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Office Coastal Zone Management Complex, Princess Margaret Drive, Belize City

Call +501-203-26235



Belize City
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South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Year Established

South Water Caye Marine Reserve is the second largest marine protected area in Belize, covering 117,875 acres (approximately 47,700 hectares). South Water Caye Reserve, located on the inner side of the Barrier Reef, in the area of 16°49’09.29”N, 88°05’00.68”W, is part of the Belize reef system. It lies 18km east of the mainland, and west of the most southerly of the Glover’s Reef atoll (Maps 1 and 2). The Marine Reserve includes a portion of the Belize Barrier Reef, and a series of ecological important mangrove cayes, many of them submerged – Pelican Cayes, Twin Cayes and the Tobacco and Blue Ground Ranges. The marine protected area was established by the Fisheries Department in 1996 under (SI 118), under the Fisheries Act (Ch 210, 1983).  The area was recognized to be of exceptional integrity of the marine ecosystems, and its national, regional and international importance.

 The area is highlighted under ecoregional planning initiatives for its particularly rich biodiversity (Kramer and Kramer, 2002; updated in Arrivillaga et. al, 2008), supporting an important oceanic mangrove system and extensive seagrass meadows, which provide valuable habitats for commercial and non-commercial species – including queen conch (Strombus gigas) and lobster (Panulirus argus), the foundations of the traditional fishing industry on which a number of coastal communities in Belize are dependent. The sheltered waters and mangrove systems of the Pelican cayes in the southern area of the Marine Reserve have been identified as one of the most biodiverse marine systems within the western hemisphere, supporting a number of endemic species, and species new to science. 


Contact the SWCMR's Management Team
Mangrove cayes provide nesting sites for several nationally important bird species and include Man O’ War Caye, protected in its own right as a Crown Reserve. The numerous sand bores adjacent to Wee Wee Caye include an established nesting beach for the rare roseate tern (Sterna dougallii), and the area is also utilized by marine turtles for nesting. The designation fulfilled the requirements of UNESCO which, in the same year, included South Water Caye Marine Reserve as one of the seven protected areas that form the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site. The management of the Marine Reserve  is done by the Belize Fisheries Department.  The Department set up a Rangers Station that is located on Twin Cayes.  The station provides a base of operations for the Fisheries Department from which to manage South Water Caye Marine Reserve. The station contains accommodation for its rangers and reserve manager, and a recently constructed Visitor Centre.
A staff of 5 persons are currently posted at the MPA. The management of the reserve is comprised of a Manager(Officer in command), Biologist(second officer in command), A head ranger(officer in charge of enforcement), Ranger(enforcement officer), and a caretaker(grounds keeper). The main stakeholders of the Marine Reserve are the fishing, tourism, study abroad groups and research sectors, based both from the mainland, and on the cayes within the protected area.

Rules and Regulations

Conservation Zone

General Use Zone

Preservation Zone


Natural and Cultural Resource Management

This program comprises four sub categories: Marine Resource Management, Zoning and Boundaries, Surveillance and Enforcement, and Marine/wildlife Management. 

Under the first subcategory Support and uphold Fisheries regulations relevant to maintenance of commercial species.  In conjunction with the MPA staff is required to ensure that compliance is met by the stakeholders of the reserve.  Therefore the staff has to ensure that users are aware of the reserve regulations, that the base is equipped with the materials needed, ensure that surveillance and enforcement of the different regulations is done,  ensure the different zones are respected, ensure the human resources(staff) is properly equipped and trained to carry out daily duties(enforcement patrols, arrest, data collection, etc.), ensure the zones are properly demarcated, ensure that the stakeholders are engage through awareness participation and communication on a regular basis to ensure compliance.  Also to assist in marine wildlife management the staff has to assist in the development of best practice plans, and ensure that sustainable development plans are made.  Ensure programs are implemented for invasive species and have management plans for pollution.

Research and Monitoring

Research and Monitoring ensures that informed decision are made for the effective management of the reserve.  It also helps to assess if the the MPA is achieving its objectives.  The biologist is in charge of carrying out these activities in the reserve.  There are four sub programs research, monitoring, training, and research collaboration.

Research is usually done by outside universities or researchers.  They apply for a permit and the department reviews the projects.  If they pass a research license is granted.  The monitoring done at the reserve is mostly for the commercial species that are targeted by the department.  These include: water quality, mangroves, sea cucumber, lobster, conch, commercial spp. of fish, turtles, sea-grass, and corals.  These data are used to assess if the management of the MPA is effective and if not to make informed decisions on how to improve.  Training of the reserve staff is and the biologist is needed in order to ensure that the data being collected is sound data.  The staff assists the biologist in all monitoring.  The staff also collaborates with other NGO’s/organizations in monitoring.

Community Participation

South Water Caye Marine Reserve has a number of mechanisms for encouraging community participation in reserve activities. There is stakeholder representation on the South Water Caye Marine Reserve Advisory Committee (SWCMRAC), which makes recommendations towards the management of the protected area. The Advisory Committee is “responsible for making recommendations on decisions regarding the development of policies and issues affecting the management of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, and plays a vital role in the success of the reserve, by providing strategic support to the reserve personnel, leading to improved management on the ground and the ultimate achievement of the reserve’s management objectives. It also acts as a mechanism for strengthening participation of fishermen in the management of the area, providing a mechanism for participation”.

As a part of the community participation plan the staff assist in the creation of Socio-Economic Benefit Strategies for Stakeholder Communities.  These include Provision of alternative livelihoods options and skills training should focus on those communities most impacted by conservation management. The marine reserve staff should therefore work closely with the ongoing programmes of several NGOs (WCS, SEA, Green Reef, TNC and SACD), strengthening collaboration in stakeholder engagement and provision of socio-economic benefits.  The staff is continuously creating posters, flyers, signage, and encouraging the public participation of the community by doing education and outreach with the different communities.  The MPA has a visitor center where students and tourist are given presentations on the reserve.  Under the Public use program a fee is charged to visitors to the MPA.  The MPA has a visitor center where students and tourist are given presentations on the reserve.   These activities also assist in the last two programs.  Under site infrastructure management and Administration of the human resources the staff is assisted by the government.   Hence the revenue collected from visitors is then used to assist in the upkeep, maintenance, and upgrading of the reserve staff and its infrastructure.

Regular updates are posted to keep the public, industry and fishers informed

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