Belize Conservation Projects

Community Baboon Sanctuary
Community Co-managed Park System
Five Blues National Park
Manatee Special Development Areas
Community Conservation Influenced Projects

Community Conservation has also
worked with the following projects in Belize:

Central American River Turtle Protection
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary


The Community Baboon Sanctuary

The Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) was an innovative solution to the conservation of private lands. The CBS has become a conservation model that has spawned a new wave of community conservation projects in Belize and internationally.

The CBS was the first community conservation project initiated by Dr. Rob Horwich and Dr. Jon Lyon who later formed Community Conservation. Created in 1985, the CBS links habitat protection for the endangered black howler monkey (locally called baboon) with community land utilization. Local protection of the black howler monkey (Alouetta pigra) and its habitat through encouraging a stewardship ethic in landowners was the main goal of this project. It involves the participation of 7 villages and over 120 landowners. Each landowner has signed a voluntary pledge to abide by a sanctuary generated land management plan.

In addition to the local protection of the howler, the Community Baboon Sanctuary has spread the interest in howler protection country-wide. The CBS donated howlers for a reintroduction into the Cockscomb Basin of Belize and also has contributed howlers for another smaller release in the Cayo District of Belize.

The sanctuary has encouraged a great deal of research on the howlers, the forest, the Central American river turtle, and the bird community. The howler reintroduction to Cockscomb was a culmination of the howler research.

While initially managed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS), the CBS has been managed since 2001 by a Women's Conservation Group. The CBS tourism and education programs center around a small natural history museum, Belize's first museum. A new education center was built in 2003. There are also locally owned bed and breakfast tourism and local guide services, and a restaurant built in 2003 is run by the Women's Conservation Group.

CBS's strongest success has been its influence on rural communities country-wide. International and national publicity of the CBS has stimulated both directly and indirectly, dozens of community-based conservation and ecotourism programs.

Community Conservation staff continued to advise the CBS project on expansion of tourism to other villages and the creation of a history/forest use museum in St Paul's Bank village. It currently helps the CBS and its international partners at Stocton College in Ponoma, New Jersey, who have redone the museum exhibits and are helping to raise funds for the CBS. Community Conservation, as a tax-exempt organization, is managing these funds. Their partners have also created a new website for the sanctuary,

Community Co-Managed Park System of Belize

In November of 1998 the United Nations Development Program awarded the Protected Area Conservation Trust (PACT) of Belize a $750,000, 3-year grant to aid in establishing a community co-managed park system. Community Conservation worked closely with PACT in developing the idea of community co-management and in formulating the grant proposal. PACT is an autonomous NGO, yet is funded through government action, receiving an exit fee paid by all visitors to Belize. These funds are specifically designated for conservation. Community Conservation personnel began working with PACT in early 1999 to assist in developing infrastructure and staff for four protected areas: Five Blues National Park, Freshwater National Park, Aguacaliente National Park and the Manatee Special Development Areas.

Taking Co-Management to a New Level - Peace Corps and Community Co-Management in Belize

In Spring, 2004, Community Conservation began taking its co-management vision to a new level by showing others how to do the work of empowering communities that we have been doing for twenty years. By teaching the process to others, we can multiply the effect of our efforts. By shifting some of our energies from working directly with the communities to this more efficient strategy, we can effect major change in a region or in the world.

We are beginning this work in Belize, a country with strong support for the co-management vision of government and individuals working together to protect areas and resources. After his most recent visit to Belize in March, Community Conservation Director Dr. Robert Horwich reported that the communities are enthusiastic, but their abilities are lacking. They need information and training. They might need help managing a bank account or collecting fees. They need to know how to strengthen their own organization by creating a management plan, running group meetings and raising funds. They need to know how to lay out a park. In effect, they need mentors to train them, but also to point them to people who can help them learn these skills. This support coordinator is the role Horwich played in 1985 when he helped create the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize, a sanctuary for howler monkeys.

Enter the Peace Corps

Environmental Program Manager of the Peace Corps, Matt Miller, has formalized a program to help conservation-minded Peace Corps Volunteers to become support coordinators for communities in Belize. The volunteers will help communities work with the government to create and maintain protected areas. As the community groups develop, the Peace Corps Volunteers will be replaced by village project coordinators. But the volunteers themselves need knowledge about how to be effective in this support role. During this visit Horwich participated in a Peace Corps training, presenting the lessons Community Conservation has learned in its first twenty years of projects around the world. The trainees learned what has and has not worked in other communities.

Horwich also ran a session on evaluation of community co-management projects. The volunteers learned techniques they can use to check the progress of the projects they have been assigned to support. The evaluation uses twenty-six benchmarks such as: Does the project involve a protected area? Is there a group working to manage the area? Does the group have an operations plan? Does it have bylaws? The volunteers answered these questions about their projects to get a sense of how far along the project is.

These projects are usually concerned with developing parks and other protected land areas. An example is the organization working on Five Blues Lake National Park in central Belize which was the first to sign an agreement with the Forestry Department in Belize. They have been managing the park for ten years. They have a lot of tenacity and interest, but they need a lot more training. Matt Miller training Peace Corps Volunteers After the workshop, Horwich and Miller took a five-day tour of the community projects in Belize. They talked to fifteen communities and non-governmental organizations, and updated our knowledge of what is happening in the country.

Conservation Johnny Appleseeds

Robert Horwich, Matt Miller, the Peace Corps volunteers and Community Conservation workers are sowing seeds of inspiration that conservation can be done by communities. In showing how individuals have inspired or supported communities and how communities have made a difference in all these projects, we hope to help others realize their potential in stimulating change. The focus is to empower communities to take care of their environment. If we do enough of this, the whole world will be taken care of by the communities who live there. That's the dream. Horwich hopes that by inspiring others to do what he does, the dream will be come reality.

Manatee Special Development Areas

The Manatee Special Development Areas project initiated by Community Conservation has led to the creation of a 170,000 acre Special Development Area (SDA) surrounding the village of Gales Point and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding the Southern lagoon. The SDA encompasses a wide range of habitats including cayes, ocean tidal areas, coastal beaches and mangrove forests, brackish lagoons, pine forests, broadleaf tropical rain forests, and rugged karst hill forests. The karst hills also have numerous caves, some containing Mayan artifacts. A community sanctuary at Ambergris Cay, modeled on CBS and established for the protection of sea turtle nesting, also merged with the Gales Point project.

With Community Conservation guidance, the Government of Belize created two Special Development Areas for the region as interim protected areas. Community Conservation volunteers were involved in the Gales Point community, stimulating the creation of the Gales Point Progressive Cooperative. In collaboration with Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology, they carried out a bio-diversity assessment, installed village sewage systems, planted viral resistant coconuts within the village and created a buoy system for manatee protection in the lagoons.

All research and village development projects encouraged active participation of villagers. Local people were involved in gathering data on tree phenology, hunting and fishing yields, monitoring and protecting sea turtle nests and creating vegetation and wildlife maps for use in a Geographic Information System. Sporadic funding discouraged building on the initial successes of the project. A recent community organization, however, has formed to take over the hawksbill turtle conservation program that began in 1993. Additional research on manatees is being carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with other organizations, including the Belizean government and the U.S Geological Survey.

Five Blues National Park
Publicity about the success of the CBS led residents of St. Margaret's Village to petition the Government of Belize in 1990 to create a protected area. This petition resulted in the establishment of Five Blues Lake National Park in 1991. Later, the local Association of Friends of Five Blues was formed. With the signing of an agreement by the Department of Forestry, and the Association, the 1720 hectare Five Blues Lake National Park became the first community co-managed protected area in Belize. Community Conservation volunteers helped the Friends of Five Blues Association to create a management plan and an education program for the park.

Community Conservation Influenced Projects -
The Community Baboon Sanctuary as a Motivating Model Project

When the Community Baboon Sanctuary began in 1985, it set forth a series of events-some serendipitous and others by design-which led to a gradual change in perception of Belize, especially on the part of communities country-wide. While the catalyzing effects of Community Conservation's actions were important, just as important were the steps communities, government agencies and NGOs took to further the direction of community-based conservation and ecotourism efforts.

Between 1985 and 1988, Community Conservation made great efforts to gain publicity for the Community Baboon Sanctuary since local residents had requested help in developing ecotourism. These efforts brought both national and international attention to the project. During those same years, the CBS was co-evolving with the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary under the administration of the Belize Audubon Society. While the CBS was learning more formal methods of park development, the Cockscomb was taking on a community-based element. All staff of Cockscomb including the Director, Ernesto Saqui, came from the nearby Maya Center.

In 1988, a seminar was held by the Belize Tourism Industry Association in Monkey River. The Belize Audubon Society participated along with Fallett Young, the Manager of the CBS. This introduced the Monkey River villagers first hand to the community effort . Monkey River activists began a program to move the government to create a protected area and a project began there in 1991. Subsequently, the Government of Belize has designated the area as a protected area. Currently, the Toledo Intitute for Development and Environment (TIDE), a Toledo based conservation organization, is working with the Nature Conservancy to manage the area.

At the same time, other communities became activated to create conservation/ecotourism programs. Community Conservation initiated a program noted above in Gales Point in 1991. A year earlier Greg Smith, using the CBS format as a model, coordinated landowners to create a community sanctuary for protection of sea turtle nesting beaches on Ambergris Caye. A volunteer program was established in which Belizean teachers patrolled the nesting beaches effectively reducing nest losses. With the initiation of the Gales Point Project, Greg began to work with the villagers in Gales Point to protect a hawksbill nesting beach. The program continues to the present day. Lee Wengryn, an American living in St. Margaret's Village worked with others from that community to move the Government of Belize to create Five Blues Lake National Park in their area. Meanwhile, in 1991 Jim and Marguerite Bevis began organizing villagers of Siete Millas around creating the Slate Creek Preserve in the Mayan Mountains.

By 1994, the Government of Belize held a National Conference on community ecotourism. What resulted was a video which featured the programs in Gales Point and St. Margaret's Village. Community Conservation then initiated the idea of a community-based ecotourism guide which was published in 1995 by the Belize Government and the Belize Enterprises for Sustainable Technology (BEST).

In 1989, Community Conservation initiated another proposal for a Biosphere in Toledo District which was to evolve in other directions in the distant future. The resulting proposal which was embraced by villagers of Crique Sarco, Barranco and Punta Gorda had no support from the Government at that time. However, its seeds were later picked up by others. The Nature Conservancy working with Toledo (TIDE) began a program of multiple ecosystems which included Monkey River and the Bay of Honduras. Using this proposal, they incorporated the Sapadilla Cayes in the project. Community Conservation also played a consulting and supporting role in the creation of the Toledo Ecotourism Association.

In 1997, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference working with the Kekchi Maya Council held a conference on co-management in the Toledo District. They used the Community Baboon Sanctuary as an example of co-management. At this time Community Conservation began investigating the possibility of a UN grant for Community co-management with the Government of Belize and the Protected areas Conservation trust (PACT). This was to come to fruition in 1999-2001.

In 1998, working with Judy Lumb, Community Conservation initiated a workshop for stakeholders of the Sarstoon-Temash National Park which had been created in 1994. A group composed of Dr. Rob Horwich, Judy Lumb, Jim Beveridge and Steve Peterson made an expedition to Barranco, Midway, Sunday Wood, Conejo, Temash Bar and Crique Sarco to invite and encourage villagers to come to the workshop. Over 12 NGOs as well as government agencies attended and addressed the audience. The workshop led to the formation of a community co-management group and eventually led to a United Nations grant to organize the communities to co-manage the National Park.

Community-co-management as modeled on the first agreement between the Association of Friends of Five Blues and the Forest Department led to over 13 similar agreements between 1996-2000. In 2003-2004, Matt Miller under the auspices of the Peace Corps and advice from Community Conservation, organized two workshops in Belize on park management and community co-management.


Central American River Turtle Protection

As part of the program of the Community Baboon Sanctuary and working with Dr, Rob Horwich of Communtity Conservation, John Polisar as a student at the University of Florida carried our a research project on the Central American river turtle ( Dermatemys mawii) locally called hickatee in 1989. Polisar, in a followup with the Government of Belize, led to the creation of new legislation for the protection of this economically valuable species.

In his work, Polisar influenced villagers of Freetown Sibun on the Sibun River who declared the nearby strip of river, the Community Hickatee Sanctuary. They received some help from the Philadelphia zoological society who had reared some hatchlings obtained from some confiscated adults they received. The project was later able to build an orientation center from a UNDP grant . By 2000 the Project became under the umbrella of the Sibun Watershed Association.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

During the initial creation of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, it co-evolved with the Community Baboon Sanctuary under the administration of the Belize Audubon Society in the early 1980s. In 1991, Community Conservation, with the Wildlife Conservation Society (NYZS) and Belize Audubon Society, began a program for the reintroduction of a population of howler monkeys into the reserve. Between 1992-1994, 15 groups for a total of 62 howlers were transferred into the Cockscomb basin. By 1997, a survey revealed a population of over 100 animals. In addition to recreating a new howler population for Cockscomb, Community Conservation also helped to write a guidebook for the reserve.