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Securing Belize’s National Protected Areas System and the last link for the Selva Maya

We are perilously close to losing the last forested connection between the magnificent Maya Mountains of Southern Belize and the rest of the 4 million hectare tri-national Selva Maya of Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. Together they comprise the largest and most important forest in Mesoamerica, of critical importance to biodiversity, clean air and water, stable soils, drought and flood control for hundreds of thousands of people.

Photo by Tony Rath

Photo by Tony Rath

These vast blocks of forest are connected by a single thread of remaining forest, the Maya Forest Corridor in Central Belize. With a rate of deforestation approximately four times the national average, this forested corridor has been reduced over the past decade by over 65%.

Through 10 years of research, GWC and our partners have identified 50,000 acres that comprise the minimum for a viable corridor connection. Of this total, 10,000 acres are protected by private landowners, non-governmental organizations and government to help secure the corridor.

The other 40,000 acres remain privately owned, and GWC and our partners are now working to acquire these lands, which include important wetlands for the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii). Once acquired, the land will be placed into trust and the forest and wildlife protected in perpetuity for the people of Belize. There has never been a more critical moment than now to secure this corridor. If we don’t succeed, we will suffer a permanent loss of biodiversity and a sharp increase in regional threat to the survival of the iconic Jaguar, the Central American River Turtle, the Endangered Baird’s Tapir, and a diversity of bird species.

Jaguar photo by Jamen Percy

Jaguar photo by Jamen Percy

This project has been implemented as a coalition that currently consists of three government departments/units: Forest Department, Fisheries Department and the National Biodiversity Office; 10 local and international non-governmental organizations: Wildlife Conservation Society, The Belize Zoo, Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, Community Baboon Sanctuary, Belize Audubon, Programme for Belize, World Wildlife Fund, Panthera, Global Wildlife Conservation; the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute; and Vista Real Estate.

This project was made possible by the support of: National Philanthropic Trust, Rainforest Trust, International Conservation Fund of Canada, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Turtle Survival Alliance and others.