Update January - September 2020
2020 has brought many challenges all over the world. The pandemic has changed the way we do things, the way the world works and the way we look at the future.
MAR Fund has continued to operate at its best capacity, with all our staff and partners in the four countries working from home. Thanks to our responsive Board, staff, partners and especially our donors, who have been flexible enough to allow us to change the way some projects operate, we have been able to address the needs of our grantees in these difficult times.
We reached out to our grantees in March to get a better sense of how they might have been or foresaw being impacted by the pandemic and how MAR Fund might be of better assistance. Most of them continued with some level of their programmatic activities and some of them requested time extensions and budget modifications to cover salaries and/or to support the local communities they work with. These requests were approved, and we continue to stay in touch to assist as possible.
This pandemic has brought up the need to strengthen the resilience of communities and coastal and marine protected areas. To start planning how to be prepared for future emergencies, MAR Fund launched a mailbox (https://marfund.org/es/buzon-ideas-resiliencia/) on its website to ask partners, strategic allies, and the general public, to participate in brainstorming ideas that could suggest measures that can be considered to strengthen resilience for future events. Valuable ideas were shared through the mailbox and were used to create the document Resilience in the MAR after Covid-19, and it compiles all of the suggestions shared along with other solutions or measures that other organizations are doing in the region and the world. This document was attached to the 13th Request for Proposal of the Small Grants Program, to provide examples or ideas to potential grantees, as the focus this year was on supporting actions to strengthen the resilience of NGOs, protected areas and coastal communities.
Despite the pandemic, several achievements have been accomplished and our grantees continue to work towards the conservation of our MAR.
Saving our sanctuaries:
A legacy of caring
Conservation of Marine Resources in
Central America Project
Fishing for the future:
Sustainable Fisheries for a Thriving Reef
MAR Fish project
The MAR Fish project is the largest coordinated network of fish spawning aggregation (FSA) monitoring sites in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) region. The overall objective is to promote the recovery of fisheries by strengthening the protection of the FSAs as critical areas in the life cycle of the species, through a better knowledge and understanding of the aggregations in the region.
Some achievements so far this year include the characterization of the reef and fish spawning aggregations in Cayman Crown, the declaration of this important site as no-take zone and as an expansion of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve in Belize, and as a no-take zone for 10 years in Guatemala.
Studies/documents were generated, such as a standardize methodology for monitoring FSAs – Fish Spawning Aggregation Monitoring in the MAR Fish Network; a Status Report on Fish Spawning Aggregations in the Mesoamerican Reef; and a Policy Brief on Fish Spawning Aggregations. Despite the pandemic, four exploration visits were done to four FSAs.
Mesoamerican Reef Rescue Initiative – RRI
The RRI was created to increase the resilience and ability to recover of the MAR and the environmental and cultural services it provides through capacity building, regulations, economic incentives and financial sustainability required for the effective and timely restoration of the coral reefs.
Under this initiative, reef restoration is addressed through two approaches: Continuous restoration and emergency response.
MAR Fund continues working in collaboration with Willis Towers Watson (WTW), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the CCAD and other partners in the region to design and implement a parametric insurance model for reefs in at least seven sites of the MAR region to contribute to rapid post-event reef restoration and recovery. MAR Fund is also working together with TNC to develop and implement Emergency Response capacities in the four MAR countries, so far this year, Belize has finished their Post Storm Coral Response Plan and Honduras has a taskforce dedicated to formalized the post-storm emergency response capacities in Honduras.
A Technical restoration guide was completed in support to the Reef Restoration Network. And the document Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) in the Mesoamerican Reef Region. Recommendations for Addressing SCTLD was finalized and distributed.
Belize Marine Fund
The BMF currently has a portfolio of 14 active grants awarded between the periods of May 2017 – October 2020. These grants were awarded through the two programmatic windows for advancing the BMF’s programmatic investments 1) the Targeted Grants Program and 2) the Small Grants Program.
The projects supported by these programs have been guided by those priority areas of focus established in the BMF’s Strategic Plan and in consultation with the BMF Steering Committee. Some of these established priority areas include: efforts related to the expansion, management, monitoring, enforcement and surveillance of no-takes; efforts related to the national roll-out of managed access, and improved management effectiveness of MPAs; enhanced climate change resilience; protection and restoration of fragile and degraded marine ecosystems; and promotion of sustainable income-generation for local communities.
Small grants are for a maximum of USD 30k and Targeted grants are awarded at a maximum of USD 45k. Below we provide a summary of project progress to date.
General Objective: Supporting scientific data collection at Cayman Crown, improving the knowledge-base of the ecological baseline of the site, while establishing the legal and technical frameworks for management; and raising awareness of its existence and the importance of management presence.
- TIDE completed repairs to an existing 28ft vessel that will be used to conduct marine resources monitoring at Cayman Crown, and finalized the purchase of a 100 HP Yamaha outboard engine for the vessel.
A school of Jack at Cayman Crown site Photo: TIDE
- TIDE met with representatives of the Belize Coast Guard (BCG) and a local Punta Gorda Contractor at the SCMR on August 31st, 2020, to discuss use and refurbishment of the existing Coast Guard building (no longer in use) located on Hunting Caye, for use to house the research team conducting spawning aggregation dives at the Crown site.
- TIDE conducted exploratory dives, at the Cayman Crown site, recording spawning activities in those areas suspected to be aggregation sites. A total of 19 dives were conducted during the months of February and June 2020.
- TIDE worked closely with the Belize Fisheries Department (BFiD), Wildlife Conservation Society, the Belize Coast Guard, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advocate for the protection of the Cayman Crown site.
- On July 31st, 2020 the Minister of Fisheries Hon. Omar Figueroa, signed the Statutory Instrument for the expansion of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, to protect Cayman Crown.
General Objective: Understanding the resilience potential of targeted Marine Protected Areas in Belize, through a “snapshot” resilience assessment.
- WWF hosted a 3-day virtual workshop on July 30th, August 5th and 6th sharing the modeling approaches, methodology, and draft results for its integrated assessments of climate change impacts, risks, and ecosystem services. Along with a portfolio of draft strategies for ecosystem-based adaptation.
WWF Resilience Analysis Study Area
- Five (5) follow-up virtual meetings were also conducted during the week of August 27th, 2020 with workshop participants and additional stakeholder in Belize, to review findings and provide feedback on their efforts.
- The information presented during the workshop and meetings were well received and, feedback obtained have been integrated into a final ecosystem service model run.
- Based on the analysis of coastal hazard and habitat role, there can be a better understanding of where conservation or restoration investment could be made to reduce risk.
General Objective: Creating and implementing a branding and marketing strategy, inclusive of a communication plan, to sensitize the Belize and international community on the importance of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS).
- WWF successfully advertised, both nationally and internationally, the consultancy for the development of the WHS branding and marketing strategy, and communication plan—yielding the submission of proposals from 20 marketing agencies.
WWF Advertisement of WHS Branding and Marketing Consultancy
- Proposals were reviewed, shortlisted and the winning candidate the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) was selected by a panel consisting of members from the Belize World Heritage Advisory Committee (BWHAC), PACT, MARFUND’s BMF and WWF.
- Currently the consultancy contract is being finalized for signing with CREST and it is expected that execution towards deliverables will commence in November 2020.
General Objective: Enhancing TASA’s capacity to provide effective management of the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR).
- TASA successfully advertise and is currently in the process of contracting the consultancy for updating the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve’s (TAMR) Management Plan.
- The organization is also working on an initiative for the implementation of a new revenue generation mechanism and business plan that will assist in strengthen the its financial sustainability.
- Lobster trap tagging was conducted with 4 Turneffe lobster camp fishers; tagging and measuring over 2,000 lobster traps at Turneffe, during this reporting period.
Lobster tagging and inventory at Turneffe by TASA Staff
- TASA maintains collaboration key MPA co-management partners to develop communication approaches and presentations highlighting the work of the Belize MPA Network.
- On September 18th, 2020 TASA and five of its partners delivered its first presentation on Love FM speaking on their efforts, the effectives of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges it has presented, given that a significant portion of their revenues are tied to tourism.
General Objective: Providing a national response in Belize to the debilitating stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD).
- In September 2020, working collaboratively with key project partners, HRI was able to confirm the presence of SCTLD at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Monitoring was also conducted at Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve with staff of the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (UB-ERI), however no presence SCTLD was detected. In both cases the data collected was updated to the AGRRA database, which can be tracked at https://www.agrra.org/coral-disease-outbreak/
- Treatment for SCTLD is currently being conducted within the Bacalar Chico, Caye Caulker and Hol Chan Marine Reserves, using antibiotic and CoreRx acquired by Fragments of Hope (FoH).
SCTLD rescue table and treatment of infected coral
- Within all reserves, CoreRx has shown to be effective in slowing the spread of lesions caused by SCTLD. With preliminary results from Bacalar Chico showing that of 15 colonies treated, 13 saw a cessation in lesion spread.
- Additionally, FoH has constructed two rescue tables (Hol Chan and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserves) that house coral fragments from vulnerable sites. These tables will serve as a ‘bank’ of colonies to outplant when conditions are more favourable.
General Objective: Increasing the genetic biodiversity of replenished acroporids and overall coral diversity, by replenishing with non-acroporid stony coral species at four to seven sites in two marine protected areas near Placencia—documenting results with existing and novel methods.
- Fragments of Hope has secured satellite imagery for 230 km2 of shallow reefs near Placencia. The organization also commenced analysis/annotation of satellite images for 2019 and 2020 drone mapping.
Targeted shallow reefs near Placencia
- According to FoH, five natural stands near Placencia (Dale’s Reef, Loggerhead Patch, Cramp, Crawl, and Lazy Caye) had over 3,000m2 of Acropora cervicornis combined in 2019. At Laughing Bird Caye National Park alone, over 2,200m2 within one hectare of shallow fringing reef was replenished with acroporids (>21% of hectare).
- In 2020 this work FoH repeated the collection of coral mosaic at LBCNP—data that is currently being quantified.
General Objective: Ensuring the successful establishment and payout of a gillnet buyback fund to previously identified licensed gillnet fishers; contributing to the government of Belize’s commitment for a gillnet ban by 2022.
- In August 2020, Oceana and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries secured an agreement with the Belizean government to ban the use of gillnets in Belizean waters by 2022 at the latest.
- To minimize the negative impact this may have on licensed gillnet fishers, Oceana is working to raise funds to support Belizean fishers who obtained a license to use gillnets in 2018.
- Oceana feels that this approach helps to demonstrate a tangible commitment to support marine-based livelihoods, while ensuring the long-term integrity of shared resources.
General Objective: Addressing the need for improved management effectiveness, as identified and prioritized through site and systems level management planning for the Southern Belize Reef Complex.
- Throughout the life of this grant SEA continuously works toward improved management effectiveness of Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) and Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR), through the installation of a total of 20 demarcation buoys at these sites. The organization also conducted outreach to key stakeholders such as tour guides and fishers, as well as regular joint patrols with the Belize Coast Guard, the Tourism Police and the Belize Fisheries Department. This amounted to a total of 339 patrols across three protected areas, which includes a portion of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR), along with the SEA managed LBCNP and GSSCMR.
- SEA has also documented three cases of fisheries infractions (related to the confiscation of “undersize” and/or “out of season” product), made 19 arrests for trans-boundary infractions involving Hondurans fishers, conducted four successful search and rescue operations, and participated in three vessel grounding inspections.
Protected Areas Maps for GSSCMR and LBCNP
- Additionally, the organization produced a total of 500 maps outlining and highlighting the demarcation buoys at LBCNP and GSSCMR, for dissemination to resource users and stakeholders, conducted boat-to-boat education and outreach with fishers, and printed and installed signs depicting rules and regulations.
Building on BAS’ existing environmental education and community outreach program activities specifically the youth focused Reef Protector Program (RPP).
The following activities were implemented as part of BAS Reef Protectors Program:
- On February 29th, BAS science team hosted a one-day workshop on the topic “Introduction to Marine Research and Monitoring”, with 16 participants. The workshop included a presentation from MarAlliance on marine mega-fauna monitoring at Lighthouse Reef Atoll.
- The 3rd and final education field trip of the Reef Protectors occurred in March (7th to 9th, 2020) at Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
- The open water dive certification training at Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument was completed. Six students obtained the certification (5 male and 1 female).
- In June 2020, BAS hosted a virtual meeting on climate change and its impact on the marine environment, followed by a review session on marine biodiversity research and monitoring. The 16 participants were awarded certificates of completion of the program.
- The two most outstanding students of the program were selected for a two-week internship, from September 23 to October 7, 2020. They participated in a pre-conch season survey boat-to-boat outreach, among other rangers’ activities.
- Unable to conduct the single use plastics campaign in schools owing to school closure for COVID-19, BAS provided information packages for distance learning to the principals of their three targeted schools (Copper Bank RC School, Chunox Seven Day Adventist School and Chunox RC School).
General Objective: Inspiring and motivating the next generation of conservation leaders in Belize through youth engagement.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EPI´s offices remain closed. The organization is currently reevaluating the best way forward.
- The project is currently experiencing delays in implementation. EPI has requested consideration for a no-cost grant extension to June 2021.
General Objective: Detecting the recovery of depleted populations of marine megafauna at the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, using long-term standardized monitoring methods.
- Existing data from MarAlliance monitoring of marine megafauna at Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR) is being analyzed, to develop two peer reviewed papers.
- Two summary posters and a 2-3 minute video on MarAlliance’s work at Turneffe are being developed.
General Objective: Protecting Belize’s Antillean manatee population by gathering scientific data, educating the public and implementing conservation activities.
- In March 2020, S2S visited three schools (St. Johns Primary School, Bernice Yorke Pre-School, St. Catherine’s Academy) in Belize City, as well as the Peninsula International Academy in Placencia, to share information on the importance of manatees, a keystone species of Belize’s reefs and marine ecosystems, reaching more than 1,000 students.
- Since July 2020, S2S has resumed monthly gillnet patrols of the Placencia Lagoon and bi-weekly law enforcement patrols of the Belize River with a total of 11 patrols. During these patrols, no nets and minimum to no boat traffic were observed in the respective locations.
- Manatee stranding incidents decreased 66% during the period of March-June, 2020, compared to the same time period last year.
Comparison of Total Manatee Stranding January – June 2020 vs. 2019
- S2S conducted a second round of manatee capture and tagging (3), and continues to track and document the travel patterns of these animals for better understanding their behavior.
General Objective: Developing and piloting protocols for a successful approach to lionfish control in Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve (TAMR) that can be replicated across Belize’s MPAs system.
- Six members of TASA’s staff were trained on the Theory of Change for lionfish control and lionfish invasion ecology.
TASA Team Participating in Virtual Training
- The national lionfish database was developed using the Marine Ecological Research Management Aid (MERMAID) platform.
- Two virtual Lionfish Working Group (LWG) meetings took place (July and August 2020).
- A White Paper is being developed to address barriers to lionfish control within fish replenishment zones across Belize’s MPA system.
- Blue Venture’s dive policy, risk assessment, and health and safety protocols were modified taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic.
General Objective: Maintaining connectivity across Belize’s fish spawning aggregation sites by supporting monitoring and surveillance at one multi-species fish spawning aggregation site.
- 57 surveillance patrols within the FSA at GSSCMR were conducted by SEA’s enforcement team with the Belize Coast Guard.
- A total of 13 observations or encounters (five sailboat and eight skiffs) were made with commercial fishers (33 from Managed Access Area 3) during the surveillance. No arrests followed.
- A meeting to discuss the management of the FSA is being planned together with the Fisheries Department and other key partners—including special license fishers. This meeting was initially planned for August 2020 but rescheduled to December 2020 owing to COVID-19.
General Objective: To help secure the fish stocks of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) region through the protection and management of fish replenishment zones located along the MAR.
- Most project activities have been delayed owning to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A rapid assessment was conducted to identify relevant training needs of the science staff to effectively perform their duties at the Cayman Crown Site in terms of diving courses.
- The dive training for staff started in September and will last until December 2020. On October, 16, and October 30, 2020 the Rescue Diver course and the Advanced Open Water course were completed, with 2 participants certified respectively. The Open Water course is ongoing, while the Dive Master course is scheduled for mid-November.
General Objective: Artificially spawning adult Holothuria mexicana sea cucumbers and rearing the resulting larvae & juvenile ex-situ for release these into the wild using low-cost techniques that can easily be replicated.
- Most project activities have been delayed owning to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The necessary equipment that will allow UB-ERI’s researchers to collect and artificially spawn wild adult sea cucumbers is being purchased.
- A second step of this project will be rearing the resulting larvae and releasing the juveniles in the wild.
MAR Fund Small Grants Program
Request For Proposals
11th Joint Request for Proposals (2018)
Supporting and Strengthening the Management of Coastal and Marine Protected Areas in the Mesoamerican Reef
The eleventh request for proposals is currently under development. Some projects have already ended activities while others are finalizing them. Progress to date and final results are presented, as indicated below:
12th Joint Request for Proposals (2019)
Supporting Coastal and Marine Resources Management and Protection in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR)
With the overall objective to contribute to the conservation of the ecological functions of the Mesoamerican Reef System, two themes were considered for the first window:
1) Monitoring and conservation of fish spawning aggregation sites (FSAs) and
2) Waste-water and solid waste management.
The twelfth request for proposals is currently under development. Eight of the nine projects show progress to date and are presented below:
13th Joint Request for Proposals (2020)
Supporting Coastal and Marine Resources Management and Protection in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR)
On August 10, 2020, with the participation and support of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, the French Global Environment Facility and the Government of Germany through KfW, the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund) announced the 13th joint request for proposals, again with the three finance windows.
The Traditional small grants window’s main objective was to contribute to the conservation of the ecosystem functions of the Mesoamerican Reef System through resilience measures and other activities, with the following specific objectives:
- To support actions to strengthen the resilience of NGOs, protected areas and coastal communities;
- To support activities related to effective conservation and monitoring of fish spawning aggregations sites (FSAs) in the region;
- To support and strengthen efforts for waste water and solid waste management.
The Reef Rescue Initiative window’s main objective was to support and strengthen science-based restoration, repopulation and rehabilitation of coral reefs in the MAR region, with the following specific objectives:
- Support activities and actions to strengthen the resilience of NGOs, protected areas and coastal communities that work on coral reef restoration;
- Promote and contribute new techniques for restoration, repopulation and rehabilitation of coral reefs in the MAR region;
- Promote strategies to prevent and address the coral disease known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) and contribute to its prevention and treatment.
The Belize Marine Fund window’s main objective was to support marine conservation and civil society organizations to develop and implement initiatives that address and provides solutions to sustainable resources use and management issues; while working to achieve resilience in the face of ever changing economic, social and resources management-based realities, with the following specific objectives:
- To support resources managers in responding to the most pressing of resources management needs in strengthening resilience in communities and coastal and marine protected areas;
- To support improved management effectiveness of MPAs across the national seascape through enhanced water quality monitoring at site and systems level, and support for effective monitoring and conservation of mangrove ecosystems, seagrass beds, fish replenishment sites and fish spawning aggregations sites (FSAs);
- To address the need for sustainable financing in marine resources management by working with key stakeholders to integrate financial planning into areas of conservation planning
The deadline for submission of proposals was October 6, 2020.
Forty-two proposals were received in total, 28 for the Traditional window, distributed as follows: 9 from Mexico, 8 from Guatemala, 10 from Honduras and one for Belize. For the Reef Rescue initiative, seven proposals were received (five from Mexico, one from Honduras and one from Belize) and seven proposals were received for the Belize Marine Fund.
The proposals are under revision.
Re-Granting in the Mesoamerican Reef
Oak Foundation has been an important partner and funder in the MAR for over 15 years. To consolidate and provide continuity to the achievements, Oak Foundation gave to MAR Fund a provision of sinking funds to on-going activities for a period of two to four years.
Three grantees successfully completed the implementation of their projects:
- Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C. (COBI) with the project: Assuring the long-term success of the network of fish refuges in the Mexican MAR.
- Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) with the project: Strengthening financial sustainability initiatives to support management of Port Honduras Marine Reserve.
- Centro de Estudios Marinos (CEM) with the Project: Ensuring the Sustainability of No Take Zones in the Honduran Caribbean.
The results of the remaining Projects are below:
MAR Fund followers continue to increase in social media networks. As of September 30th 2020 there are 3,730 followers on Facebook; 1,622 on Instagram and 1,043 on Twitter.
We have kept our stakeholders, donors and friends informed through the newsletters sent in March, April and June. Last July, we launched MAR Fund’s Photography contest “15 years of conservation in the MAR.”