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WWF in Action: Belize

How a Map Changed Belize's Fate

To change the fate of a country, Gregg Verutes drew a map.

As a specialist in mapping, Gregg Verutes never expected his work to translate quickly and dramatically into conservation victories on the ground.

But one map he created had stark and immediate impact. The map of Belize’s coast overlaid with a black patch the size and shape of the Gulf Coast oil spill showed Belizeans just what was at stake in an upcoming referendum on whether to allow further oil exploration and drilling in coastal waters. 95 percent of voters cast ballots against the oil concession in the referendum.

The maps he constructs using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for WWF’s Conservation Science Program are science-based depictions of nature’s value that guide conservation priorities and inform policymaking.

“In Belize, using cutting-edge tools and approaches has been instrumental in helping people understand the consequences of their actions,” Verutes explained. “Everybody wants to make a living, to increase their livelihoods. We are helping them understand the value of nature and what the environmental and development consequences are from the multitude of human uses occurring in and around the coastal zone.”

In WWF’s broader work in Belize, the team is helping the government create an integrated coastal zone management plan. Gregg says that conserving nature offers protection from storm surges, abundant fish for food, and pristine beaches and charismatic wildlife to attract tourists. These make those natural resources valuable to the citizens of Belize.

Gregg uses scientific tools to help people understand the benefits they get from nature and the impacts of their actions, empowering them to make more sustainable decisions.

“Science is the cornerstone of how we can communicate nature’s value, and enable people to act differently,” he said. “Science can guide a better management strategy to sustain nature’s benefits to people well into the future.”

With his research, Gregg Verutes and WWF are mapping a sustainable future for Belize.

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