aquaculture belize
Harvesting seaweed in Belize Seaweed harvesting in farms off the coast of Placencia Village, Belize. © The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy in Belize

Sustainable Aquaculture: A viable economic alternative to fishing

Forty years ago, Mr. Godfrey, a well know fisherman from the village of Placencia, in Belize was the first to economically benefit from the wild harvesting of seaweed and exporting the dried product to the United States.

Since then, wild seaweed stocks have been over harvested as many others have been collecting this valuable crop which fetches a price of US$15 per pound on the local market. Driven by decreasing fish and seaweed stocks, fishers started experimenting with seaweed aquaculture. Today, Mr. Godfrey’s sons and the Placencia Fishermen Cooperative are seeking to diversify their source of income, reduce fishing pressure and allow the regeneration of fisheries stocks. Seaweed aquaculture is providing viable solutions to all of these challenges.

Concurrently, the Conservancy led the development of Fish for Life, a plan to improve livelihoods and support fisheries in Belize. Designed for fishers by fishers, this multi-tiered program touches on national level fisheries management in Belize, sustainable finance, and sector reform through the strengthening of institutional capacity and community level implementation. The Fish for Life plan and partner consultations highlighted seaweed aquaculture as having the greatest likelihood of success for benefiting livelihoods and fisheries.

Seaweed aquaculture

Seaweed (Euchema isiforme) in Belize is farmed at low densities, in shallow clear coastal waters, producing a high quality product, while providing ecosystem benefits. The   advantages of seaweed aquaculture include water filtration, nitrogen and phosphorus removal, decreased CO2 levels, and reduced local effects of ocean acidification. More specific ecological and socio-economic benefits of seaweed farming in Belize include:

•Protection of habitat and species by creating no-fishing areas where farms are located
•Creation of artificial habitat for post-larval settlement of spiny lobster
•Provision of benthos for coral recruitment and restoration
•Reduction in fishing pressure
•Creation of jobs in processing
•Promotion of gender equity
•Adaptation to climate change through diversification of income sources for coastal communities

Our vision is to sustainably increase seafood supply and support livelihoods in coastal communities, while achieving conservation objectives through the implementation of best practices for seaweed aquaculture.

In collaboration with partners, we are developing a certified, integrated and multi-trophic sustainable seaweed farming system that protects and provides habitat for other commercially important species such as Spiny lobster and Queen conch, and generates ecosystem and socio-economic benefits to coastal communities in Belize. This system will provide an alternative and complementary source of income to fishers through a new industry, while offering restorative functions to benefit the environment and support marine conservation. Establishing environmental and social criteria and standards will ensure the implementation of best practices and quality assurance. As a pilot, this initiative will also create opportunities for replication across the Caribbean Basin, including the Caribbean coast of Latin America.