Environment in Belize Essay

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Belize is located on the eastern coast of Central America, bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Covering 22,806 square kilometers (8,805 square miles), Belize is the second smallest nation in Central America and the only one without a Pacific coastline. Belize is also the only English-speaking country in Central America, and with approximately 291,800 people, the least densely populated. Known as “British Honduras” until 1973, Belize was a British colony for more than a century before gaining independence on September 21, 1981.

Belize’s landscape is marked by diverse topography. The northern region is primarily tableland covered by scrub vegetation and hardwood tropical forest. A narrow coastal plain, much of it covered with mangrove swamp, stretches along the Caribbean coast. Inland, the Maya Mountains, Cockscomb Range, and the Mountain Pine Ridge form the backbone of the southern half of the country, the highest point being Doyle’s Delight at 1,124 meters (3,688 feet) above sea level. This region is covered primarily by tropical rain forest. Belize’s coast is bordered by the second longest coral reef system in the world, spanning approximately 322 kilometers (200 miles) with over 450 islets and cays.

Belize is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries with over 2,894 species of plants and 877 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Belize is home to more jaguars than any other Central American country and hosts the world’s only reserve for these felines, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve.

The livelihoods of many Belizeans are tied to the land. Sugar and citrus fruits are Belize’s main sources of export revenue, while the banana industry is the country’s largest employer. Until the 1950s, timber dominated the economy. Timber was selectively logged, leaving much of the canopy intact, and until recently much of the country had little road access and relatively light development. As a result, nearly 75 percent of Belize is still under forest cover, although the transfer of land from forest to agriculture continues to accelerate.

The Belizean government and citizens have largely embraced environmental conservation for protecting the landscape and attracting tourism and foreign investment. The creation of the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment and the passage of major environmental legislation, including the Belize Environmental Protection Act of 1992, have further strengthened this rhetoric of conservation. Consequently, 42 percent of Belize is under a form of legal protection, the greatest proportion of any country in the western hemisphere.

However, these laws are limited by a lack of financial support. In response, the government has developed partnerships with nonprofit environmental groups, for-profit groups, and local community associations in order to support the institution and enforcement of these protections. Recently, these conservation efforts have been criticized as being “ecocolonialist,” favoring the management of the environment at the expense of the economic and cultural needs of the Belizean people. The greatest challenge in Belize remains balancing the needs of the human population with conservation programs.


  1. Tom Barry, Inside Belize (Resource Center Press, 1995); Government of Belize website, www.gov.bz (cited May 2006);
  2. Richard B. Primack, David Bray, Hugo A. Galletti, and Ismael Ponciano, , Timber, Tourists, and Temples: Conservation and Development in the Maya Forest of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico (Island Press, 1998);
  3. Alan Rabinowitz, Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the World’s First Jaguar Preserve (Island Press, 2000);
  4. Anne Sutherland, The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins (Bergin and Garvey, 1998);
  5. P.A.B. Thomson, Belize: A Concise History (Macmillian Caribbean, 2004).

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