Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR), was originally established in May 2000 following lobbying from Friends of Nature (FoN), a local, community based organization. It was designated as a Marine Reserve in 2003, principally for the protection of the Gladden Spit spawning aggregation site, the congregating whale sharks, and the tourism value of the Silk Cayes. The overlapping spawning aggregation site has seasonal protection under separate legislation, also designated in 2003, following concern at the declining populations of spawning fish at the congregations throughout Belize.
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve form part of the Belize Barrier Reef, lying within the regional Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches for more than 1000 kilometres (625 miles) along the coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. The Marine Reserve also lies within the national system-level management unit of the Southern Belize Reef Complex, a seascape planning unit that also includes South Water Caye, Laughing Bird Caye National Park and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve.
The Marine Reserve acts as an important source (for larvae and adult fish) for national and regional populations of commercial finfish species, particularly for those species that congregate at the spawning aggregation site at the Gladden Spit promontory. It also provides regulated use areas for lobster and conch, the traditional basis of Belize’s fishing industry.
Gladden Spit has been identified as the highest priority spawning aggregation site in Belize (Heyman et al. 2002) and the largest in the ecoregion (Kramer and Kramer, 2002), supporting more than 30 species of fish, including grouper and snapper, each congregating in the thousands at full moon. This in turn attracts one of the largest predictable whale shark congregations in Belize, and in fact the Mesoamerican region, providing an important tourism resource for Placencia and other coastal communities of Belize.