The aim of the present study has been to support the development and sustainability of a vital tourist destination within Belize – Goff’s Caye. In this respect, the project supports recent strategic investments within Belize in infrastructure, capacity building and sustainable management programmes to reduce climate risk in coastal areas important for sustainable tourism. One of these areas highlighted for investment is Goff's Caye, which is an important local and cruise ship tourist destination, as well as being one of the last remaining public cayes in Belize. This Caye is also understood to be strategic to the sustainable management of the Belizean coastal zone, as the revenue coming from both local and international tourists provides an important support for the ongoing operations of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI).
This completed work, in recognizing the strategic importance of Goff’s Caye, supports the CZMAI to designate Goff’s Caye, and its surrounding coral reef, seagrass and sandy habitats into a nationally important marine protected area (MPA) – such protection is expected to help reduce climate and human impact risks to this Caye. In support of this, this project is aligned with CZMAI’s current action plan in providing a substantial and robust assessment of coastal and marine extent and health, as well as leading to vital improvements in coastal and marine monitoring. Such work will be vital to support the continued improvement of CZMAI’s environmental management capacities and its ability to make informed decision on sustainable tourism products and activities on Goff’s Caye and surrounding marine assets.
Two components were executed within the project: Component 1 - Development of a Reef Health Monitoring Programme for the proposed Goff's Caye Protected Area and Component 2 - Development of a basic coastal dynamics monitoring program for Goff’s Caye. Under Component 1, utilising data provided by the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the Healthy Reefs for Healthy Initiative (HRI), we undertook a robust assessment of the scope, breadth and utility of existing coral reef assessment datasets and protocols for coral reef monitoring in Belize. Using this information, we form a baseline of coral reef health and area characteristics within Goffs Caye, as well as inform site selection for reef surveys and water quality sampling (e.g., across different habitat types, reef zones, management zones, other points of interest etc.). Within this work we have also updated the Goff’s Caye Monitoring Program Manual (2015) in line with the National Biodiversity Monitoring Programme and Healthy Reefs index for coral reefs. Within this we use international best practice to revise and update the reef health indicators utilised in the surveys of Goff’s Caye, develop/ review and update existing manuals for dive facilitated reef data collection and analysis appropriate to the revised data monitoring protocols, while also using our experience in ecological monitoring efforts to assess the health of the economically and ecologically valuable marine species within Goff’s Caye. This work then provides a baseline of reef health for the monitoring sites taking into consideration the historical reef monitoring data that exists for Goff’s Caye. All reef survey data was uploaded on to the AGGRA database, and are available for CZMAI to utilise for all future surveys of the area.
This work also examined seven clear indicators that the CZMAI can focus on for further analysis to map the health of Goffs Caye reef communities. These have been chosen to describe changes in reef integrity or availability of ecosystem services. They should be able to act as an early warning signal and a diagnostic tool for changes in marine communities, and help CZMAI to evaluate the effectiveness of any management actions that they may take at Goffs Caye. Importantly, these indicators should be easily collected, whether on scuba or snorkel.