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News for the Period January 2004 to December 2004

Regional Ministerial Meeting for Cooperation on Coastal and Marine Resource Management
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project (MBRS) reached a milestone in the pursuit of its policy objectives by successfully convening the "1st Ministerial Meeting for Cooperation in the Gulf of Honduras" from the 6th to the 8th of December, 2004, in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize. At this groundbreaking event, the Governments of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras established ten common agreements in areas of mutual interest for mainly focused on the sustainable use of fisheries, tourism and transboundary protected areas in the Gulf of Honduras geographic area.

The MBRS Project began the process of regional policy harmonization among Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala with the consolidation of the Southern Transboundary Commission in 2002. Subsequently, it has convened four meetings to identify regional issues and translate them into regional regulations. Their efforts resulted in the establishment, in the year 2003, of a Policy Working Group (PWG) comprising the Legal Advisers of the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment, Tourism Institutes and Fisheries Departments from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. This group, under the coordination of the Environmental Law Program of the IUCN-World Conservation Union(UICN-ORMA), took on the task of turning the recommendations of the Southern Transboundary Parks Commission into policies that were in agreement with national and international legislation.

In July 2003, the Council of Ministers of the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) adopted the policy outlined in the document entitled "Sustainable Development of Fisheries, Tourism and Transboundary Marine Protected Areas in the MBRS". That document was the basis for the development of standards and regulations to strengthen and implement these policies which were endorsed by the CCAD Council of Ministers.

One of the most important agreements of the "1st Ministerial Meeting for Cooperation in the Gulf of Honduras" held in December 2004 aims to guarantee long term economic prosperity for future generations of fishermen, through the establishment of harmonized closed seasons for lobster, queen conch and sea turtles. Also addressed in these agreements are the physical planning, conservation and development of heavily used tourist areas in the MBRS region. This includes the promotion of Marine Protected Areas that contribute to the stabilization and protection of the coastal landscapes and maintain the marine coastal water quality. The harmonization of policies related to the use and dimensions of gillnets, the use of mooring buoys, dive equipment, carrying capacity, anchoring and legal aspects for service providers was also achieved by the ministers. Another important step agreed upon was the establishment of a 90-day deadline for the introduction of the above mentioned provisions in the respective national legislations through the normal legal processes.

In order to achieve an official endorsement of these regulations, the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries were invited to this "1st Ministerial Meeting for Cooperation in the Gulf of Honduras". Other noteworthy participants were Ambassadors of the United States of America, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico in Belize, the Directors and Legal Advisers of the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment, Tourism Institutes and the Fisheries Administrations were also present. Local authorities, such as Governors, Mayors and representatives of naval bases were present. View the Agreements on Common Enforcements in the MBRS Geographical Area (8 p. 749KB) in pdf.

First Mesoamerican Fishermen's Congress
In a landmark event, more than 120 fishermen, governmental representatives and fisheries researchers from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico will convene for the First Mesoamerican Fishermen Congress. This event will be held in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico, from the 23rd to 26th of November.

This unprecedented Congress will provide a much needed forum for discussions on topics such as:
1. Cooperatives and organization.
2. Alternative economic activities for fishers.
3. Conservation and management of fisheries especially lobster, snapper and conch.
4. Regulation, Fisheries and the Environment.

The discussion of these topics will result in agreements concerning appropriate practices to be used in the region for the capture and commercialization of species such as lobster, snapper, conch and other species. In short, the foundation needed for the development of fisheries in the MBRS region for the coming years will be discussed and established.

A very important feature of this Congress will be the establishment of capacity-building mechanisms to improve the management of the participating organizations and their ability to implement fisheries policies in the face of the challenges which exist.

One of these challenges is to agree on the harmonization of regional regulations for the use of coastal resources. In the near future, the MBRS countries will be adopting some of these regulations as well as other international conventions to which they are already signatories and which directly impact fishers.

This first opportunity for dialogue amongst fishers, authorities and researchers, which will establish strategic directions for fisheries development in the MBRS region, is being promoted and sponsored by the Project for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems (MBRS), The Mesoamerican Reef Alliance (ICRAN-MAR) and the Comisión de Áreas Protegidas de Yucatán (CONANP).

MBRS Strengthens Relations between the Media and the Environmental Sector
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project (MBRS) aims to promote the exchange of information among environmental medias, the journalism networks and the Ministries of Environment within the Mesoamerican region. To this end, the MBRS Project is continuously supports the workshops for environmental journalists from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, whose focus is on the sustainability of coastal and marine resources.

Following an analysis of the role of environmental medias during the regional workshop held in Honduras in August 2002, the MBRS Project seeks to establish a forum for governmental and non-governmental media agencies, to work on the relation between the population and the coastal and marine environment.

For this reason, workshops are designed with the objective of establishing dynamic communication channels among the MBRS Project, the Ministries of environment and the journalists. This relationship should guarantee the media’s access to credible, useful, and pertinent information on coastal and marine issues. The final objective is to improve the understanding and increase the impact of sustainable development activities.

One of the first national workshops was carried out from the 24th to 26th of September 2004 in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras where 30 environmental journalists were trained. It is important to say that some journalists from the region, formerly trained in last year’s regional workshop, are already producing press releases with a regional or transboundary focus.

The regional and national workshops for journalists have been a breeding ground where many journalists have acquired new tools and information. The journalists believe that being part of a network provides them with support and enables them to participate in cutting-edge initiatives in the region, such as the MBRS Project, which is gradually changing the outlook on news relating to coastal and marine issues.

The MBRS Project Trains Biologists in the Use of a Regional Database
Biologists in the countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are receiving training in the use of a regional database starting in May of this year. This database, the Regional Environmental Information System (REIS), was developed to manage information related to the health of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS).

The first training courses were held in Belize City from May 11th to 14th, and on May 21st, at WorldCom Technologies. The first courses in Guatemala and Honduras were held from May 24th to May 28th. Training in Guatemala continued from July 18th to 23rd. Most recently, the first training courses were held in Mexico at the Universidad de Quintana Roo, from September 6th to September 8th, 2004.

The participants selected are those who are carrying out the data collection under the regional environmental monitoring program, which was launched last year by the Project and its partners from the participating countries of the MBRS region. Upon completion of this training, the participants are able to manage their data using the REIS. Courses were held from October 21 to 23 in Chetumal Mexico. Additional courses will be held in January in Honduras.

The REIS is being implemented by the MBRS Project and its partners in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. The successful implementation of this monitoring program and database is an achievement of the MBRS regional strategy to unite the efforts of key players from these countries in improving the management of these share marine resources.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project is a collaborative initiative being executed by the governments of these four countries for the conservation and sustainable use of the Mesoamerican reef resources. The Project has as one of its key objectives to provide decision makers and resources users with the information they require to better manage the reef ecosystems and the implementation of this regional database is a major step towards achieving that objective.

Training in Monitoring Fish Aggregations
From August 30th to September 3rd of 2004, 16 participants from Honduras and Belize received training on the Monitoring of Reef Fish Aggregation Sites, at the Marine Research Station on Glover's Reef Marine Reserve in Belize. Officers from the Fisheries Department of Belize, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and The Nature Conservancy taught the course, which focused primarily on practical application.

This training will strengthen the team of professionals in Honduras to enable them to initiate monitoring activities at their aggregation sites. In the case of Belize, where monitoring is already taking place, it will strengthen the experience of younger professionals in the monitoring team.

Through these activities, it is intended that the MBRS countries would promote the conservation of aggregation sites and establish region-wide regulations in those sites identified as priority areas, since it has been scientifically demonstrated that the majority of these fish species migrate between the countries which comprise the MBRS.

3rd Meeting of the MBRS Southern Transboundary Park Commission
On July 13, 14, and 15 of July, 2004, the 3rd Meeting of the MBRS Southern Transboundary Commission and the Ordinary Assembly of the Tri-National Alliance of the Gulf of Honduras was held in Guatemala City. The meeting was attended by members of the Po.licy Working Group which is comprised of the Legal Advisors of the Ministries of the Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Also present were Legal Advisors of the fisheries and tourism sectors of these three countries, representatives of the TRIGOH member organizations, the mayors of Omoa and Puerto Cortez, representatives of the municipalities of Livingston and Puerto Barrios, and the MBRS National Coordinators.

The objective of this meeting was to identify mechanisms for the implementation of transboundary policies in the areas of tourism, fisheries and marine protected areas, which have been endorsed by the CCAD Council of Ministers. During the meeting, working groups were formed which prioritized those policies which can most feasibly be implemented in the short term, producing, at the end of their discussions, a proposed Implementation Plan.

The next steps will focus on the drafting of standards and regulations that implement the policies, so that the respective governments can make them official through decrees, standards, resolutions and other legal instruments. This will enable the establishment of regionally harmonized regulations in those sectors which require multilateral and regional cooperation to achieve sustainable management of the shared resources.

Training in sampling methods for the monitoring of marine pollution
As part of the Synoptic Monitoring Program (SMP) of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems (MBRS) Project, training courses were held in the sampling methods for monitoring of marine pollution in the MBRS region. These courses were carried out, in May of 2004, in the MBRS member countries, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

The MBRS Project is an initiative of the member countries that seeks to enhance protection and sustainable use of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest of the western hemisphere. MBRS has established a monitoring program that helps marine resources administrators in decision-making, directed to preserve the health of the reef.

Aspects covered in this course included sampling protocols for pollutants in water, sediments and organisms, the preservation of the samples for subsequent analysis and the shipment of samples to certified laboratories. The monitored pollutants include pesticides of agricultural origin concentration in sediments and animals, biological indicators of stress, water quality indicators, and the presence of coliform bacteria.

This training was focused on support agencies personnel in each of the MBRS countries that participate in the monitoring program. These in-country support agencies include universities, research centres, and government and non-governmental organizations in the coast.

Parallel to this training, the launching of the MBRS region pollution monitoring was carried out. The results from this monitoring campaign will be part of the environmental base line, providing an indication of the health of the reef. Pollution monitoring results will also be incorporated in the Regional Environmental Information System, REIS.

The training was carried out by specialists of the region, and was coordinated by MBRS' Environmental Monitoring Specialist. National Monitoring Coordinators were in charge of the local coordination in the countries.

The Infusion of Coastal and Marine Themes into Education Curricula
The MBRS Project continues to promote the incorporation of coastal and marine themes into the national education curricula of all four MBRS countries. Building upon widespread teacher training activities held last year, during which the Primary and Secondary School Teacher's Guides were introduced, the MBRS is continuing to disseminate these Teachers Guides to a greater number of teachers to support teacher training activities to enable teachers to implement the activities described in these Guides.

The MBRS Project, from August 17th to the 19th, supported the delivery of a series of Coastal Teacher Training Workshops entitled "Incorporating the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Themes into the National Primary Curriculum". The training courses were organized by the Belize Fishermen Cooperative Association (BFCA) and the UNDP-GEF COMPACT Project, in association with the Ministry of Education's Quality Assurance & Development Services (QADS) Unit. These four workshops, which are supported by a COMPACT grant to the BFCA, were delivered in Placencia Village (August 17th), Punta Gorda Town (August 18th), Sarteneja Village (August 18th) and Belize City (August 19th). The goal of the COMPACT grant is to support community-based educational interventions as an integral part of BFCA's Capacity-Building for Self-Sustainability programme.

The MBRS Project in collaboration with Ministries of Education from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, developed the Primary and Secondary School Teachers' Guides which were used as a basis for the course instruction. These guides were first presented to a regional workshop in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in July of 2003, where 60 primary and secondary teachers were trained as trainers. Subsequently, a second workshop was jointly delivered in December 2003 by the MBRS Project and the Ministry of Education in Belize where 55 primary and secondary teachers were trained as trainers. Selected teachers from the Ministry of Education of Belize, already trained with the MBRS Project, conducted the series of Coastal Teacher Training Workshops.

This series of workshops is an important initiative that will support the Ministry of Education in continuing to integrate the MBRS Thematic Areas into the National Curriculum. It is also an important part of BFCA's goal of sharing coastal educational material throughout the country at local communities where BFCA's members reside.

The long-term objective of the MBRS Project's environmental education activities is to prepare students for their future roles as responsible decision makers and guardians of our coastal and marine resources.

MBRS Offers Eco-Tourism Training for Fishers
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Project (MBRS) contracted the Green Reef Environmental Institute and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) to conduct eco-tourism training courses for communities of the MBRS transboundary areas during the summer of 2004. The primary purpose of this regional training effort was to provide fishers of the MBRS region with new skills in alternative livelihoods in order to reduce economic pressure on the fisheries resources of the region. Commencing on May 31, 2004 and concluding on August 12, 2004, training courses were offered in a variety of eco-tourism related skills, including natural history tour guiding, kayaking, snorkeling, sports diving and fly-fishing.

MBRS, together with Green Reef Environmental Institute, conducted several training courses in San Pedro, Belize with a total of 54 participants from the MBRS Northern Transboundary Area of Belize and Mexico. The first 2 training courses were held within the week of May 31 to June 5, 2004 where a total of 12 Mexicans and 15 Belizeans acquired skills in snorkeling and kayaking as well as diving in open water. The third training course was held from June 7 to 11, 2004 where 13 participants, 7 Belizeans and 6 Mexicans, received training in fly-fishing. The final training course targeting the communities of the Northern Transboundary Area was held from June 14 to 19, 2004 where 8 Belizean and 6 Mexican participants were taught skills in natural history tour guiding.

In a parallel effort, MBRS joined forces with the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment (TIDE) to conduct similar eco-tourism training courses in Punta Gorda Town, Belize for fishers of the MBRS Southern Transboundary Area of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The first course taught participants basic skills in natural history, focusing on bird and plant identification. The course, which ran from June 7 to 11, 2004, began in the classroom, but led the participants to various areas in Toledo rich in plant and bird life including Paynes Creek National Park, Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Blue Creek and Aguacate. The 17 participants, which included 5 Guatemalans, 5 Hondurans and 7 Belizeans, learned about ecosystem functions as well as techniques for introducing tourists to the birds and plants of the MBRS region.

Two diving courses were held. The first was conducted from June 28 to July 6, 2004 in English for participants from Belize. The second course was conducted n Spanish from July 6 to 16, 2004, for participants from Guatemala and Honduras. Individual English and Spanish kayaking and snorkeling courses were also conducted. The first was held from July 26 to 30, 2004 for Belizean participants, while the second was held from August 9 to 12, 2004 for participants from Honduras and Guatemala. Finally, a fly-fishing course was held from August 2 to 6, 2004 with participants from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.

The common objective of all these courses is to improve the capacity of marine and coastal communities in the MBRS region through training in alternative livelihoods. The MBRS Project seeks to reduce stress on the reef by providing alternatives to local fisher folks through increased income from eco-tourism activities as well as increased awareness of the importance of conservation.

MBRS Project embarks on Activities for Project Year IV
On June 9 and 10, 2004, the MBRS Project together with its regional colleagues discussed and finalized a program of activities for its 4th Project Year at the 4th Ordinary Meeting of the MBRS Technical Working Groups held at the Princess Hotel, Belize City, Belize. A total of 50 participants from the four MBRS Countries spent two days discussing the achievements of the past year and developing the Annual Work Plan and Budget for Project Year IV, which runs from July 2004 to June 2005. After the meeting, the MBRS Project staff finalized the Annual Work Plan and Budget based on the discussions during the meeting to produce a final draft to be presented for approval to the Regional Steering Committee.

The day following the TWG Meetings, the participants had a unique opportunity to enjoy Belize's natural beauty, taking advantage of an Inland Tour of the Cedar Cabins Botanical Trails and a Marine Tour of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley.

The 6th Ordinary Meeting of the Regional Steering Committee was held at the end of June 2004 in Belize City, Belize to discuss and approve the Annual Work Plan and Budget for Project Year IV. This 4th Annual Work Plan describes the activities to be carried out during the period July 2004 to June 2005. During the 2002-2003 fiscal year, an accelerated rate of execution was adopted and has been maintained, in an effort to minimize the effects of the delay in the Declaration of Effectiveness of the Project. Even though the Project will continue investments in activities that are actually processes initiated during previous years, several new investments will be included in response to the recommendations of the Mid-Term Review, as well as investments in other activities with tangible outputs in the short term.

The activities to be carried out during Project Year 4 includes, among others, the monitoring of Marine Protected Areas effectiveness, continuation of the Synoptic Monitoring Program, data processing using the Regional Environmental Information System, additional training in alternative livelihoods, a fisher-folk congress, Cruise Ship Policy development, the continuation of the awareness campaign including radio programs for children, beach clean-up campaigns, etc. Also, under Regional Coordination, investments will be made on a transboundary cooperation meeting, policy formulation, the consultative group, and the preparation of the Tulum + 8 Symposium. This work plan will have a particular emphasis on policy formulation, as a follow-up to the broad policy framework developed during Project Year 3.

The activities proposed for Project Year 4 are consistent with the objectives and goals of the Project, as well as with the recommendations of the Mid-Term Review conducted in March 2004. They are representative of the high level of dynamism that characterizes the MBRS Project and are responsive to the adaptive management that this Project demands.

Innovative Park Rangers Training Course
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems region (MBRS) includes more than 60 officially declared Marine Protected Areas (MPA's). Nevertheless, different analyses indicate that many of those MPA's have few parks rangers with technical knowledge on the principles of MPA management and other skills necessary to perform the tasks described in the parks' management plans.

A park ranger's job involves site protection, environmental monitoring, protection of local fauna and fisheries from illegal fishing and poaching, education of the community about natural resource management and acting as a liaison between the authorities and stakeholders.

In response to the need for training, the MBRS Project, in coordination with the Regional Environmental Program for Central American (PROARCA), has organized a training course for park rangers. The topics to be covered in the course include the importance of MPAs, ecology of coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as skills training in navigation, maintenance of marine equipment, first aid, environmental education, law enforcement and administration. 24 park rangers from MPAs throughout the Mesoamerican region will attend this training course, which will be held from May 10 to 14 at the Princess Hotel in Belize City. The training course will include practical and theoretical concepts and a field trip to the Hol Chan and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserves.

The partnership between MBRS and PROARCA is a joint effort to support our Marine Parks and protect the cultural heritage in Mesoamerica by helping rangers to improve their skills.

Working Meeting on Monitoring the Effectiveness of Marine Protected Area Management
From February 23rd to 25th, 2004, the MBRS Project, in coordination with the PROARCA Program, held a Working Meeting in Guatemala City to discuss Monitoring the Effectiveness of Marine Protected Area (MPA) Management . In this meeting, the following topics were discussed:
• Methodologies that have already been adopted by some countries.
• Personnel capable of measuring all the proposed indicators.
• The appropriate use of a methodology that integrates
   Administrative, Biophysical and Socioeconomic factors.

Key participants at this Working Meeting were the Directors of the 16 priority MPAs of the MBRS region, Head of Departments of the government offices in charge of MPAs from the 4 MBRS countries, the MBRS National Coordinators, and experts who have experience with various methodologies. A total of 43 persons participated representing Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

The principal goal of this meeting was to identify a methodology that integrates those indicators which can most feasibly be measured, with national indicators, already in use by particular countries, which can be applied at the regional level. The discussion was based on the following sources: Recommendations on a Methodology for Monitoring the Effectiveness of MPA Management, which has been published by the MBRS Project, the Score Card to Assess Progress in Achieving Management Effectiveness Goals for Marine Protected Areas, and the methodologies designed by PROARCA.

It is expected that as a result of this joint effort, a document will be produced which offers a hybrid methodology, and which includes step-by-step guidelines, and tables detailing monitoring indicators, frequency, and the agency responsible for their implementation. This should accomplish the standardization of a minimal protocol to measure the effectiveness of MPA management, especially for those MPAs in the transboundary areas with a high level of connectivity within the MBRS region.

MBRS Launches the Regional Environmental Information System
The MBRS Project is implementing the Regional Environmental Information System, a database for the management and analysis of the data collected through its Synoptic Monitoring Program. To launch this regional database, the MBRS Project conducted a training course entitled "Training of Trainers in the Use of the Regional Environmental Information System" in which 24 participants from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico learned how to use this database to enter and manipulate data. The course was held at the computer labs of Worldcom Technologies in Belize City, Belize from February 23rd to 28th, 2004.

Subsequent to the training, all participants in this training course will assist in delivering a "National Training Course in the Use of the Regional Environmental Information System" in their respective home countries, in order to train a greater number of database users.

The users being trained are the biologists from each country who are participating in the Project's recently established regional Synoptic Monitoring Program as well as representatives from partner agencies who are providing information technology support to the Project. Through this regional monitoring program, information is being collected on coral reef ecology, mangrove and seagrass ecology, marine pollution and water quality, and physical oceanography from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands of Honduras, encompassing the countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

The database will continue to grow in scope as modules for the management of data relating to the monitoring of socio-economic factors, fish aggregation sites, and management effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas are added in the near future.

The implementation of these regional monitoring programs and the Regional Environmental Information System database are critical elements in the Project's overall strategy to improve the quantity and quality of scientific and socio-economic information relating to the health and use of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems, which it seeks to conserve. By collecting sound information throughout the MBRS region and producing analytical results regarding its health and management, the Project will be able to provide policy and decision-makers, resource users, and the general public with the information they need to improve management of and appreciation for this globally recognized World Heritage Site.

Construction of Multi-purpose Centers in Transboundary Parks
On January 9, 2004, the MBRS Project, the Government of Guatemala, and FUNDAECO, inaugurated the Rio Sarstun Multi-purpose Center within the Rio Sarstun Multiple Use Area of Guatemala. This is the second such Multi-purpose Center established through the efforts of the MBRS Project in coordination with the park managers and national governments.

On December 10, 2003, the first Multi-purpose Center was inaugurated at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park by the MBRS Project and the Government of Belize. The MBRS Project is supporting the construction of a total of 5 such centers within transboundary marine protected areas in the MBRS Region. The three remaining centers are being constructed at Arrecifes de Xcalak National Park in Mexico, where construction began in December 2003, the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve in Belize, and the Utila Turtle Harbor Marine Reserve and Wildlife Refuge in Honduras.

The MBRS Project embarked on this infrastructure development in January 2003, when an Architect was contracted for the design and supervision of building construction. During the month of February 2003, site visits were conducted to the MPA's specified, in order that the Architect could obtain a clear picture of the conditions of each area and be able to produce an environmentally approriate design, which would be the same for all 5 buildings. Construction of the first center began shortly thereafter.

Each center has an administrative office, a visitor center, rooms for park rangers, a room for special visitors, a warehouse, bathrooms and showers. These centers will enable improved implementation of the Management Plans, primarily by strengthening the education and public use programs, since they will provide adequate facilities for visitors, researchers, and storage of supplies and equipment. The provision of these Multi-purpose Centers is part of the Project's overall program to improve management within MPA's of the MBRS region.

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