Habitat destruction caused by improper development, dredging and mangrove deforestation remains the single largest threat facing Turneffe Atoll. These destructive and unsustainable practices lead to the loss of critical habitats including sea grass, back reef flats and mangroves. Such development has already destroyed special and unique areas at Turneffe and these practices are absolutely inconsistent with the sustainability of Turneffe Atoll.
A significant portion of Turneffe is now privately owned. How private property is developed in the future will be a crucial question going forward. The marine reserve offers significant protections, but these alone are not adequate. Protecting this fragile place will take additional measures and the ongoing efforts of Turneffe Atoll Trust.
Below are photos of the most recent unsustainable project at Turneffe which entails clear-cutting the mangroves and dredging with a goal of filling this swampy area for development. Note the significant erosion and the pinkish pile of roots in the excavated hole. This project is currently being litigated in Belize.
Other unfortunate development projects include a large hotel complex which unfortunately dredged one of the most productive flats on Turneffe Atoll for land fill.
SUSTAINABILITY OF THE COMMERCIAL FISHERY
Turneffe's productive fishery for Caribbean spiny lobster and queen conch is threatened by poor management, over-fishing and lack of regulatory enforcement. Turneffe's fishermen understand these threats and are now working closely with Turneffe Atoll Trust to ensure that their fishery remains sustainable. The fishermen have, in fact, joined forces with the ecotourism sector at Turneffe to form an official alliance that advocates for habitat protection.
Interventions initiated by Turneffe Atoll Trust, and now overseen primarily by Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, are helping, but more needs to be done. Better scientific information about the fishery is essential to accurately evaluating management interventions. A major need is a comprehensive baseline analysis of the spiny lobster fishery associated with a science-based monitoring program.
Approximately 90 percent of Turneffe is low-lying land covered by mangroves making it particularly sensitive to by sea rise. At the same time, Turneffe's ecosystems mitigate many of the dire effects of climate change. A major economic benefit of Turneffe Atoll, for instance, is the protection of Belize City from hurricanes. Economists value this protection at more than $90 million annually. Additionally, mangroves produce significant carbon sequestration and essential habitat for many marine species. So while Turneffe threatened by climate change, it also offers key environmental assets that help our planet adapt to these changes.