The Government of Belize included South Water Caye Marine Reserve as an important part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, established in 1996 for its "outstanding universal value", and is obligated under this international convention to conserve and protect the area.
South Water Caye Marine Reserve along with Gladden Spit Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye Marine Reserve and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, comprise the Southern Barrier Reef Complex, probably one of the areas with the highest biodiversity in the MAR region.
The reserve includes a mosaic of coastal and marine habitats including rare littoral forests, mangroves, seagrass beds, and a diversity of coral reef types. The reserve has been zoned to accommodate different types of visitor usage:
Click for more details on the activities allowed in each zone.
Highlights Of SWCMR
- Man–Of–War – Caye – is a crown reserve and nesting site for the brown boobie (Sula leucogaster) and magnificent frigate bird (Fregata magnifiscens), one of only 10 nesting sites in the Caribbean.
- Healthy Coral Reefs – provide habitat to critically endangered species such as the Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), the Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci), and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and many other threatened species such as the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus).
- Twin Caye and Pelican Range – Verdant mangrove islands like Twin Cayes and the Pelican Range harbor highly productive mangrove forests. This variety of luxuriant mangroves foster a unique assemblage of invertebrates and juvenile fishes sheltering in their roots.
- Carrie Bow Caye – Scientists from the Smithsonian Institution have conducted research at Carrie Bow Caye since 1972 studying the linkages of coral and mangrove ecosystems.
- Pelican Cayes – Within SWCMR, the Pelican Cayes have been identified as of particular importance, in recognition of the unique and fragile nature, and for the diversity of marine organisms occurring in the sub–tidal mangrove communities of the Pelican Range – unparalleled in the Caribbean. These cayes include deep, clear lagoons encircled by steep, lush coral ridges, with coral reef, mangrove–root, and peat substrates, thickly overgrown by layers of brilliantly colored organisms, including sponges, tunicates, and marine plants.
SWCMR is managed directly by the Fisheries Department and with assistance from the Public/Private SWCMR advisory committee. The Belize Fisheries Department employs 5 staff at SWCMR. These include a manager, biologist, 2 rangers and a caretaker who are based at the Twin Cayes ranger station. The staff is responsible for enforcing the fisheries regulations, carrying out patrols, surveillance, research, monitoring, education, outreach, collection of visitor fees and overall management.
The advisory committee is comprised of fishermen, fishing co–ops,community members, NGO's tour operators, private land owners and other government agencies.