Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program

Published: 13 August 2015
Last edited: 30 September 2020
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In 2010, the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN) and the Summit Foundation launched the Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program to accelerate the conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef system (MAR) by supporting high impact conservation projects and strengthening the capacities and leadership skills of young conservationists in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. To date, MAR Leadership has trained 71 fellows from different backgrounds and sectors who now apply skills from this proggram in numerous marine conservation projects in the MAR region.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Indigenous people
Marine litter
Outreach & communications
Sustainable livelihoods
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Mesoamerican Reef System | Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras


  • Ecosystems in critical conditions that are crucial for local communities and traditional livelihoods
  • Solid waste, sewage, severe overfishing, poor coastal & tourism development and global threats like climate change
  • Conservation community is small and dispersed
  • Lack of practitioners with expertise in business management, organizational management, planning, networking, and communications


  • Over 71 MAR fellows and their collaborators from civil society organizations, government agencies or private sector 
  • Around 2.2 million inhabitant from coastal communities

How do the building blocks interact?

The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) System is the 2nd most biologically significant of its kind. Its main threats are local land-based pollution, severe overfishing, poor coastal & tourism development, and impacts of climate change. The MAR Leadership program accelerates the conservation of the MAR by high-impact and replicable conservation projects as well as by strengthening the capacities and leadership skills of young conservationists in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The program operates through “cohorts” of 10-12 fellows from a variety of backgrounds and professions. A cohort cycle (12 months) encompasses group training modules, individually tailored training, peer-to-peer learning and cooperation, mentoring, technical assistance, and networking opportunities. To date, MAR-Leadership has trained 71 conservationists working at different institutions who are implementing marine conservation projects. Connectivity plays a crucial role and the program strives to share knowledge and remove traditional barriers that often impede efforts to protect the reef system.MAR Fellows, invited experts and partners are forming a vibrant network strengthening collaborations and increasing conservation impacts in the region.


Biological impacts:

Through their projects, MAR Fellows along the different cohorts have promoted and strengthened the protection of numerous ecological areas and species of interest along the region: fish replenishment zones have been decreted, coral reefs are being restored and invasive species regulated.


Economical impacts:

Natural resource valuation, productive alternatives, payment system for environmental services and sustainable management pathways are being developed. A Mayan community-based and eco-touristic project is securing sustainable use of natural resources, its conservation and the people wellbeing. MAR Fellows are also seeking the integration of blue carbon into mitigation mechanisms to provide incentives for landowners and protect mangroves ecosystems.


Social impacts:

There is no environmental change without involvement of every sector of the community. A key stakeholder strategy is needed to carry on conservation projects where environmental education is key. MAR Fellows from Honduras have integrated solid waste management and environmental education into Roatan's green classroom.

Over the course of several cohorts, MAR Fellows from Belize have designed, tested and strengthened what is now the national program for license based sustainable small scale fisheries: Managed Access. This program is now being studied for replication in other countries.



The fishing activity in Belize represents important income revenue with reported 29 million USD in 2012 and employs more than 3000 people. Until recently, no regulations (except for the conch) were applied for the activity as it was considered “open access” where uncontrolled number of fishers and uncontrolled number of harvest stocks resulted on overfishing and a rapid fishing stock decline.

To attend these concerns, in 2011, MAR Fellow Nicanor Requena, from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in collaboration with the Belize Fisheries Department, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), and several fishermen associations developed this first system of right based fisheries Managed aAccess which was initially piloted in Port Honduras and Glovers Reef Marine Protected Areas. In 2012,  Adriel Castañeda, working at the Belize Fisheries Department, joined the MAR L program with the idea of empowering fishermen with tools and knowledge in order to transform them into informed stewards of their resources which they depend upon for their livelihoods. His vision was that in order to achieve sustainable fisheries in Belize, fishers had to become a central part its management.

The work at these initial pilot sites enabled the Fisheries Department and partners to demonstrate that this fisheries management tool did indeed work and fishers supported it. After extensive work with fishers and policy makers, the Managed Access Working Group (a team made up of local NGOs, fisher associations, cooperatives under the guidance of the Belize Fisheries Department) have implemented Managed Access in all the territorial waters of Belize.

"This was a major accomplishment. It is the work of member organizations of the Belize Managed Access Working Group. I am energized by this and will continue to work on getting successful implementation in Belize with the hope that we can share what we have done in Belize with others in the region... From my perspective the MAR Leadership program has contributed to this work by fostering and improving the networking among key partners both at local and regional level and has been a very good platform through which our experience can be shared" said Nicanor.

At present, the overall managed access project in Belize is sustained by an active partnership among several MAR Fellows and their institutions.


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María Eugenia Arreola Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program

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Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program