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News for the Period January 2003 to December 2003

Launching of the MBRS Synoptic Monitoring Program
The MBRS Synoptic Monitoring Program (SMP) was effectively launched in all four MBRS countries with a series of regional and national training courses during September and October of 2003. The main objectives of the SMP are to measure the health of the coral reefs and their associated ecosystems such as seagrasses and mangroves, as well as to monitor marine pollution and to model oceanographic systems in the MBRS region.

The Regional Training Course in Methods for Synoptic Monitoring of Marine Pollution was delivered to 25 participants, representing the 4 MBRS countries, in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, at the laboratories of CINVESTAV from the 8 to13 September of 2003.

The National Training Courses in Methods for Synoptic Monitoring for Coral, Seagrass and Mangrove Communities were held individually in Belize City, Belize (September 16-19, 2003); Livingston, Guatemala (September 23-26, 2003); Utila, Honduras (September 29 - October 2, 2003); and Banco Chinchorro, Mexico (October 7-10, 2003). Each of these 4-day courses covered both theoretical and practical training in monitoring methodologies for these various ecosystems.

Participants received a copy of the Manual of Methods for the MBRS Synoptic Monitoring Program, which details the selected, standardized methodologies and tables of procedures for the five components of the SMP currently being implemented -- Corals, Seagrasses, Mangroves, Marine Pollution and Physical Oceanography.

In total, over 100 members of the SMP team have been trained. Such training is vital to ensure the quality and the accuracy of the monitoring data being collected by the SMP Support Agencies throughout the Mesoamerican region.

First Meeting of the Consultative Group for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Region
The MBRS Project convened the first Consultative Group Meeting for the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Region in coordination with the World Bank and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), to identify existing investments in the region, and to discuss new and potential investments, as well as opportunities for joint investments. The event was held at the Radisson Hotel in Belize City, on October 1st and 2nd of 2003. The meeting was led by key representatives from CCAD, the World Bank, UNEP, IDB, the Summit Foundation, USAID/G-CAP, Wildlife Conservation Society, PACT and the MBRS Project.

Significant development issues discussed included coastal and marine development, the need to reduce poverty through conservation initiatives, regional policy harmonization, and sustainable use of the natural resources. The donor community and the governments represented agreed that the consultative process initiated at this meeting is an important mechanism for mobilizing and coordinating effective external assistance to fund medium and long-term conservation and sustainable use programs and that the Consultative Group should meet regularly.

Second Regional Forum on Sustainable Tourism
On August 27 and 28, 2003, the Second Regional Forum on Sustainable Marine and Coastal Tourism was held in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. More than 50 delegates from the four MBRS countries attended, including government officials, NGO's, entrepreneurs, local operators and representatives of other regional projects. The objective of the Second Forum was to discuss examples of best practices in coastal and marine tourism. This information serves as input into the development of a Catalog of Best Practices and Codes of Conduct to be disseminated and voluntarily adopted by tourism operators throughout the MBRS region.

The Infusion of Coastal and Marine Themes into Education Curricula
The MBRS Project held a teachers' training course on the Infusion of Coastal and Marine Themes into Primary and Secondary School Curricula from July 15 to 17th, 2003. A total of 58 teachers from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, received training on how to incorporate themes relating to reef conservation and sustainable development into the education curricula. Prior to this regional training event, the representatives of the Ministries of Education of the MBRS countries met in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on the 14 July 2003, to grant their Official Endorsement to the this MBRS initiative and to the accompanying teachers' guides.

The MBRS Thematic Areas include topics related to "People and Reefs", "Biology and Ecology of Coral Communities" and "Transboundary Marine Protected Areas and Interconnectivity between Reefs" and "Ocean Currents" which can be introduced into the Social and Natural Sciences within the national curricula.

Teachers from various primary and secondary schools committed themselves to deliver this training course at a national level in order to reach a greater number of teachers. In all cases, priority for training will be focused on those schools and teachers located in the MBRS coastal areas. To this end, a national teachers' training course was held in Belize City on December 5, 2003. A total of 56 participants attended, including primary and secondary school teachers as well as representatives of the Ministry of Education of Belize. Each participant received Teachers' Guides which have instructions detailing how to incorporate marine environmental themes into the education curricula.

The long-term objective of this educational initiative is to prepare students for their future roles as responsible decision makers and guardians of our coastal and marine resources.

5th Ordinary Regional Steering Committee Meeting
The 5th Ordinary Meeting of the Regional Steering Committee was held on June 26, 2003, in Roatan, Honduras. In the said meeting, the Annual Work Plan and Budget for Project Year III were discussed and approved. The Plan for the Period 2003 - 2004 proposes the investment of an estimated $3.4 million US dollars, distributed across 5 project components, in an effort to achieve goals and objectives defined for Project Year 3.

3rd Ordinary Meeting of the Technical Working Groups
The 3rd Ordinary Meeting of the MBRS Technical Working Groups was held in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico on June 5 and 6, 2003. 62 participants, including Project Staff, from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico spent two days assessing the achievements of the past year and developing the Annual Work Plan and Budget for Project Year III, which runs from July 2003- June 2004. After the meeting, the staff of the MBRS Project incorporated the contributions received during the meeting to produce the Annual Work Plan which was presented to the Regional Steering Committee at the end of June 2003 for their approval.

Sustainable Development Policies for the MBRS Endorsed by CCAD
The Policy Working Group (PWG) held their first meeting on April 29 and 30 in Belize City, under the guidance of Dr. Grethel Aguilar, of the office of Environmental Legislation of IUCN Mesoamerica. The Group is comprised of Legal Advisors from the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources from the four MBRS countries. The Group discussed recommendations from both Transboundary Park Commissions to produce a draft of proposed policies.

A second meeting of the PWG was held on May 21 and 22 in Guatemala City to discuss the draft policies. The PWG members met with key players including government representatives in tourism and fisheries, MPA Managers, representatives of the Transboundary Park Commissions and the MBRS National Coordinators of the four countries.

The inputs from this meeting were incorporated into the draft to produce a document entitled Sustainable Development Policy on Fisheries Resources, Tourism and Transboundary Marine Protected Areas in the MBRS. This document was subsequently submitted to the Council of Ministers of CCAD who endorsed it. The endorsement of the Government of Quintana Roo, Mexico is now being sought.

2nd Meeting of the Northern Transboundary Parks Commission
The Northern Transboundary Parks Commission (BEMAMCCOR) held its 2nd meeting on May 7 and 8, 2003, in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. In this meeting, the participants produced the final set of recommendations on fisheries, tourism and Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) which would then be used formulate regional policies. 5 MPAs are located in the northern transboundary zone of the MBRS shared by Belize and Mexico. These are Santuario del Manatí (Bahía de Chetumal), Bahía Corozal, Banco Chinchorro, Xcalak y Bacalar Chico. Based on the research conducted by various organizations of Mexico and Belize in the areas of fisheries, co-management of MPA's and tourism, participants at this meeting sought to analyze, discuss and propose regional policies for the conservation and management of coastal and marine resources in in a transboundary context. 34 officials, primarily from the Executive Committee and members of BEMAMCCOR, in addition to special invited guests from Belize and Mexico, participated in these discussions.

Training in Community Relations for the Effective Management of Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) in the MBRS Region
26 delegates representing MPA's, NGO's, community leaders and local authorities, of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, attended a training course in Community Relations for the Effective Management of Marine Protected Areas that was held in Belize City, Belize, from April 28 to 30, 2003. This training has been instrumental in increasing community participation in decision-making and management of MPA's as well as increasing the sense of ownership that the communities feel towards the benefits of the MPA's.

The accompanying manual is being published in both English and Spanish as a tool to assist in the implementation of these techniques.

Regional Training in Environmental Impact Assessments and Audits of Coastal and Marine Tourism Infrastructure and Operations in the MBRS region
The MBRS Project held a Training Course in Regional Training in Environmental Impact Assessments and Audits of Coastal and Marine Tourism Infrastructure and Operations in the MBRS region in Belize City, from the 23rd to the 25th of April 2003. 20 delegates from the four MBRS countries attended, including representatives of the governmental tourism offices, officials responsible for approving operations and infrastructure projects, as well as staff from MPA's which are linked to tourism activities.

The primary objective of this course was to improve the knowledge of decision-makers regarding the most appropriate practices in tourism development as well as enable informed decision-making on which projects should be implemented and thereby result in projects which are environmentally appropriate.

Symposium on Regional Cooperation and Corridors
The MBRS Project and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project jointly organized the Symposium on Regional Cooperation and Corridors, within the framework of the 1st Mesoamerican Protected Areas Congress, which took place from March 10 to 14th, 2003 in Managua, Nicaragua. Representatives of these projects delivered official presentations. Afterwards, they coordinated a round table discussion during which the participants had the opportunity to discuss the implementation of these regional projects. The event enabled participants to learn about these two examples of regional cooperation.

Training Course in Management Principles for Marine Protected Areas
The MBRS Project held a course entitled "Principles of Management for Marine Protected Areas" from January 13 - 15, 2003 at the Princess Hotel in Belize City, Belize. The course was geared towards mid-level personnel, para-biologists, para-taxonomists, management and co-management personnel, as well as environmental educators, representing management agencies and partners of Marine Protected Areas (MPA's), in particular those in transboundary zones within the MBRS region.

The course trained personnel to improve their scientific and technical knowledge relating to best management principles and thereby enable them to implement the Management Plans for their respective MPA's. This activity included both training and the development of a manual which has been published for dissemination throughout the region.

A total of 20 professionals, representing all 4 of the MBRS countries, were trained. It is expected that the trainees will conduct similar training courses in their respective countries, using the manual provided and thereby increasing the impact of this activity. The training was conducted by a regional expert in this subject matter.

4th Ordinary Regional Steering Committee Meeting
The 4th Ordinary Meeting of the Regional Steering Committee was held on January 7, 2003, in Guatemala City. Key items discussed included the formulation of a 10-year economic strategy for the MBRS Region by June 2004 as well as the difficulties encountered and progress made in the implementation of Annual Work Plan 2003-2004. Decisions were taken which would increase the efficiency of Project implementation. The final design of the Regional Data Communications Network and the Draft of the Synoptic Monitoring Manual were also presented to the RSC members.

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