Progress Assessment

  published: 14 May 2019
2019 - No significant change
TARGET B6. By 2018, Belize has a strengthened system in place for early detection and effective management of invasive species.
Category of progress towards the implementation of the selected target
No significant change
22 Mar 2019

Action B6.1 Develop and implement an action plan to identify and address prevention and / or management of invasive species

Invasive species pose a serious threat to the long term functionality of natural ecosystems in Belize and the maintenance of biodiversity. Despite the threat posed by an invasive species no national management plan has been developed. Additionally national assessments to the distribution and abundance of invasive species have only been conducted for one species, the lionfish. Efforts to eradicate most species through controlled hunting and removal have been limited and in some cases futile.

In the case of the lionfish, a notable increase in the population has been recorded since initial sightings in 2001 and 2008. The species first invaded the northern waters of the country and its distribution has now extended to the entirety of Belize’s coastal waters (Searle et. al, 2012). In response to the economic and ecological threat posed by the species, eradication and management initiatives have aimed to reduce lionfish populations. A National Lionfish Management Strategy[1] was developed in 2018 to mitigate the potential impact of the species to Belize’s coastal waters and the integrity of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

The assessment of the distribution of the lionfish has been ongoing through the initiatives of the FiD and NGOs including Blue Ventures. Blue Ventures is currently monitoring the impacts of lionfish across the country. Although complete national assessment for the species are limited,  assessments conducted at specific sites indicated that lionfish densities area highest in sites deeper than 18 meters, over the years there has been an increase in body size of the species and highest densities area observed at SWCMR (Chapman, 2016). The prevalence of the species in deeper waters poses challenges for removal resulting for increased cost, requirement for SCUBA gear and precise skill to remove the species at greater depths (Anderson, 2017). To address the threat, a national public education awareness program was implemented to strengthen public support for the removal of the species form Belize’s Barrier Reef. There have also been national efforts towards securing a market for the species including the utilization of the flesh as an alternative source of protein and lionfish jewelry (Parmeggiani & Chapman, 2014).

The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), among its other functions, closely monitors plant and animal health through its sanitary and phytosanitary measures. In its capacity of port of entry agency, BAHA regulates the importation and exportation of materials that are potentially harmful to Belize natural ecosystems, flora and fauna. BAHA in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture has carried out eradication measures to address the negative impacts of invasive species within the agricultural sectors.

At the site level, BAS has implemented an eradication plan for the removal of rodents on Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument, a World Heritage Site, in 2016.  The removal of rodents from the island resulted in the re-growth of littoral forest on the island. Other activities linked to the removal of the rats from the island, such as the removal of coconut seeds and other debris, has also prompted the re-growth of the littoral forests that were being displaced by coconut trees.

Currently, there is no policy in place to address the introduction of wildlife. There is the need to improve the national systems for the importation of wildlife, focusing on the importation of wildlife only with a valid importation permit from the FD. Increase awareness of the implications of illegal importation, in the absence of a valid importation permit, should been highlighted with port of entry agencies such as BAHA and Customs. National initiatives targeting the general population of the country on procedures for importation and approved species list is necessary to minimize the introduction of ecologically harmful species.    

Case Study: Lionfish and Belize’s Economy

One invasive species that is a perpetual problem and threat to Belize’s reef is the lionfish - a carnivore possesses venomous spines with a lifespan of 15 years which consumes over 56 species of fish and many invertebrate species. A single female lionfish can spawn over 2 million eggs a year[2]. As a threat, national efforts have promoted the control of lionfish via hunting and removal.

The Belize Lionfish Jewellery Group, also known as ‘Belioness’, was formed following an education and outreach campaign by the FiD and Blue Ventures in 2015.  Nineteen women, from seven coastal communities, work to create environmentally friendly and socially responsible lionfish jewelry and Christmas ornaments. Within the group four different languages are shared, representing the indigenous population. Belioness received support technically from Blue Ventures, Sarteneja Fishermen Association, as well support financially from the World Wildlife Foundation, The Summit Foundation, New England Biolabs Foundation and the Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology[3]. Belioness has expanded their market, with products being sold in the United States and United Kingdom.

In addition to women’s co-operatives like Belioness, individual business women, like Khadijah Assales, have experienced great success in selling lionfish jewellery at her jewellery stores in Placencia Village and San Ignacio Town; her products are also being sold in local and international markets. The above successes prove that effective management of invasive species are being strengthened in Belize via creative mechanisms while maintaining the country’s commitment to the conservation and preservation of biodiversity.


The process of managing and monitoring invasive species is hindered by the lack of a national inventory of native species, which can be used a reference for classifying species as invasive. Through national assessments an invasive species list detailing distribution and extent should be developed. The latter would enable the identification of new invasive species introductions (indicator 2 of the target). These assessments would better inform future eradication and management efforts as well as enable the generation of a scientifically sound invasive species management plan. The development of a national species list for Belize will require the conduction of national species assessment studies in all ecosystems across the county.

Another hindering factor is the lack of national studies to identify current invasive species as well as assess the negative effects of the species on the natural environment. Although a few species have been classified as ‘invasive’ national assessments have only been limited to those that affect particular economic sectors, such as the lionfish. Virtually no studies exist for other species such as the armored catfish, tilapia and two non-native herptiles.

The lack of mechanisms and a national plan to minimize the introduction of invasive species is another barrier. The development of a national plan to be implemented by boarder agencies and regulatory agencies would improve the country’s ability to proactively address introductions.

Capacity Needs

Based on the activities and actions of the NBSAP, Belize has the following capacity requirements for the implementation of Target B6 (green color coded cell in table). 

Table 15: Capacity Requirements for the Implementation of Target B6

Indicators and Activities
  • Invasive Species Action Plans (yes / no)
  • Number of new invasive species per year
  • Trends in number and distribution of invasive species (NBMP)

Components of the national monitoring and evaluation mechanism of the NBSAP have not formally commenced. The proposed annual rapid review of implementation and the second year review of outcomes prescribed within the NBSAP have been completed under the BIOFIN and 6NR-LAC projects. The initial progress assessment was conducted during the NBSAP target prioritization exercise under the BIOFIN. This was done to determine implemented and future activities of government agencies and NGO co-managers for the achievement of the 20 NBSAP targets. Building on the results of that initial assessment, the 6NR Team conducted a 6NR National Evaluation Workshop involving a consortium of stakeholders from government departments, co-managing NGOs and the conservation community. The workshop and subsequent consultations evaluated the achievement of the national indicators.

Under Goal B, Reducing Pressure and Sustainable Use, stakeholders from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ministry of Natural Resources (Mining Unit), Department of Environment, Fisheries Department, National Climate Change Office (NCCO), Program for Belize (PfB) and the Forest Department evaluated the indicators of the six NBSAP targets. In the absence of quantitative empirical data to measure target progress, stakeholders provided their expert working knowledge for assessment. The latter improved target progress assessment as time, technical and financial barriers may have inhibited the assessment of all indicators for individual targets. Additionally expert working knowledge provided invaluable information which further supported Belize’s progress towards the achievement of targets outside of the prescribed indicators. Following the 6NR National Evaluation Workshop additional regional consultations were held to provide further context for progress selections made during the exercise. To supplement the information collected from the National Evaluation Workshop and regional consultation a desk review provided an in-depth analysis of ongoing activities, initiatives, biodiversity related programs and national documents thereby increasing the perspective for the implementation of the target. 

Level of confidence
Based on partial indicator information and expert opinion

The evaluation of the Target B6 required an initial assessment of the national indicators supported by expert opinion for the assessment of other actions and activities that contributed to the achievement of the target. Indicators such as the trends in number and distribution of invasive species were not being monitored adequately, with the exception of lionfish. The latter inhibited the comprehensive assessment of the target and indicators. Additionally, there have been limited national efforts to address all invasive species, mostly due to human and financial resource constraints.

Monitoring related to this target is partial (e.g. only covering part of the area or issue)

Monitoring is limited to a one species (lionfish) or selected sites as is the case of rodents in the Turneffe Atoll. Lionfish monitoring is being done extensively by Blue Ventures and the FiD with the aid of fishers. BAS monitors all activities in the Atoll to mitigate the chances of rodent re-introduction.  There is the need to strengthen monitoring mechanisms for other invasive species in the country in an effort to control the spread of species to new areas.