Coastal Capital: Economic Valuation of Belize’s Reefs and Mangroves

Lauretta Burke, World Resources Institute
Published: 12 October 2015
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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“Coastal Capital: Belize” addresses threats to Belize’s coastal ecosystems such as unchecked coastal and tourism development and overfishing – by assessing the contribution of reef- and mangrove-associated tourism, fisheries, and shoreline protection services to Belize’s economy. Our results were used to justify new fishing regulations, a successful damage claim against a ship that ran aground on the Belize Barrier Reef, and a ban on offshore oil drilling.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Ecosystem services
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Ecosystem loss
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation


Belize, Central America


political neglection of the value and benefits that Belize´s reefs and mangroves hold • Unchecked coastal development, overfishing, and pressures from tourism threaten Belize’s reefs and mangroves, with climate change adding up. • Benefits of Belize’s coastal ecosystems are frequently overlooked or underappreciated in investment and policy. • Very little money is currently invested in protecting Belize’s coral reefs and mangroves compared to their contribution to the economy.


fishers, tourism industry & tourists, coastal communities

How do the building blocks interact?

The Coastal Capital: Belize valuation approximately followed the steps detailed in the guidebook “Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation to Inform Decision Making in the Caribbean” (Figure 1). Lessons learned from Coastal Capital: Belize, along with 15 other cases of valuation studies that successfully informed decision making in the Caribbean, informed the development of the guidebook. Going back to Belize even after release of our results helped a lot—encouraging use of results to inform decision making, tracking of instances of use in decision making, and building additional capacity (e.g. additional valuation training for MPA managers).


Influenced by Coastal Capital: Belize, the government of Belize has taken significant steps to protect its coral reefs and mangroves. After the container ship Westerhaven ran aground on the Belize Barrier Reef in 2009, the government decided to sue for damages – something that had not occurred with past groundings. In a landmark decision – which mentions Coastal Capital and the importance of reefs to Belize’s economy – the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the ship’s owners must pay the government ~US$6 million in damages (reduced to ~US$2 million in 2011). The government also tightened a number of fishing regulations, including banning the harvest of parrotfish and banning spearfishing within MPAs. Belizean NGOs also used the valuation results to successfully advocate a ban on offshore oil drilling, and continue to use the results to further their advocacy. The valuation has also had impacts beyond Belize; for example, a coastal manager in St. Maarten replicated the study and convinced his government to establish an MPA in 2010, and the Jamaican government was awarded damages for a ship grounding in 2011, citing the Belize case as precedent.


“When a large section of the Belize Barrier Reef was damaged by a cargo ship, besides the catastrophic environmental impacts, those who rely on the reef for their living were affected. With WRI’s research on the value of the goods and services that the coral reef provides, the government of Belize went to court to seek fair compensation based on hard data – not speculation – and won a multi-million-dollar settlement, the largest environmental fine in the country’s history. This research allows governments to hold accountable those who damage these precious resources. It’s also led to support for other protections, such as bans on unsustainable fishing methods. With WRI’s help, we’re making real progress in implementing the management measures needed to protect this valuable ecosystem.” In Belize, the Coastal Capital coral reef values were also used in public education, debates and ultimately in a 'mock referendum' against offshore oil. The referendum had exceptional voter turnout nationwide with ~95% in favor of banning offshore drilling. - Melanie McField, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People

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Lauretta Burke World Resources Institute

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World Resources Institute