Conservation has been CSFI’s main mission for more than 30 years. Over the past three decades, CSFI has gained a significant knowledge in the management of protected areas, and what it entails. We focus our work on patrol and law-enforcement, however we never neglect to create a framework of trust with local communities. We are always neutral; we never take sides but always respect the Laws of Belize. Last but not least, we love to share what we do and believe in, be it with school children or foreign visitors.
The Shipstern Conservation & Management Area (formerly known as Shipstern Nature Reserve) was long CSFI’s main project, ever since 1989. It is an area of outstanding beauty that has known almost no disturbance since its creation. The reserve was twice enlarged thanks to the acquisition of foreign-owned parcels of land. Shipstern now protects approximately 11’000 hectares of natural habitats, some of which unique to Belize.
The North-eastern Biological Corridor was originally conceived in the late 1997, within the framework of a national project looking at creating corridors of nature to link the country’s protected areas. After a period of dormancy, the project was revived in 2015, in partnership with the Government of Belize and private landowners. After three years of intensive work, the Corridor became reality when the Cabinet of Belize officially declared its inception in 2018. Through a combination of land acquisitions and trusts declarations, the North-eastern Biological Corridor was finalized in 2019, and designated as a Special Management Area.
Over the past 30 years, what started as a small conservation project has now, thanks to a pragmatic and intelligent public-private partnership, become one of Belize’s most outstanding conservation project.
Today, Belize’s forest cover stands out in Central America, where deforestation is taking alarming proportions. Nevertheless, if some areas in Belize are well protected, others have, in the last two decades, shown a rather dramatic increase in development and forest conversion to agriculture and cattle ranching.
The North-East has suffered most, with a deforestation rate at almost 2.5% annually. Despite this rather worrisome situation, the creation of the North-Eastern Biological Corridor has created a strong link between the dry forests of Shipstern and the wetter forests of the former Honey Camp and Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve.
The possibility of linking the Corridor to the rest of the country’s reserves still exists, but time is running out.
Shipstern Conservation & Management Area
The Shipstern Conservation & Management Area is located in the very North-East of Belize, in the Corozal District. Established in 1989, it was officially opened by the Minister of Natural Resources in September 1990. On October 31st, 2012, the Shipstern C&MA was declared a trust in perpetuity for the benefit of the People and Government of Belize. Originally composed of two disjointed areas, it was made whole in 2020, thanks to the acquisition of Warree Bight South.
The Shipstern C&MA has long been recognized as one of the key protected areas of Belize, as it safeguards an large array of rare habitats, some of them unique for Belize. The forests in and around Shipstern have been regenerating with almost no disturbance ever since Hurricane Janet destroyed the entire area in 1955. Thus, although they are still secondary in stature, the forests of Shipstern can be considered as pristine.
The fauna of Shipstern, thanks to almost three decades of protection, is still very diverse and seemingly abundant. Peccaries, curassows and deer roam the forests and savannahs, being precious prey to jaguar and puma. The other three cat species of Belize are also all present. The keel-billed toucan is still abundant, as are several species of parrots, and many other bird species of the Yucatan peninsula. Of these, quite a few are only to be found in Shipstern and surrounding areas. Another rarity is the black Catbird, of which Shipstern is still the only known mainland habitat.
The flora of Shipstern is equally diverse. It is the only location in Belize where the medium-sized semi-deciduous Yucatan forest can be found, alongside an even rarer forest known as the Kuka Palm Yucatan coastal dry forest. This forest type is not only extremely rare in Belize (only to be found in Shipstern and Bacalar Chico NP), it is also confined to only four small areas in the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula. As is the case with its fauna, many plant species are in Belize only found in Shipstern (and to some extent in Bacalar Chico NP). One of these is the Tuc tree, the narrow-leaved Agave or the purple Gumbolimbo.
The North-eastern Biological Corridor of Belize
On January 22nd, 2020, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Immigration signed into law an Order declaring the creation of the North-eastern Biological Corridor. The government decided to pursue the creation of the Corridor in order to protect important forests situated in the sugar cane belt, with a special emphasis on assuring the biological connectivity of protected areas and safeguard the ecosystem services provided by these forests. These include watershed preservation and rain formation.
The North-eastern Biological Corridor consists of almost 28,000 hectares of land, which includes 13,600 hectares of private lands (for the most part under trust agreement) and the areas formerly known as the Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve and the Honey Camp National Park. It includes lowland broadleaf forests, mangroves, littoral forest, freshwater lagoons, and wetlands.
The North-eastern Biological Corridor is home to over 1,000 species of plants and animals, and its importance in terms of vital ecosystems services (such as pollination, water retention and release, rain formation and flood mitigation to the surrounding sugarcane, beans, rice croplands and adjacent communities) is recognized by all partners involved.
The natural ecosystems within the area thus provide for income generation for local communities through the provision of breeding grounds for game, and a valuable seed-bank for timber species. Last but not least, it comes with employment opportunities for local communities through CSFI.
This achievement is the culmination of over twenty years of tireless efforts and dedication of the people of Belize. It is the manifestation of a celebrated partnership among the Government of Belize, the conservation NGO community, stakeholder communities, international conservation partners and the private sector.
CSFI was instrumental in coordinating the administrative efforts leading to the declaration of the Corridor as well as implementing ground demarcations of the newly protected areas. In 2020, CSFI signed a 20-year co-management agreement with the Government of Belize, pertaining to the entire Biological Corridor.
Today, the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative provides jobs to over 40 employees, all from surrounding communities. It is thus one of the larger employers in the North-East of Belize. Its annual budget of over 500’000 US$ is almost entirely invested in and around the protected areas, making CSFI an important economic player in the region.