The 13.3 million-acre Maya Forest that spans Belize, the northern Petén in Guatemala, and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is the second largest rainforest in the western hemisphere.
With over 570 species of birds Belize offers critical habitat for winter migrants and its diverse ecosystems provide protected havens for rare and endangered species.
In Belize the 260,000 acre Rio Bravo Conservation area, the 1.2 million acre Maya Mountain Massif and the ridge to reef Maya Mountain Marine Corridor play an important role in the overall integrity of the Maya Forest.
Throughout the region there is pressure to clear the jungle for agriculture, urban development, and large-scale hydro-electric schemes. The Nature Conservancy www.nature.org has created a coordinated tri-national plan to help protect the Maya Forest by working with governments, landowners, local NGOs and the scientific community. Many other NGOs, large and small, local and international are contributing towards the same goals. Landowners, communities, commercial enterprises and government departments all have an important role to play.
Five species of cats thrive here – the Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay, with jaguar density studies showing that with up to 12 jaguars per 100² kilometers Belize is one of the most important jaguar conservation units in the whole of the Americas.
Belize is home to a staggering 669 species of fish and 3750 vascular species of plants. There are 41 amphibian species, 126 reptilian taxa and 152 mammals species.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is the largest reef system in the northern hemisphere. Outside of the reef lie three stunning atolls – Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands and Glover’s Reef. The reef system is made up of estuaries, lagoons, mangrove forests, approx. 450 sand and mangrove islands, fringe reefs, patch reef, faros, shelf lagoons, the barrier reef itself and the 3 atolls. It is home to numerous endangered species including several species of turtle, manatee and American marine crocodile. Interesting bird species found along the reef and atolls include the Red-footed Booby colony at Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Brown Boobies at Man O’War Caye and the common noddy at Glover’s Reef. Whale Sharks migrate to Gladden Spit for the snapper aggregation annually between March and June. Hawksbill, Green and Loggerhead Turtles nest in Belize with Hawksbill being the most abundant. Leatherback turtles are occasionally observed outside of the barrier reef or in Victoria Channel but as yet there are no records of Leatherback’s nesting in Belize (although it’s possible they do as they nest in both neighbouring Mexico and Guatemala). The range of Olive Ridley Turtles was not thought to range into Belize but an injured ORT was found in the Hol Chan marine Reserve off Ambergris Caye in 2011. More information on turtles can be found at Belizean NGO Ecomar’s web site.
In total the BERDS database for Belize contains profiles for 7,000 species.
These species occupy 86 different ecosystems.
26% of Belize’s national territory is currently under some form of protection, however, according to Meerman’s Protected Area Analysis (2005) there are still several ecosystems that are not or insufficiently covered within existed Protected Areas System and do not even meet the 10% minimum ICUN requirement.
Belize’s National Protected Areas Systems Plan (Meerman & Wilson, 2005) listed species of special concern . This list contained 12 amphibians, 46 bird species, 2 corals, 19 fish, 15 shark species, 28 mammal species, 8 plant species and 10 reptiles (crocodiles and turtles mainly).
For detailed information please go to http://www.biodiversity.bz