New marine protected area to safeguard world's largest fish

July 17, 2003 (Washington, DC) Conservation International announced today the signing of an agreement to create a new marine protected area in Southern Belize, which will help to protect the world's only predictable gathering site of the whale shark, the planet's largest fish.

The 3,360-acre (1,360ha) marine protected area includes the water surrounding Little Water Caye, a tiny five-acre island 18 miles off Belize's southeastern coast. The island will house a marine research station and ranger headquarters, and will serve as the management base for surrounding marine protected areas, including the nearby Gladden Spit Marine Reserve and the Laughing Bird Caye World Heritage Site.

"In terms of biodiversity, this area is one of the greatest crown jewels in the Mesoamerica barrier reef, the second largest coral reef on the planet," said Dr. Sylvia Earle, Executive Director of Conservation International's Global Marine Program. "As we hear stories about the precipitous declines of fish populations all around the world, it becomes even more critical to protect these unique places."

The majority share of the island was purchased for Friends of Nature, a Belizean non-governmental organization comprised of five local communities. They will own and manage the majority of Little Water Caye. The minority share of the island will remain in the hands of a private owner who has agreed to prevent the development of Little Water Caye.

The purchase of the island by Friends of Nature was made possible through grants provided by Conservation International's Global Conservation Fund, which provided $222,000, and the Oak Foundation, which provided an additional $75,000.

"The local communities that founded Friends of Nature were the first to discover the rare whale sharks that congregate in the area and became determined to do something to protect them," said Costas Christ, Senior Director of Conservation International's Ecotourism Program. "

Contact: Brad Phillips
Conservation International

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