Collaborative Effort to Manage Lionfish in Belize

Collaborative Effort to Manage Lionfish in Belize
Juan Vasquez captures a Lionfish at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, July 2011

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site (BBRRS-WHS) encompasses seven marine protected areas with a total area of 116,148 hectares.  It is the second largest barrier reef system in the world.  It is Belize`s top tourist destination and is vital to its fishing industry.  The Belize Barrier Reef System is home to a large diversity of plants and animals, and is one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world.  Twenty two coastal communities and a few inland communities live adjacent to the BBRRS-WHS and their coastal livelihoods depend on the health of the reef system for activities such fishing and tourism.

The most recently identified threat to the biodiversity of the reef is the highly invasive lionfish.  This species, a native of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, was introduced to Florida waters in the 1990s, and has been spreading throughout the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea via ocean currents.  People are concerned that all of the native fish of Belize are going to be eradicated, including the much loved grouper, spiny lobster, and the other species that are also important to the economy and the health of the reef.


  • Protecting 116,148 Hectares of Marine Reserve
  • Lionfish Threatens Reef Biodiversity
  • Removal of 15,000 Lionfish - Enhancing the Economy

The Lionfish Project: Increasing the Capacity of ECOMAR (Environmental Conservation Organization) and the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network to prepare and Implement an Effective National Lionfish Response Plan utilizing the Assistance of Government Organizations, Civil Society, Private Sector, Artisanal Fishermen and Tour Guides is contributing to preserving the integrity of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.  A major achievement is the removal of over 15,000 lionfishes from the BBRRS-WHS to date.  Twelve workshops have been conducted in coastal communities throughout Belize and a Lionfish Management Plan is currently being finalized with partners, under the project.  Of special note is the innovative Lionfish hunter cards issued to some 62 tour guides and fishermen on the island by the Government of Belize as part of the Lionfish Project.  The ID cards can be presented by the marine guides when fisheries officers inquire why they’re spearing; they give the holder permission to use a spear while diving and to catch only lionfish.  Although the lionfish contain venom, they are not poisonous when eaten, so the fish are processed and sold at restaurants as a tasty meal.  Markets are currently being developed for export, and prices for lionfish are comparable to grouper.

At an Achievements Presentation on March 22, 2012 held in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize District the DVD “The Belize Lionfish Project: A Local Response to a Regional Problem” was launched. The DVD documents the history of the lionfish in Belize and shows how all the various stakeholders have been working together to manage the lionfish.

The Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Programme (COMPACT) is a programme of the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), the United Nations Foundation (UNF), United Nations agencies, and a broad range of civil society partners. COMPACT was launched in 2000, with the aim of replicating the GEFSGP successes at the local, national, regional and global scale for protected areas, UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their Outstanding Universal Value.  COMPACT`s uniqueness ensures that strategic partnerships are developed and sustained with local communities in an effort to sustainably manage their natural resources.

In Belize, COMPACT is housed in the UNDP Belize Country Office.  It provides technical and financial support and demonstrates how community-based initiatives can significantly increase the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation within the BBRRS-WHS by complementing and adding value to existing conservation programmes being implemented in support of the management and sustainable use of protected areas which comprise the BBRRS-WHS.  Furthermore, COMPACT responds to the fact that biodiversity conservation efforts and protected areas in particular are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that they can contribute to economic development and poverty alleviation, in particular to achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

By Leonel Requena, Local Coordinator, COMPACT Programme and Marta Hendrikx, Communications Associate, UNDP Belize, April 23, 2012