Mangroves are one of the most highly-valued natural resources in the world — and yet, they are under threat from international pressures to develop coastal areas. Fortunately, Belize’s conservation efforts and burgeoning ecotourism industry are setting a global standard for living sustainably in harmony with these precious ecosystems.
Quiet and tangled, mangroves line Belize’s coastline in green tufts knitted together in leafy knots. These unique trees create nurseries for hundreds of wildlife species from their treetops down to their submerged roots. As safe harbors for spawning sea life, mangroves play a significant role in the world’s economy.
The mangrove’s standout feature is its ability to filter seawater through a complex system of roots. All three species of mangrove — red, black, and the majestic white mangrove — are able to survive in brackish water; they either avoid the intake of salt through their evolutionary filters, or as in the case of white mangroves, they metabolize salt, expelling it through their leaves. Preventing dirt and soil from running off into the ocean, the root system acts as a silty catchall, fostering a nutrient-rich home for sea creatures such as crustaceans, rays, manatees, and Belize’s many shark species. Meanwhile, the crystal-clear outlying waters are maintained in their pure, nutrient-poor state by the same root system — granting optimal conditions for coral reefs to thrive.
A diverse collection of wildlife makes its home in the branches above. Iguanas laze in the branches while an array of birds sound their calls. Many of these coastal environments are protected in Belize, and organizations such as Green Reef based in Ambergris Caye work to protect the areas, educating locals and visitors about their ecological value. Green Reef manages Rosario Caye, an island with flourishing mangrove trees where birdwatchers can catch a glimpse of blue herons, reddish egrets and many other coastal birds.
Exploring Mangrove Habitats
Adventurous travelers will find similar scenery in the Temash/Sarstoon National Park at the southern tip of Belize. At the mouths of the Temash and Sarstoon rivers, manatees graze in beds of seagrass alongside the tall, thin trunks of the white mangroves. Guides can be found through TIDE Tours, an ecotourism organization based in Belize’s southernmost city, Punta Gorda.
Eco-Awareness & Conservation
Belizeans are passionate about protecting the natural beauty and indigenous resources of their country. Eager to share the best of their country with travelers, Belizeans are taking proactive steps to instill eco-awareness in their nation’s youth. Every year, Punta Gorda hosts an annual Youth Conservation Competition in which students from all over the country compete for scholarships with presentations, skits, speeches, and songs in praise of the NGOs in their local communities working to preserve the ecological wealth.
Singing original songs about the rainforest and performing monologues dressed as mangrove trees, the kids learn to take pride in protecting the environment over the course of a boisterous and enlightening night.
Attending an event such as this acquaints the visiting traveler with the unique Belizean culture while emphasizing the importance Belizeans place on sustainable enjoyment of the country’s natural resources.
Even if they’re laid-back and fun-loving about pretty much everything else, Belizeans take very seriously the protection of their natural sites and lush biodiversity. And consequently, Belize enjoys a reputation as one of the best places in the world to immerse in pristine natural environments.
Leading by Example
Luxury eco-resorts such as Zophora, Amble’s private island destination being sustainably developed on Long Caye, are forging a path for today’s most discerning travelers to explore Belize in style while keeping their travel footprints virtually invisible.
The ingeniously-designed homes and rooms nestled among the mangroves will allow guests the rare opportunity to intimately connect with their environment while enjoying Zophora’s comfortable amenities. Amble Resorts hopes other developers will follow suit, cultivating a commitment to sustainable travel among Belize’s hoteliers and resorts that does justice to the commitment Belize’s people have made to environmental responsibility.
The intrinsic and aesthetic value of Belize’s mangroves is apparent to locals and travelers, but these trees also contribute significantly to the global economy.
It is within the shelter of the mangroves that much of the world’s seafood is born; in coastal areas where mangroves are present, damage from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis is greatly diminished; island communities in Belize use the tall trunks of white mangroves as crossbeams and posts for thatched-roof buildings, masts for sails and lumber for construction. And many of Belize’s coastal communities support initiatives that promote the sustainable harvest and maintenance of these trees.
While diving deep into the Great Blue Hole or snorkeling the colorful coral reefs off the cayes, you’ll likely be more captivated by the majestic sea turtles, rainbow of fish species, and delicious-looking lobsters than the mangroves that have nurtured their existence. The greatest virtue of international travel is the opportunity it provides to better understand our relationship with nature, especially in pristine environments such as those you’ll discover off the coast of Belize. Amble’s vision of sustainable and luxurious travel exists in collaboration with local communities and conservation organizations, together promoting the legacy of natural beauty that makes Belize truly unforgettable.