The way we humans use our natural resources can function as mechanisms to facilitate ecological restoration in degraded ecosystems. As part of a fishery reform effort at the national level, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working with fishing communities in Belize on a pioneering sustainable seaweed aquaculture project that provides solutions to both people and nature. Seaweed farming and its restorative functions have provided an alternate and complementary source of income, new employment, recovery of local fisheries, and returned the colors of marine life to the Caribbean coast.
Seaweed has become the link between conservation and improved local income. On the one hand, seaweed has a growing market that goes from cosmetics to consumption, and the demand for it only grows. On the other hand, when seaweed is farmed, it generates habitats for all types of marine life -from invertebrates to fish-creating an environment they can feed off and reproduce. This new alternative for conservation and production enables the regeneration of fisheries stocks because it provides a diversified economy for the local population without overexploiting its natural resources.
Belizean fisherman Cleveland Davis describes a conversation he had with TNC team members in which he pointed out that in the past it was possible to get 100 pounds of fish in a single day’s work. “Today, that is no longer possible,” he lamented, “although now it’s not necessary; we have diverse work opportunities.” His colleague Luis Godfrey highlights the solution that reaffirmed their role as farmers of the sea: “Now we have a sustainable and underwater farm,” referring to the long ropes that stretch across the surface of the Caribbean waters.
Seaweed farming and aquaculture restoration are part of TNC’s effort to implement a shared conservation agenda. These efforts help restore marine life and meet our goals to “Protect Land and Water” and contribute to “Providing Food and Water Sustainably” since they conserve a valuable food source for the benefit of vast populations. Seaweed aquaculture can help “Combat Climate Change” by reducing carbon dioxide and oxygenating waterways, and thereby locally mitigating the effects of ocean acidification.
Seaweed aquaculture on the Belizean coast is a venture that shows how the oceans’ problems can be solved with nature-based solutions. It is in the restoration of natural resources and their sustainable use that lies the key to making conservation of the planet an engine for development.