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News for the Period July 2005 to July 2006

Countries of the Region Reaffirm their Commitment to Protect the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems
President Oscar Berger from Guatemala, and Prime Minister Said Musa with World Bank, CCAD and MBRS Project representatives The President of Mexico, Vicente Fox Quezada; The President of Guatemala, Oscar Berger Perdomo; The President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales and the Prime Minister of Belize, Said Musa, signed an important agreement for the Renewal of Commitment to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System on July 11, 2006 in Panama. This agreement reaffirms the countries' commitments to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems (MBRS), with the primary objective of continuing the conservation of these unique and ecologically vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems.

A further goal of this agreement is to strengthen the coordination between the four countries, in order to develop regional policies, institutional regulations and agreements for the conservation and sustainable use of this global public good.

In June 1997, the presidents of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the Prime Minister of Belize met in Tulum, Quintana Roo, where they adopted their first formal commitment to collaborate on and secure international aid for the conservation and sustainable use the MBRS.

One year later, after a series of consultations with scientists, non-governmental organizations, government representatives, local communities and other stakeholders, an Action Plan was developed. Subsequently, the MBRS project was designed based on the objectives of this Action Plan and had its official launching in Belize on June 20, 2001.

President of Mexico, Vicente Fox with World Bank and MBRS Representatives The signature of this recent agreement for the Renewal of Commitment to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System within the framework of the 1997 Tulum Declaration, represents the new environmental agenda for the MBRS region, upon which the design of the second phase of the MBRS Project is currently being developed.

The three Presidents and the Prime Minister recognized the importance of this agreement as a means of strengthening the cooperation between the MBRS member countries, the Central American Commission on Development and Environment (CCAD), the World Bank, and other international and local organizations interested in the conservation of the MBRS.

Innovative Training Course on Interpretation and Environmental Education
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project (MBRS) is currently conducting an important training course on Interpretation and Environmental Education for Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s). The training is being carried out in Belize from January 23 to the 28, 2006.

This regional training course on Interpretation and Environmental Education is an integral part of the 2005-2006 Annual Work Plan of the MBRS Project; the main objective is to provide the basic knowledge for the Interpretation and Environmental Education in Marine Protected Areas. This knowledge includes design and interpretation of nature trails, species identification, handling of exhibition material, Visitor Center Management and other techniques. The training in which 25 delegates representing Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are participating will be 100% hands-on and is being conducted by regional instructors, who have extensive experience and knowledge in their related field of expertise.

This training is geared towards those personnel from the Marine Protected Areas of the MBRS Region who are in charge of the Environmental Education Programs, Design and Interpretation of Nature Trails, Management of Visitors Centers, Museum Caretaking and others.

The MBRS Project believes that this kind of permanent training will strengthen the capacity of the Marine Protected Areas and their personnel in promoting integrated resource management and the distribution of the benefits of conservation to the local communities.

MBRS Supports construction of Nature Trail in Bacalar Chico
The Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park (BCMRNP), located in the northern half of Ambergris Caye, is a unique geographic formation, as is evidenced by its reefs, fossil remains and the combination of marine and terrestrial species which inhabit it, many of which are of great ecological and economic value. It comprises the most northern part of the Belize Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, and is one of the priority protected areas of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project. Bacalar Chico’s Canal de la Boca, built by the Mayas, forms the border between Belize and Mexico.

Bacalar Chico boasts a surface area of 11,487 hectares (marine and terrestrial) and is administered by the Fisheries Department and the Forest Department of Belize. Its staff includes a Manager, a Marine Biologist and Park Rangers. The MBRS Project has provided for the strengthening of the BCMRNP with the construction of a Multiple Use Center as well as supplying equipment including boats, marine motors, furniture and computers. It has also supported staff exchanges and delivered training courses and training manuals.

The MBRS Project is now supporting the construction of a nature trail, that will allow local residents as well as tourists to appreciate the natural beauty and riches of this important area which is a home for internationally recognized (IUCN, CITES) endangered species, such as the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the jaguar or American tiger (Panthera onca), the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus), the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), among others. At the same time, along with the Multiple Use Center, the trail is an important means of generating income for the area.

The trail is approximately 16 kilometers long and has a series of palapas at strategic points to allow visitors to rest or spend the night. The financial support provided by the MBRS Project complements initiatives by the Belize Fisheries Department, the local NGO Green Reef, and the British organization Trekforce Expeditions, who contributed by clearing the trail and constructing the palapas.

The MBRS Project is committed to continuing support for infrastructure which enables environmental education, ecologically sustainable tourism and income generation for protected areas, for the benefit of the people of Belize and the international community.

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