Assessment of reef and fisheries management in Belize using a social-ecological systems approach Public Deposited

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  • March 2, 2021
  • Alves, Catherine Lawrence
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Curriculum in Environment and Ecology
  • Commercial and subsistence fisheries provide livelihoods and fish protein to nearly three billion people annually. This demand has led to overfishing, which disrupts marine ecosystem functioning and threatens fisheries sustainability. Fisheries are some of the most challenging common-pool resource systems (CPRS) for which to develop effective management strategies because they are easily sub-tractable and non-excludable. Without effective institutions to regulate the extraction of the marine species, users are inclined to overharvest resources. Territorial User Rights for Fishing (TURFs) have recently emerged to encourage environmental stewardship in coastal communities by providing effective ownership of fish stocks, further incentivizing sustainable fishing practices. These such community-based fisheries management (CBFM) strategies grant fishers rights to fish in designated areas in exchange for reporting their catch. Belize became the first country in the Caribbean to implement a nationwide TURF system–known as Managed Access (MA)–in 2016, resulting from long-term collaborations between governmental and international fisheries agencies. In this dissertation, I applied Ostrom’s social-ecological systems (SES) framework to understanding and evaluating over forty years of marine resource management in Belize. Using mixed methods, I determined that marine resource management in Belize is institutionally robust (e.g. contains nested and decentralize enterprises), which could lead to the overcoming of collective action problems often found in CPR systems. Next, I described coral reef benthic community structure from 21 sites across the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (BMBR) following several major disturbances (bleaching, storms, and disease), and attributed them to ocean warming and local human impacts, from 1997-2016. I found two ecologically distinct assemblages between early and late sampling years, significant declines in mean coral cover, and significant increases in macroalgae cover over ~20 years. Lastly, I conducted quantitative interviews of fishers from 10 communities in southern Belize in 2019 and compared their knowledge, attitudes and perceptions to fishers from 2014. I discovered that respondents from both years understand the requirements for getting and renewing MA licenses, yet perceive lack of enforcement as an issue to success. The results of my dissertation provide holistic, science-based advice for sustaining fishers’ livelihoods while preserving coral reef ecosystems in a changing world.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Bruno, John F
  • Castillo, Karl
  • Havice, Elizabeth
  • Umbanhowar, James
  • Kramer, Randall
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2020

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