-management bodies (NGOs) that are expected to be financially sustainable and to generate their own incomes from a mix of sources such as user fees and innovative tourism models. The approach relies on the concept of innovative management leases for MPAs by co-management bodies that rely on tangible revenue models, leveraged by blended finance, to empower local communities. 

Blue Finance designed the co-management agreement with the government of the Dominican Republic, developed an investable model and the necessary secured blended finance from impact investors and philanthropic sources. Blue Finance is supported by the UN and has forged strong partnerships with impact investors Mirova-Althelia and other partners such as the Paul Allen Foundation.  

The issue 

Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is still one of the best ways to protect and manage coral reef ecosystems that can benefit coastal and wider communities. MPAs, when well managed, can support and improve ecosystems, thereby enhancing food supply, resulting in incomes for local and indigenous communities from (traditional) fishing, nature-based tourism businesses and protection of shorelines, leading to better resilience to climate change. A 10 per cent conservation target has been set as part of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, with several nations supporting a 30 per cent target by 2030.

Funding for MPAs is often piecemeal, insufficient and short-term, and, without the necessary starting capital and basic social entrepreneur skills, MPAs cannot become financially sustainable on their own and over the long term. Meanwhile, impact investors and donors have communicated a clear need for a pipeline of viable investable projects in marine conservation. 

The Sanctuary Arrecifes del Sureste was created in 2009 but its protection has remained mostly inactive because the government does not have the required financial or human resources to manage the area. The region faces a number of challenges, both ecological and social in nature. Local impacts include degradation as a result of coastal development, tourism activities (especially diving), vessel groundings, anchor damage and fishing (recreational and subsistence). Meanwhile, the area has immense aesthetic value, resulting in a proliferation of coastal development. There is an urgent need for the Sanctuary to start the process of zoning and defining regulations with local stakeholders through a participatory approach. 

The response 

Two non-profit co-management organisations have been established, one each to look after the Eastern and the Southern sections of the Sanctuary. The co-management bodies develop the management plan and zonation of their areas with local stakeholders. They are also responsible for hiring and managing staff and purchasing the required equipment to carry out the activities agreed to by the government. 

The co-management organisations comprise local conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local foundations of the major tourism holdings in the country and other associations.

Location of Marine Sanctuary “Arrecifes del Sureste” in the Dominican Republic

The co-management organisations are guided by an Advisory Committee comprising public and private members. An independent, internationally recognised institution will audit the performance of the co-management groups annually. Implementation will be guided by annual work plans, prepared by each co-management body, reviewed by the Advisory Committee and approved by government.

These activities, with collaboration from existing institutions, include the following: improving the health of marine habitats; monitoring, zonation and enforcement; community engagement and livelihood enhancement; support to tourism activities; and maintenance, management and marketing. 

The Sanctuary is divided into different conservation zones, a No Take Zone and recreation, fishery and transport areas. Each zone has its own regulation framework and management strategies. Currently, the Management and Marine Spatial plan is being developed.  

One of the co-management bodies has arranged major financing for initial capital expenditure (purchase of vessels, buoys, tourism facilities, etc.) through an eight-year loan from the Sustainable Ocean Fund. The Sustainable Ocean Fund is an impact investment fund managed by Althelia-Mirova. It is dedicated to creating, accelerating and executing sustainable fishery, aquaculture and coastal conservation projects globally, while applying best-in-class social and environmental governance. 

Partnerships and support

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Dominican Republic) has spearheaded the co-management project. The co-management company for the Eastern part of the Sanctuary (the Allianza Arrecifes del Este) includes Fundación Grupo Punta Cana (FGPC), Clúster Turístico Altagracia, Asociación de Hoteles Altagracia, Asociación Deacuáticas and Blue Finance Dominicana.

The co-management company for the Southern part of the Sanctuary (the Consorcio Arrecifes del Sur) is formed by Fundación Grupo la Romana, Clúster Turístico Bayahibe, Asociación de Hoteles Bayahibe, Fundación Dominicana des Estudios Marinos (FUNDEMAR) and Blue Finance Dominicana. 

Several NGOs that are part of the co-management organisations played a role in setting up the co-management bodies, as outlined below.

FGPC was integral in drafting the co-management plan for the protected area and getting approval for a co-management agreement. FGPC is an NGO with extensive experience in marine conservation. It has pioneered one of the Caribbean’s largest coral reef restoration projects and created several market-based community development projects, such as Zero Waste, the Dominican Republic’s first and largest corporate recycling programme. FGPC has also successfully implemented several innovative alternative livelihood programmes for local fishers and their families.

FUNDEMAR is another NGO partner that is dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of coastal marine ecosystems and resources through research, education and support for the development of conservation projects. It has a multidisciplinary technical team of biologists, ecologists, social scientists and educators capable of carrying out actions and projects with scientific rigour. 

CODOPESCA (Consejo Dominicano de Pesca y Acuicultura) is the Dominican government agency in charge of regulating, developing, promoting and supervising the management (including research) of fisheries and aquaculture. CODOPESCA establishes policies, strategies, norms, regulations and other instruments related to the use of fishery resources, based on participatory processes that encourage changes in user behaviour, leading to more responsible and sustainable development. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) SPAW-RAC is the Regional Activity Centre implementing the Protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the wider Caribbean region, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea. The SPAW Protocol has a focus on marine and coastal biodiversity, such as sea grass beds, coral reefs, marine species (such as cetaceans and turtles), MPAs, etc.

One of its objectives is to promote and assist in the development and implementation of the guidelines on protected area establishment and management under the SPAW. 

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

The co-management agreement was signed between the Ministry of Environment (Dominican Republic) and the co-managers of the two co-management bodies (the Allianza and the Consortio) in February 2018. The agreement prescribes which organisation is responsible for the delivery and management of the various social, environmental and economic outcomes. The Marine Spatial Plan under development and in the co-management bodies is in the final stages of preparation for investment. 

The early-stage activities are funded through direct cash and in-kind support from the founder members as well as grants from international institutions. Initial fees collected from users are expected to bring additional funding. The early-stage activities involve planning and strategic work – namely (i) completion of the management plans of the Sanctuary with stakeholders, (ii) design of the business plan of the co-management bodies, (iii) financial arrangements and (iv) legal arrangements.

Blue Finance seeks to upscale the approach used here to other five MPAs by 2021 in developing countries (with a final aim of 20 MPAs by 2030). The five MPAs have relevant works already underway, including late-stage developments in Belize, Cape Verde and Philippines. 


Developing complex co-management strategies for MPAs has taken much longer than initially anticipated, and this has been exacerbated by COVID-19. While the co-management agreement was signed fairly quickly, getting agreement from the co-managers has taken time. NGOs are not accustomed to dealing with financial instruments that require repayment, relying instead on government subventions or grants. Considerable effort is still needed to instil an entrepreneurial mindset among local stakeholders and to educate them in such approaches. 

The investment required for a single MPA is usually much less than the investor’s minimum investment size. Blue Finance had to assemble a portfolio of projects to make MPAs attractive for investors. As this is a new approach, information on financial performance and expected returns from MPAs is limited, resulting in some hesitation by governments and investors. A very thorough financial feasibility assessment was carried out to ensure that adequate revenue would be generated. Key Performance Indicators have yet to be agreed to by both parties. 

Key lessons learnt 

The co-management approach represents a type of public-private partnership, an undertaking known for being complex and time-consuming. However, the co-management approach can be replicated and scaled, making the time and effort invested in the developing the project and negotiating contracts applicable in other situations. 

The experience illustrates the value of using blended finance wisely, such as leveraging public funding (grants or philanthropic) to assist early-stage development. 

Developing and fostering entrepreneurial skills among local communities will remain vital to the success of the Sanctuary. These skills will need to be developed among locals to operate tourist visitor centres and other small tourism businesses to benefit from the conservation of the MPA.

Lead contact 

Director of Blue Finance: Nicolas Pascal: [email protected]


  • Avery, H. (2018) “Blue Finance: Why Marine PPPs Could Be a Win-Win-Win”. Euromoney, 5 June. 
  • Gill, D., Mascia, M., Ahmadia, G., Glew, L. et al. (2017) “Capacity Shortfalls Hinder the Performance of Marine Protected Areas Globally”. Nature 543: 665–669.

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Case study: Katy Soapi – A Leader in Ocean Science and Conservation in Fiji and the Solomon Islands

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“We need to start changing what our young people think of when they think of a scientist. My hope is that I see more Pacific Islanders, and women, taking up leadership roles, being successful in their career and thriving.”

– Katy Soapi


Katy Soapi is the Coordinator for the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science at the Pacific Community in Fiji, a position she took up in January 2021. Before that, Soapi was the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Soapi grew up on the island of Rendova, part of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at the USP, a master’s at the University of Sydney in Australia and a PhD at the UK’s University of East Anglia. Soapi then returned to the Pacific, taking up a position at the USP as a lecturer and eventually becoming the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre, housed at the USP.

Katy Soapi conducting seawater carbon chemistry analysis in the lab. Photo credit: The Ocean Foundation

In the Solomon Islands, Soapi is a founding member and board member of the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which is dedicated to conserving the largest uninhabited island in the Southern Hemisphere. As part of that work, she supports a seagrass monitoring programme that is led and conducted by women. For the past ten years, the programme has been gathering annual data on seagrass coverage, diversity and health, all of which are ecosystem health indicators for the island’s lagoons.

Soapi is also part of the advisory team to the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) supporting Pacific Island Countries on the marine genetic resources component of the UN Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) negotiations (an international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the BBNJ, once finalised, will address the management of marine biological diversity of ocean areas beyond countries’ ocean borders).

Soapi attributes her success to good mentors and seeking out and pursuing opportunities. Having grown up in a matrilineal culture, Soapi has always felt her voice is important in her community. Even away from her coastal village, she says that a sense of empowerment has stayed with her.

Women conducting seagrass monitoring for the Tetepare Descendants Association. Photo credit: Katy Soapi

What is your background and the path that led you to where you are today?

I grew up on a small island called Rendova. My village was right by the sea, so I grew up by the sea. My primary education was on that island in the village. Later, I went to boarding school on another island for high school.

After completing high school, I went to the USP to do a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I decided upon further studies at the University of Sydney in Australia on chemistry. I wanted to investigate the natural products from medicinal plants, such as plants that were used traditionally in my village, that I grew up using as a child. I wanted to look at the links between traditional medicine and bioactive natural products isolated from the medicinal plants.

However, when I got to the University of Sydney, it was hard to get the plants that I wanted to work on from the Solomons, so I changed my course and studied synthetic chemistry instead. My study involved working towards the synthesis of a natural product called Phomopsin which has anticancer properties. I continued my research in synthetic chemistry studies, enrolling in a PhD program at the University of East Anglia, when my family moved to the UK. I was successful in receiving a scholarship to study nitrogen-containing biologically active compounds.

At the end of my PhD, I returned to Fiji with my husband who had found a job there. I went to visit some of my old professors at USP. One of them, the late Professor Aalbersberg, who I had worked with previously as an undergraduate encouraged me to apply for a position as a research fellow in a project on marine natural products in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. I applied and got the position.

After about a year, I got a job as a lecturer in chemistry, and eventually as Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre. I was at the USP for almost 13 years teaching and later, leading the research efforts of the Centre investigating antibacterial, antifungal and anti-cancer properties of marine natural products from marine invertebrates, algae, soft corals and bacteria in sediments.

In January 2021, I joined The Pacific Community (SPC) as Coordinator for PCCOS. It’s a new role and I am really excited about this new challenge and the opportunity to work for and with our members states within the ocean space.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

What has been your impact on gender equity in your field and region?

At the community level, I am engaged with one of our conservation projects, the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which has been on-going for almost 14 years. It is a project where we’ve conserved one of our islands and tried to sustainably use and manage our island’s resources through monitoring efforts to inform decisions. We have set aside the seagrass monitoring especially for the women.

Tetepare Descendants Association (TDA) women conducting seagrass monitoring

For seagrass monitoring it was easier for the women because they are already involved in artisanal fishing and often spend time on the reef or mudflats to collect shellfish for food. The women were quite keen on being part of the monitoring activities and it was quite an appropriate activity for them, being in shallower areas and sometimes involving their children. I have done it many times dragging along all my kids. I am glad that this activity was set aside for women because being in their own space, they were free to lead the monitoring activities and to participate fully.

How did you support the marine genetic resources component of the BBNJ negotiations?

One of the key elements in the BBNJ instrument is marine genetic resources. When the negotiators from New York came to Fiji, we were able to present our work to them and talk about what is meant by marine genetic resources, the importance of drug discovery and pharmaceuticals. They also visited our labs to see our collection and our testing facilities. We tried to show them the whole process from extraction to testing and purification of bioactive compounds including how and to whom we send our samples. We wanted to ensure that they have a good understanding of the research and development processes involved in biodiscovery and pharmaceutical research to help them with their BBNJ negotiations.

Overcoming barriers

What do women in your region need to become ocean leaders?

In the Pacific, where there is such a strong family network, often it is the female who must drop out to look after a parent or the wife who must drop out to look after the children. We need to raise more awareness that women do not have to do that. I think that more should be done to create an enabling environment for women to continue working and to not have to choose between a career and a family.

I think we are getting more marine science graduates in the Pacific now, but getting a job in marine science is very hard. Most of them end up as teachers or in a non-marine science job. This affects both men and women, but I think it is worse for women. If recruitment for a science job is between a female and a male candidate, often it is the man who gets selected. There is also a lack of funding, for women and men, to participate in ocean science projects and ocean science employment.

One of the barriers is not having enough women scientists to look up to. Sometimes it is hard to imagine where and what you can be when you do not have that image of a woman you want to aspire to. Female role models help overcome those barriers, so you do not have that feeling of being an imposter because there is no one around you who is like you, who is doing the same kind of work that you are doing.

What allowed you to succeed despite the barriers?

I think it was a combination of many things. I was lucky to be given opportunities, but I also had to seek out these opportunities, like scholarships or employment opportunities. I was quite determined as well and from a young age decided that if given an opportunity to study on a scholarship, I would do my best to do justice to the opportunity.

I also had good mentors and a partner who encouraged and believed in me. The late Professor Aalberberg was one of those mentors who gave me a chance. When I was a student at USP, I assisted him on a research project for six months and it was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to research work which I was so grateful for. When I returned to Fiji after finishing my PhD, I again worked with him and had another opportunity to learn from him.

At the community level, despite the barriers we face as women, I find strength in culture. I grew up in a matrilineal system and heard stories of fierce tribal women who made decisions about the land and settled disputes. I also grew up observing the strong voices of my mother, my aunties and grandmother. Sadly, in our modern society, women’s voices are not as elevated anymore. But I ride on the recognition my culture gives my voice and I find it empowering. I am often consulted on matters relating to our tribal land or our conservation projects back at home and I am grateful for that. Solomon Islands is so diverse culturally, and I am painfully aware that the voices of women are often overlooked or ignored even now in my own community as society, culture and lifestyle change.

My mother has always been my biggest supporter, always encouraging me. She was a school teacher. She said to me, “Go as far as you can.” Even after I finished university, she said, “I’ll leave it to you to decide when you want to stop studying.” She encouraged me to go after what I wanted and supported me as much as possible financially. Having somebody who believed in me and encouraged me has been quite influential in my career.

Advice for the next generation

Do not wait for opportunities, look for them or create them. Seek out opportunities to do an internship or temporary work or scholarships or even volunteer work. Be proactive. I did the same when I left University and this approach has benefited me over the years. I got my PhD scholarship by directly contacting the university and they responded with potential opportunities for scholarship.

The other advice is to not give up easily. Always remember that if it were easy, somebody would have done it already. I was the first in my family to go to university and it was not by luck that I ended up there. It was through hard work and perseverance that I progressed through my studies and my career. STEM is hard for everybody and there were many, many times I wanted to give up, but I kept going. It was all worth it in the end.

Maintain your network

We do have a good number of women scientists but there’s not enough networking. We need to work together to provide a platform for women to learn from each other. For small communities, like those found in the Pacific, it is important for women to maintain their networks. You need these networks as you progress in your career and they can become your support system during tough times or when you need career advice or just to connect and share experiences in a safe space.

You can influence the world, wherever you are along your path. A lot of young people think that they need to be a leader to influence others. It is important to start where you are. You can learn so much and be a positive influence even through volunteer work. My community engagements are all voluntary work. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience conservation work while at the same time participating in community science. The work has kept me grounded and connected to my community even from abroad.

Hopes for the future

I hope to see more Pacific Islanders, if not Pacific women, in positions of leadership. We need role models for the younger generation. We need to learn, hear and see what our Pacific Island women are doing and their contributions to science and development so our young people can see themselves in these leaders. My hope is that we have more Pacific women in leadership whom our young people can look up to.

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Case study: Community-Based Fisheries Management in Kiribati (on-going)

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“Fishermen catches have once declined nearshore before the arrival of CBFM in 2014. The creation of management plans brought in positive impacts to our marine resources and fishermen are getting more catches now than before.”

– Biita Ioane, Kuma fisherman from Butaritari


The coastal fisheries of Kiribati are typically artisanal and local. Rapid population growth has increased pressure on these resources, as evidenced by declines in abundance of target species such as goatfish, clams and bonefish.

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. This was followed, in 2014, by a three-year pilot project on CBFM focusing on two islands, North Tarawa and Butaritari, as a partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security– ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and monitoring and evaluation.

Five communities took part in the pilot project; over the three years, all of them produced CBFM plans. These are supported by the Island Council and elders association promoting measures such as banning the use of destructive fishing gears and practices. Legal backing is planned under the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups of fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This work has been supported with training for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team. Community leaders have also been given a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, well over 40 communities across 11 islands of Kiribati are currently working in this way. At the national level, the project has created momentum within MFMRD to use and incorporate CBFM principles.

Community meeting to discuss CBFM in Butaritari in 2014

The issue

Fishing contributes significantly to the economy, food security and employment in Kiribati and, in the long term, relies on the sustainability of fish stocks. The coastal fisheries of the country are typically artisanal, targeting finfish, bivalves, cephalopods and gastropods, and are mostly carried out at a household level for subsistence consumption. There is some trade through the main markets in urban areas and via individual stalls along the roadside.

Rapid population growth (increased requirements for food) and development of a cash economy (the need to sell catches to fund other purchases) was placing increasing pressure on local resources through overharvesting and increases in fishing capacity.

When combined with some destructive fishing methods, pollution and habitat damage, target species important for the coastal fisheries, such as goatfish, clams, bonefish, red snapper and octopus, were in decline.

The response

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. In 2014, as part of a larger project that operated across three countries (Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu), work started on piloting CBFM in five communities on the islands of North Tarawa and Butaritari. These were places where community members shared many of the same resource use issues and concerns. The three-year pilot project was carried out to develop community-based fisheries management plans.

After the Government made the CBFM project, a new Fisheries Regulation for – Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Marine Resources) Regulation 2019 was developed and endorsed in 2019. CBFM was recognised under this new regulation given the provision subject to Part II. The regulation empowers the management plan under the CBFM given the authorised officers are able to enforce the management measures under the management plan. An important objective was capacity-building, and therefore working with communities to understand how they could be involved in ensuring the sustainable management of their fisheries.

There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and finally monitoring and evaluation. Five pilot communities were initially suggested by Island Councils and interest in participating in the project was confirmed by the local communities in these areas. Sixteen community engagement activities were held in Tarawa and Butaritari, over the 3-year period with different objectives at different stages.

Initially the objectives were to introduce the project and enable community members to talk about their potential involvement in it, to define priorities for a model of CBFM in Kiribati and to collect relevant data. CBFM plans were drafted in the second year and meetings were held on enforcement and implementation in the final year. The project was promoted to the wider Kiribati community during Fisheries Awareness Weeks, when activities and achievements were showcased.

Training sessions on data collection were organised for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team at various stages. There was also training for Fisheries Extension Officers in CBFM engagement approaches throughout the project and MFMRD is currently working on a manual specifically for Kiribati on CBFM.


Partnerships and support

The CBFM project started in May 2014, as a threeyear partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security – ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), the project was later renewed for another four years. The funding for this work has been supported by the Australian Government through ACIAR projects FIS/2012/074 and FIS/2016/300. In the first phase, staff from MFMRD and ANCORS identified and evaluated the social, economic, environmental, and governance context, while they focused on establishing a strong enabling environment, scaling CBFM to more communities and monitoring, evaluating and learning during the second phase.

The development of the pilot CBFM plans was a collaborative process, with participation and actions undertaken at a local level as well as with the involvement of Island Councils and national agencies – principally MFMRD but also the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

All five pilot communities established CBFM committees as the voice of the programme in their villages. Butaritari has also established an island-wide CBFM committee. All five have developed community based fisheries management plans. Common elements include banning destructive fishing gear and practices, including prohibiting; the use of small-size nets and excessively long gillnets, encircling corals with gillnets, destroying corals to reach fish or octopus, fishing on spawning aggregations and the catching of juvenile fish. All five plans also recommended establishing a marine reserve, with Bikati the first community to establish a communityled marine protected area.

With the involvement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, MFMRD and the Attorney General’s Office there has been clarification and guidance on how Island Councils can introduce local bylaws for coastal fisheries management (out to 3 nautical miles) under the Local Government Act 1984. By 2017, four communities had taken steps towards drafting a bylaw to formalise their CBFM plans. Legal backing for CBFM plans is now intended, using provisions of the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019. This sets out a consultation process and lists the key elements required by such plans, such as specifying the conservation and management measures to achieve stated objectives, a programme for implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and arrangements for surveillance and enforcement.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups on fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This was done using matrices to capture information on aspects such as fish catches, who fishes, seasonality of catches and perceived status and conditions of the stocks. The process was also very successful at involving and motivating community members, especially in the case of ‘participatory mapping’, where community members were encouraged to draw maps, identify fishing
grounds, spawning aggregation sites and other elements of the marine ecosystem.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, other communities and islands of Kiribati expressed an interest in developing similar management plans for their local areas. In 2016, through a follow-on project, CBFM approaches were extended to Maiana, Abemama and Nonouti Islands and in 2017 the Island Councils of Abaiang and Marakei requested formal assistance from MFMRD to help develop community fisheries management plans. A second phase of CBFM has added islands such as Aranuka, Marakei and North Tabiteuea.

A combination of existing CBFM resources, training on facilitation skills and applied fieldwork with trained CBFM officers was found to be a very effective method to reach out to more officers within MFMRD and, through them, to disseminate the principles of the project to a growing number of staff. At the national level, the project has created momentum within the National Coastal Fisheries Division of MFMRD, to incorporate CBFM principles such as facilitation rather than presentations into their work.


A challenge identified by community members was that, unless formal legal recognition is created to honour CBFM efforts, any village-level management plan will be unsuccessful owing to a lack of effective compliance and
enforcement mechanisms.

A related issue was that considerable confusion existed across government, Island Councils and community stakeholders about the process involved in creating and applying fisheries bylaws. These were important tools for CBFM as they enabled local communities to push for statutory backing to underpin their CBFM plans; however, they have since been superseded by the new Fisheries Regulations 2019, which make provisions for entire CBFM plans to be incorporated into law.

Another challenge lies in sustaining lines of outreach, communication and action beyond one or two key individuals. There is a need to make sure that community and government officers remain aware of their options as leadership and staff changes. The roles of community leaders in the management cycle also need to be clarified, perhaps through a new and more formal process of engagement between MFMRD, MIA and Island Councils.

Key lessons learnt

Continuous positive stakeholder engagement and participatory problem-solving are required, given that sharing management responsibility with communities is on-going and complex because so many parties, with a wide variety of views, need to be engaged. The acceptance and long-term enforcement of communitydriven resource management decisions require strengthened connections and support within and between villages, as well as across levels of government and regulation.

To achieve the best results, there was a need for bylaws to underpin CBFM plans, so as to legitimise local authority over fisheries management and enable effective enforcement. In the longer term, if CBFM were recognised in national regulations, this would not only enshrine this approach in the law but also give community leaders a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle. This has since happened with the new Fisheries Regulations 2019.

The implementation process has highlighted the importance of establishing clear protocols for community engagement with relevant key institutions (national, subnational and village) to ensure transparency. Relevant institutions should know about project objectives, progress and timing of visits to communities. Clear communication between different institutions is also key to avoid misunderstandings or misconceptions about CBFM.

The inclusion of institutions other than those directly in charge of fisheries management, such as MIA and the Environment and Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, has served to strengthen institutional links and broaden government support for the CBFM process in the long term.

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Case study: Developing a National Marine Litter Action Plan, Belize (on-going)

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“The development of the Marine Litter Action Plan with the assistance from CLiP shows Belize’s continued commitment in the protection of our marine environment and work to reduce
marine litter.”

Maxine Monsanto, Environmental Officer, DOE, Belize (October 2019)

“It’s my hope our work under CLiP with Belize will help the country to continue to significantly reduce marine litter and support its world leading efforts to protect its globally precious environment.”

Peter Kohler, Country Lead for Belize, Cefas, on behalf of CLiP (October 2019)


Belize adopted its national Marine Litter Action Plan in 2019 following extensive stakeholder engagement and a public awareness campaign, which is still underway. The Belizean Department of the Environment developed this in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, through the Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP). CLiP worked with Belize to support science and evidence development and awareness-raising on the issue of marine litter, and included several components, all of which supported the development of the action plan, which will guide Belize’s work towards addressing the issue of marine plastic pollution over the coming years.

The issue

Plastics enter the marine environment from a variety of land- and sea-based sources, including (but not limited to) accidental or deliberate littering, poor wastewater and solid waste management, and deliberate illegal dumping.

Marine plastics disproportionately affect smaller coastal nations like Belize, where the economy is heavily reliant on tourism and there is an active fishing sector, and where often waste management infrastructure is limited.

In Belize, the Department of the Environment (DOE) began looking into the country’s use of single-use plastic items in 2017, prompted by the prevalence of discarded Styrofoam food containers found on the streets. The DOE convened an ad hoc working group to understand the issue further and undertook a snapshot analysis of the rate of import, manufacturing and disposal of single-use items in Belize. The results indicated that Belize imported over 200 million single-use plastic bags and 52 million Styrofoam and plastic food containers annually, and locally produced and manufactured an estimated 35 million single-use plastic bags and 5 million pieces of Styrofoam. As a result, the ad hoc group was formalised, and began working on a plan to reduce the amount of waste coming from this type of plastic in Belize.

The response

Although Belize had information on the volumes of single use items being manufactured and imported, it did not have data on the quantities being found in the environment (either terrestrial or marine). Therefore, when the Belize Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) project was proposed, it was at an ideal time for the country to build on the work already started, and to begin the establishment of a national marine litter monitoring programme. CLiP included several components to support Belize in its efforts to tackle the issue of marine litter. These included:

  • Review of existing best practices for Marine Litter Action in Belize and how these could be scaled for the national action plan;
  • An initial baseline study of quantities and types of litter and microplastics in the marine environment, which was used (alongside importation, production and manufacturing data) to engage with stakeholders;
  • Additional studies on waste generation and management, port reception facility capabilities and desktop studies assessing single-use plastic alternatives;
  • Capacity-building activities, supporting the set-up of a microplastics testing lab and providing microplastics and macro plastics testing and monitoring training to government scientists and University of Belize staff and students; and
  • Education and outreach activities, including an awareness-raising campaign aimed at the general public, an art competition and an innovation competition, as well as a number of workshops and beach clean-up events held with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), businesses, government agencies, academia, representatives of the tourism sector, fishing cooperatives, private sector, church groups and rural communities. At these events, the findings of the initial studies were presented, and the environmental impacts of marine litter were discussed, alongside current best practices and ideas for reducing quantities of marine plastic pollution.
Belize Scouts Association and Cefas on outreach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019
Belize Scouts Association and Cefas on outreach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019

Partnerships and support

The Government of Belize, specifically the DOE, worked closely with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) through CLiP, which is funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Belize Marine Litter Action Plan was developed in approximately four months, a period that included all stakeholder engagement activities. However, it should be noted that Belize already had in place an established working group and stakeholder group working on how the country could tackle the issue of single-use plastics in the environment. The established working group included six different government departments, including representatives from the DOE, the Solid Waste Management Authority, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, the Directorate General for Foreign Trade, Beltraide and Belize Customs and Excise. Sub-committees involving academia, NGOs, private sector businesses and civil society were in place to help address and reduce pollution from single-use plastics. In addition, development of the Marine Litter Action Plan also involved consultation of stakeholders across multiple sectors including government, businesses, schools, and fishing communities.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The collaboration between Cefas and the Belizean government under CLiP has produced many clear and connected results. The main achievement is the adoption of the Belize Marine Litter Action Plan, which will guide Belize’s efforts to reduce marine plastic pollution over the coming years. The action plan was developed through extensive stakeholder engagement and supported by a series of policy papers. Stakeholder workshops identified gaps and actions related to policy, stakeholder coordination, waste management and auditing, outreach and scientific knowledge. A total of 25 marine litter actions were identified in consultation with the government and other key stakeholders. These actions provide a framework for all sectors to coordinate and tackle marine litter in Belize over the coming years. The Belizean Cabinet formally adopted the Marine Litter Action Plan on 27 August 2019. Belize aspires to take a leading role in supporting other Caribbean nations in tackling marine litter.

In addition to adopting the Marine Litter Action Plan, Belize has prohibited and restricted certain single-use plastics items (including plastic shopping bags, drinking straws, Styrofoam, plastic food utensils, clamshells, flat plates and cups). The adoption of this ban was supported by the evidence and stakeholder engagement activities undertaken within the CLiP project.
See the action plan.

Although progress on implementing the action plan has stalled temporarily owing to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the public awareness campaign has continued. Once the situation begins to normalise, Belize will focus on implementing some of the key actions in the plan, including (but not limited to) the development and implementation of a national plan to address waste from vessels at national level and incorporate pollution from ships under marine pollution prevention legislation.


The main challenges facing Belize when developing the Marine Litter Action Plan were:

  •  Lack of technical expertise (both governmental and in the private sector), for example knowledge on which alternatives to single-use plastics would be most appropriate for use in Belize;
  • Lack of equipment, for example to undertake the microplastic analysis; and
  • Lack of funding, for example for awareness-raising campaigns and stakeholder events.

In terms of the CLiP project, the challenges related mainly the time constraints, with just four months to work together to collect an initial baseline, analyse the results, present them to stakeholders and develop targeted actions. The initial work already undertaken by the Belizean government in advance of the CLiP project contributed greatly in terms of speeding up this process. The already present government commitment and established working group provided a good foundation for the Cefas project team to build on. The stakeholder network was already being established and this aided with activities within the short timeframe available.

Marine Litter Monitoring Training on Belizean beach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019
Marine Litter Monitoring Training on Belizean beach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019

Key lessons learnt

The key lesson learnt during the development of the national action plan was that, as a first step, any country wishing to develop such a plan should undertake stakeholder analysis to understand the different players involved. Through early engagement with stakeholders, any existing work already underway can be identified and built on. Second, a scientific evidence base should be compiled to present to the relevant stakeholders the need to develop the plan. Finally, a clear outline of the different steps to follow to develop the action plan and a timeline for completion should be shared with all stakeholders. These three steps are essential if the action plan is to have buy-in from the different stakeholders and members of the public. Another important lesson is to ensure that national work complements any regional plans already in place.

The UK-funded CLiP project in Belize has highlighted the necessity of having good collaboration with the country in question, but more specifically the importance of mapping stakeholders across sectors and working with them to identify how to add-value to ongoing work. This will enable smoother running of workshops, events and general logistical challenges but also help avoid any potential cultural misunderstandings.


UK-Defra funds the Commonwealth Marine Litter Programme (CLiP), which is led by the UK through the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The programme supports a number of countries across the Commonwealth to tackle plastics entering the oceans. CLiP contributes to delivering the objectives under the UK and Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA), which calls on other countries to pledge action on plastics. CCOA also promotes actions in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, as well as contributing to the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

This work has been graciously supported by the Department of the Environment, Belize and the British High Commission in Belize.

Lead contacts

DOE, Belize: [email protected]
Peter Kohler, CLiP Country Lead, Cefas: [email protected]

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Case study: Reef Credits – A New Environmental Market-Based Instrument to Improve Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

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“We estimate that the market could generate 6 Million Reef Credits by 2030, opening the door for more businesses to invest in the future of the reef as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies.”

GreenCollar (2020)


Reef Credits is a new, voluntary, environmental market scheme that rewards landholders for actions that improve the quality of the run-off from their land into the Great Barrier Reef catchment. When landholders implement projects on their land that meet approved water quality methodologies that demonstrate reduction in nutrients or sediments, they generate Reef Credits. Reef Credits are tradable units that represent a quantifiable volume of nutrient, pesticide or sediment (Reef Credit, 2020). One Reef Credit equates to preventing 1 kg of nitrogen, or 538 kg of sediment, from entering the Great Barrier Reef. Reef Credits are sold to organisations in the public and private sector that are keen to improve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, demonstrate their support for sustainable initiatives or offset their own impacts.

Environmental markets are considered a type of policy response, offering incentives to protect the ecosystem or the services it provides, often complementing other conservation or protection measures. The Reef Credit Scheme is an environmental market instrument that uses standards, accounting methodology (quantification), independent auditing and a registry system to measure and validate pollution prevention that can be bought or sold as a commodity. The system is based on the methodology developed by the US organisation Verra. Reef Credits provide landholders with an additional, diversified income stream over 10-25 years and are generated annually. Under the scheme, landholders implement one (or more) accepted water quality improvement activities based on an accepted methodology. Activities must align with water pollutant reduction targets for the Great Barrier Reef, and must be additional, measurable, monitored and verified by third-party organisations. The concept of additionality refers to the requirement that the activity must be a new undertaking, which is a central notion in other credit schemes as well, such as generating carbon credits.

A new entity, called Eco Markets Australia, has been established to independently manage the Reef Credit Scheme, including adherence to market rules, registry systems and verification. The first credits have already been sold to the private and public sector. Reef Credits do not have a set price and do not function as a cap-and-trade market, but rather as a voluntary scheme. The price of Reef Credits was negotiated between seller and buyer. The Reef Credit Scheme has the potential to improve water quality in other catchment systems (including non-reef ecosystems) because it could be adapted for different catchment ecosystems.

The issue

The Great Barrier Reef is an internationally significant site, a World Heritage area and a national icon. It represents an AU$56 billion asset, provides 64,000 jobs and contributes AU$6 billion to Australia’s economy. However, human impact is threatening this valuable system and recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Great Barrier Reef’s conservation outlook as “critical”. Climate change, poor water quality from land-based run-off, coastal development and fishing are the primary causes of the Reef’s decline, but major storms, a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak and marine debris have also put pressure on the Great Barrier Reef.

Several attempts have been made by public and private organisations to improve water quality, with variable success, but, despite all efforts, the health of the Reef is still declining. Part of the problem is that the Reef represents a public good and is under government control (both Federal and State level), while land along the catchments is under private ownership. Minimum standards for water quality and monitoring are already mandatory under government regulation. Reef Credits seek to capture and incentivise additional, voluntary water quality improvement activities on private land.

The response

In 2017, the Queensland government funded the feasibility study for the Reef Credit Scheme, as part of the Major Integrated Projects initiative for reef water quality improvement. The feasibility study deemed the Reef Credit Scheme potentially viable and led to the establishment of the Reef Credit Secretariat and the Reef Credit Interim Steering Committee. The steering committee included leading environmental market project developer GreenCollar, and NFP organisations Terrain NRM and NQ Dry Tropics. In 2018, the Reef Credit Interim Steering Committee commissioned Winrock International (USA), a global leader in environmental markets and development, to prepare an Options Paper on how to design, establish and operate a crediting system aimed at reducing pollutant loads to the Great Barrier Reef. This work, along with the engagement of a number of water quality market programmes, participants and founders, and standard development organisations in North America, provided the foundations for the drafting of the Reef Credit Standard and the Programme Guide and the first Reef Credit Methodologies. Throughout 2018, farmers voluntarily identified between 10 and 20 project sites to test Reef Credit Methodologies, including agricultural and grazing practice changes, wetland restoration and gully restoration applications. The project sites were identified through voluntary means with the involvement of regional natural resource management bodies, which are not-for-profit environmental organisations.

Reef Credit governance

The Reef Credit Scheme is administered by Eco Markets Australia, a new, independent, not-for-profit company. The company is governed by a skills-based Board
of Directors. The day-to-day administration of the Reef Credit Standard is delegated to the Reef Credit Secretariat. The Board and Reef Credit Secretariat will be supported on technical aspects of the Reef Credit Standard and Methodologies by a Technical Advisory Committee. The Reef Credit Secretariat function is delivered by Eco-Markets Australia, which has now been formally established as a not-for-profit company in Queensland, Australia and the independent skill based Board appointed and operational.

The Reef Credit Scheme consists of a Reef Credit Guide, a Reef Credit Standard, a Reef Credit Registry, Reef Credit Methodologies and the Reef Credit Projects. The Reef Credit Guide is a document that explains the rationale goals, core principles, participants and processes of the scheme, including how Reef Credit Projects generate, register and issue Reef Credits. The Reef Credit Standard sets out the rules and requirements for developing methodologies and projects, as well as the validation, registration, monitoring, verification, crediting and issuance processes and governance arrangements. The Reef Credit Registry keeps track of Reef Credit transactions and ownership of Reef Credits. The Reef Credit Methodology describes how projects can generate verifiable outcomes. Reef Credit Projects are activities that conform to an approved Reef Credit Methodology.

Partnerships and support

The Reef Credit Scheme was founded by Terrain NRM, NQ Dry Tropics (two natural resource management not-for-profit organisations in Queensland, Australia) and GreenCollar, a private Australian project development company that currently delivers more than half of the Australian land sector carbon. Initial funding by the Queensland government through the Major Integrated Projects initiative for reef water quality was vital in the start-up phase. Winrock International’s extensive experience helped settle on how the scheme would operate. Of course, farmers were integral in developing and pilot testing the methodologies and their participation will continue to be vital for the scheme.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

To date, two water quality improvement methodologies have been accepted under the Reef Credit Scheme and three are currently under development. The two accepted methodologies are (i) accounting for the reduction in fine sediment run-off through gully rehabilitation through engineered interventions, revegetation or improved grazing management and (ii) accounting for the reduction in nutrient run-off through managed fertiliser application, which targets dissolved inorganic nitrogen loss through more efficient soil and nutrient management practices from agriculture, including sugarcane, bananas, grains and fodder.

The first Reef Credits were generated in the Tully River Catchment, south of Cairns, by a local cane farmer. The project generated 3,125 Reef Credits between January 2018 and December 2019 under the approved method for reduction in nutrient run-off through managed fertiliser application. The first Reef Credits were purchased by HSBC and the Queensland government in October 2020. GreenCollar estimates aim to generate more than 6 million Reef Credits by 2030.


The Reef Credit scheme is the first voluntary environmental market scheme in Australia, barring the carbon and water trading schemes, where government regulation and authorities play a central role. Even though such voluntary environmental markets exist in other countries, such as the USA, the novelty of the scheme in Australia was a challenge in obtaining initial funding for the preparation of the Feasibility Study and Options Paper. Some were sceptical about whether a voluntary scheme could be established within a short time frame and how it would work with other programs and also deliver a tangible outcome.

Environmental market schemes like the Reef Credit Scheme are also often criticised for “rewarding” polluters and this is a challenge. However, it is important to keep in mind that the scheme does not operate on the basis of cap-and-trade and government already has minimum water quality standards and water quality improvement targets in place (both of which may change and become more ambitious over time). Reef Credits incentivise the implementation of additional pollution prevention activities where individual landholders directly receive income. Thus, any new action under the Reef Credit Scheme leads to water quality improvements above and beyond requirements and will have a positive impact on the Reef. Environmental markets can incentivise desired practices but, contrary to regulation, it provides additional revenue for farmers who are already suffering from financial hardship. It can provide individuals and organisation the opportunity to generate income to pay for (and obtain finance to implement) pollution prevention activity that they would otherwise not be able to do.

The novelty of the scheme continues to represent challenges on many fronts. Stakeholders GreenCollar, Terrain NRM and NQ Dry Tropics as well as the State Government of Queensland are all newcomers to environmental markets. GreenCollar is investing considerable time and effort in finding interested and eligible landholders and potential investors and explaining the scheme to them. Setting up and registering Eco Markets Australia as an independent entity also took considerable time.

Key lessons learnt

The Reef Credit Scheme is the first voluntary (non-government-regulated) environmental market credit scheme developed and implemented in Australia. This case provides valuable lessons on how to set up such schemes in developed and developing countries. As it is not restricted to water quality improvement, it can serve as a blueprint for other environmental credit schemes, to achieve biodiversity outcomes for example.

The initial funding by the Queensland government allowed for the commissioning of the Feasibility Study and Options Paper, essential to getting started on the Reef Credit Scheme. It was decided early on that the government would not play a central regulatory role in the scheme (the government is still regulating and monitoring minimum water quality); rather, a new independent entity, Eco Markets Australia, was created to administer the registry and the scheme. This is important for several reasons, including allowing the government to maintain its focus on regulating and overseeing minimum water quality standards and allowing Reef Credits to be pursued entirely through voluntary markets.

Pilot testing water quality improvement projects before the methodologies were fully developed was important for input, but was also challenging. In essence, it meant that the methodologies were developed (rather than tested) during the pilot stage, which was time consuming and sometimes frustrating for the parties involved. However, this option was still the fastest way to develop methodologies in tandem with the scheme administration and this was a priority, given the urgency to develop new investment approaches. As always, partnerships of likeminded individuals who had the tenacity and resourcefulness to see the potential of Reef Credits and pursue this to fruition were key to its success.

Lead contact

GreenCollar contact – Carole Sweatman,
General Manager Water
Email: [email protected]
Eco-Markets Australia Contact – Louise Venz
Email: [email protected]

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Case study: Belize – Towards Expansion of No-Take Areas in the MPA System

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“The fact that our two main commercial species, the spiny lobster and the queen conch, have remained stable for several years is a direct indicator of the success of the combination of protected areas and managed access.”

Beverley Wade, Fisheries Administrator


Belize has a network of 14 marine protected areas (MPAs), with an additional 13 protected fish Spawning Aggregation sites, covering some 23.5 per cent of the country’s marine waters. Only a small proportion of this area is fully protected in no-take areas, and so an initiative was launched in 2013 to identify locations for replenishment zones (the name proposed for areas closed to extraction). This involved a multi-partner programme to gather ecological and socio-economic data and undertake stakeholder consultations. Recommendations for replenishment zones in deep sea areas and re-zoning of three existing MPAs have been approved by government and work is underway to implement these new areas; work is also underway on the remaining recommendations. Two innovative fishery management interventions were developed in parallel, and will contribute to effective management of replenishment zones: 1) a “Managed Access” system whereby fishers are licensed to access certain areas and provided with a mechanism for their involvement in management (described in the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study) ; and 2) the introduction of a new technology and enforcement approaches to assist with reporting.

The issue

Belize has a long history of marine protected area (MPA) establishment and management, with an MPA network covering some 23.5 per cent of the Territorial Sea (which covers the area extending out to ~12 nautical miles from Halfmoon Caye). The network comprises:

  • Nine Marine Reserves under the mandate of the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD), which are zoned: Preservation zones (no extraction); Conservation zones (recreational activities including sport fishing and scuba permitted); General Use zones (artisanal commercial fishing permitted but use of SCUBA
    is prohibited – fishing using free diving, traps and handlines is allowed);
  • Two Wildlife Sanctuaries, two Natural Monuments and one National Park, under the mandate of the Forest Department;
  • Thirteen fish Spawning Aggregation sites, under the mandate of the BFD.

The 2015 National Protected Areas Act made the following a legal requirement: 1) stakeholder and community consultation and participation in the designation or revoking of protected areas; and 2) the use of a standardised management planning process. Most MPAs are therefore managed through co-management arrangements with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a term that in Belize includes community-based organisations.

Currently, no-take zones account for 7.61% of territorial waters (approx. 0-20 nm offshore) and 6.28% of the EEZ (approx. 20- 200 nm offshore). Fishing is a key activity for coastal communities, both for domestic consumption and for revenue generation through the tourism industry and exports, notably the lucrative queen conch and spiny lobster markets. The Conservation and Preservation zones have been effective in increasing fish biomass within the Marine Reserves but the extent to which they can protect overall marine biodiversity and enable the recovery of damaged or degraded ecosystems is limited by their small size and fragmented nature (Cox et al., 2017). There is now global consensus that at least 10 per cent and preferably much more of marine waters must be closed to extraction for successful marine biodiversity conservation outcomes and mitigation from climate change impacts (Dahlgren and Tewfik, 2015; Roberts et al., 2020).

Belize conservation zone map

The response

The National Replenishment Zone project was established in 2013 through a partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the BFD, with the aim of identifying locations for new or larger no-take zones. These are called “replenishment zones” and are designed to ensure representation of all major marine habitat types in the MPA network, including open deep sea areas that are currently under-represented. The project involved an international collaboration of scientists, led by Belizeans, who worked to identify the new areas, combined with a lengthy process of consultation with stakeholders, which resulted in widespread support and a commitment to stewardship from coastal communities. Technical guidance for the identification of the replenishment zones was developed with support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) (Green et al., 2017). The proposed new replenishment zones were identified through an evidence-based process, using the software programme MARXAN, which helps identify locations that will maximise potential ecological and socio-economic benefits of national interest while minimising disruption to livelihoods of stakeholders (note to final editors – we could cross refer to the Seychelles case study, where MARXAN was also used ).

A two-phased approach was recommended by the members of the National Replenishment Zones Steering Committee, with Phase 1 focusing on deep sea areas and rezoning of three existing protected areas. WCS first carried out a scientific review of existing areas closed to fishing in order to identify their ecological and socio-economic benefits to Belize. Consultations were held with fishing communities and other stakeholders, particularly commercial and sport fishers, given the inclusion of deep sea areas. The information from the review and anecdotal information collected through community focus group sessions led to the development of a weekly radio drama Punta Fuego about a fictional fishing village, with stories about illegal fishing. A phone-in segment, Talking Fuego, allowed people to discuss their concerns and led to much improved communication and engagement.

In order to be able to implement no-take zones successfully, it is globally recognised that mechanisms are needed to ensure fisher buy-in and to create incentives for compliance. Until 2016, the marine waters of Belize, as in many other countries, were considered “open access” for fishers: adult Belizeans could obtain a commercial licence to fish, provided that gear and (in the case of conch exports, quota) regulations and MPA legislation were respected. The two components that contributed to improved compliance were the introduction of managed access (described in the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study) and new approaches to enforcement, using developments in technology.

The free software-based system, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), was developed by a group of conservation organisations1 for use in both terrestrial and marine protected areas. This enables patrols to more efficiently monitor human activity including hunting and fishing, undertake biodiversity monitoring and improve enforcement and data analysis (WCS and BFD, 2017). It has been adopted by 12 governments, and is now being used globally in over 600 protected areas, including 40 MPAs. The SMART software, a mobile app with an analysis and mapping interface that can be customised, enables the collection, storage, analysis and communication of data on patrol efforts (e.g. time spent on patrols, areas visited, distances covered), patrol results (e.g. arrests made), threat levels and other enforcement activities on electronic tablets. The developers provide training in its use and a set of best practices for its effective implementation.

A second new technology being studied for improved compliance and monitoring is drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These offer a low-cost solution for identifying infractions and monitoring megafauna (such as turtles, dolphins, and sharks), avoiding the use of costly boat fuel (López and Mulero-Pázmány, 2019). In Belize, as in many countries, patrolling is normally done in small boats, which makes it difficult to cover large areas or undertake systematic surveys for megafauna. With the support of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WCS, and following a pilot study at Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, trials are underway at Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve,2 using water-landing and waterproof fixed-wing, long-range, multi-camera drones. Additional trials are underway at South Water Caye and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserves with a waterproof drone obtained through a EU grant.

Partnerships and support

The National Replenishment Zone project ran for six years from 2013 to 2019 and was led by The National Replenishment Zones Expansion Steering Committee, which included the BFD as Chair, WCS as Secretary, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), TNC, Belize Federation of Fishers, Belize Fishermen Cooperatives, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, Belize Forest Department, the National Protected Areas Secretariat, Belize Coast Guard, the Healthy Reefs Initiative, the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations and Toledo Institute for Development. Funding was provided primarily by WCS (from the Oak Foundation, a UK Darwin Initiative Grant, the Summit Foundation and the WCS MPA Fund) with contributions from TNC and the Belize Marine Climate Change Adaptation Project (a World Bank project under the BFD).

The SMART Partnership includes Frankfurt Zoological Society, Global Wildlife Conservation, North Carolina Zoo, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, WCS, Wildlife Protection Solutions, World Wildlife Fund and ZSL.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

In April 2019, the Government approved a joint proposal from the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation to create the first phase of a series of fisheries replenishment zones. Preparation of Statutory Instruments for the new replenishment zones is on-going. The Phase 1 expansion, when implemented, will cover 11.6 per cent of Belize’s marine waters in open or deep sea areas ranging from 200 m to 3,000 m deep, including the most under-represented habitats in the current MPA network. The proposed replenishment zones lie either within or adjacent to the existing MPAs (with the exception of Port Honduras Marine Reserve) as well as in deep waters (see Map). The latter includes an area, covering 6.28% of the EEZ, that extends beyond the Territorial Sea, south of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, which was expanded in 2020 to protect the Corona Reef, at the south-western end of the Cayman Trench. Phase 2 will cover the inshore areas, and requires more engagement, as these areas are most actively used by stakeholders.

Piloted first in 2011, the Managed Access initiative (see the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study ) was initially designed to provide a system that would allow access to fishing within the General Use zones of marine reserves only to bona fide fishers (Martinez et al., 2018) but the success of the pilot initiative led to a national roll-out in 2016 across the Territorial Sea. This means that licensed fishing communities have secured, dedicated access to their own Fishing Area, thereby reducing competition and the incentive to fish illegally. At the same time, communities must take responsibility for helping manage their Fishing Zones and must observe all regulations within their zone including those for no-take areas (see Sustainable Fisheries AG case study).

To help increase the efficiency of enforcement operations, WCS introduced SMART. The Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development and the Environment, and its corresponding departments, the BFD and the Belize Forest Department, officially adopted the system in 2018. Today, all marine managers, including BFD and NGO co-managers throughout the country, use SMART or SMART Connect (which allows data entries to be linked directly to the national database) to better plan and coordinate patrols. Use of SMART has resulted in the identification of high-priority enforcement areas where there is a greater chance of detecting illicit activity, which means that resources can be deployed more cost-effectively.

More effective management and deployment of patrols and resources has led to an 85 per cent decline in the number of MPA fisheries infractions, and at Glover’s Reef there are anecdotal accounts of a noticeable decrease in infractions since 2009. According to the 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card, Belize now has the highest Reef Health Index in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef region3.


COVID-19: The greatest current environmental, as well as economic and social, challenge for Belize, as for most countries, is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. All countries and MPAs around the world have suffered a massive negative impact. With the cessation of tourism, many sources of income have dried up. MPA managers have had to focus on ensuring the safety and security of their staff. Reduced visitor numbers and disrupted supply chains for fishery products have significantly affected the livelihoods of local communities that may normally both depend on and help manage MPAs. MPA management is focusing down on core operations to maintain basic functioning. However, there is consensus that effectively managed MPAs will be more resilient and that a sustainable managed ocean, encompassing MPA networks of adequate size, will be an essential component of recovery.

  • Initial resistance from fishers and scepticism from the fisher cooperatives and associations, which led to minimal fisher participation in the early stages; there is still a challenge in ensuring their on-going participation;
  • The time taken to arrange meetings with, and influence, key decision-makers and to maintain their commitment and support;
  • Insufficient capacity and financial resources for the process; sustainable financing is essential to maintain enforcement even though compliance has improved and more cost-effective methods are being introduced. Fishers are concerned that new areas will be declared while enforcement is still lacking for current protected sites; ultimately, there may be a need for large vessels capable of patrolling all the country’s marine waters;
  • The slow process of enacting the necessary legislation and Statutory Instruments;
  • Insufficient research to date to provide evidence of success, which could lead to loss of support. Securing support for additional fishery closures requires demonstrating to stakeholders that closures offer clear and specific benefits to both fisheries and fishers;
  • Technical difficulties with the devices that some organisations use SMART on, which prevents continuous data collection;
  • Lack of meaningful supplementary livelihoods for those fishers affected in the short term was a main concern brought up by fishers during consultations; a technical sub-committee on livelihoods was set up by TNC to try and address some of these issues.

Key lessons learned

  1. Securing support for the additional fishery closures required demonstrating to stakeholders that these provided clear and specific benefits for fisheries and fishers. This was achieved by producing a report as part of the project, which provided good examples and explained the science involved (Dahlgren and Tewfik, 2015).
  2. Sustained engagement of stakeholders with a targeted communications strategy to reach all stakeholders with an interest in the marine environment and the broader public was essential. About 50 per cent of the fishers surveyed after the first season of the radio drama reported listening to it and feeling that it addressed their issues, and there is evidence that it helped change their attitudes.
  3. The parallel Managed Access programme was a complementary component of the initiative and both programmes benefited from the close collaboration and working arrangements that were established between relevant technical staff and steering committees, and the fact that the same key organisations were involved in each programme.
  4. The new enforcement technologies, with the associated training and capacity-building programme for rangers and other staff present on the water, are having clear benefits. With the SMART system, infractions are immediately linked to the licensing system, which allows managers to have more readily accessible information regarding offenders. The use of UAVs, as piloted at Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, is looking very positive for efficient monitoring and enforcement, but further work will be required to roll this technology out nationally and ensure acceptance by stakeholders. The Fisheries Resources Act has provisions to allow for admissibility of evidence (López, and Mulero-Pázmány, 2019).

Lead contacts

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator, Belize Fisheries Department: [email protected]

Adriel Castaneda, Fisheries Officer/EMU Coordinator, Belize Fisheries Department: [email protected]

Nicole Auil Gomez, Country Director, WCS Belize: [email protected]

Ralna Lewis, Assistant Director, WCS Belize: [email protected]


Cox, C., Valdivia, A., McField, M.D., Castillo, K. and Bruno, J.F. (2017) “Establishment of Marine Protected Areas Alone Does Not Restore Coral Reef Communities in Belize.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 563: 65–79.

Dahlgren, C.P. and Tewfik, A. (2015) “Benefits of No-take Zones for Belize and the Wider Caribbean Region”. Proceedings of the 67th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Christ Church, 3-7 November.

Green, A., Chollett, I., Suárez, A., Dahlgren, C. et al. (2017) “Biophysical Principles for Designing a Network of Replenishment Zones for the Mesoamerican

Reef System”. Technical Report produced by The Nature Conservancy, Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C., Smithsonian Institution, Perry Institute for Marine Science, Centro de Estudios Marinos, Healthy Reefs Initiative and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur.

López, J. and Mulero-Pázmány, M. (2019) “Drones for Conservation in Protected Areas: Present and Future”. Drones 3 (10).

Martinez, V., Castañeda, A., Gongora, M., Wade, B. and Requena, N. (2018) “Managed Access: A Rights-Based Approach to Managing Small-Scale Fisheries in Belize”.

Roberts, C.M., O’Leary, B.C. and Hawkins, J.P. (2020) “Climate Change Mitigation and Nature Conservation Both Require Higher Protected Area Targets”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375: 20190121.

WCS and BFD (2017) “Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART): Implementation in Belize”.

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