Alternate Title

Seagrass Loss in Belize: Studies of Turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) Habitat Using Remote Sensing and Ground-Truth Data

Document Type



Spatial and temporal change in turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) habitat of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR) in Belize were analyzed using satellite images backed up with ground-truth data. We had two pri-mary objectives. First, we wanted to determine areal expanse of seagrass across a large area (~12 km by 3 km) of the SWCMR, and address its change over time. We used paired satellite images taken during 2001 and 2005 to determine coverage by seagrass and measure temporal variables. These analyses recorded an overall seagrass loss of 1.8% (52.3 ha) during the 4 yr period. Secondly, we wanted to determine whether seagrass gains or losses were consistent across the study area. Replicate sampling was used as a statistical basis and confirmed a significant loss of seagrass across the region. It also helped identify two regions of significant seagrass loss; one 600 ha area lost 12.4% of its seagrass; another 240 ha area lost nearly 40%. These components helped us assess seagrass habitat in an area perceived as critical to Belize fisheries, and provided the scale and statistical rigor necessary to adequately assess a broad region of study. The salient results from our study were not the magnitude of seagrass loss per se, but the loss in seagrass habitat from an area that is thought to be relatively pristine. Seagrass-habitat loss in this region of the Caribbean Sea may be evidence that even near-pristine areas can be impacted by anthropogenic factors. Determining the causes of habitat loss may help prevent loss of productivity, habitat, and livelihood for the associated human and nonhuman communities.

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