Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR)

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Belize: HCMR is located approximately 4 miles south east of San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye. It incorporates a total of seven square miles of coral reef, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest. The Marine Reserve has a multi-use scheme and is divided into four zones to allow sustainable use of its resources.

Management authority

Hol Chan Marine Reserve Trust Fund

Demographic Statistics

Two communities neighbor HCMR. To the north is the town of San Pedro (~10,000 inhabitants), and to the south is the village of Caye Caulker (~2,500). In recent years both communities have experience major growth in the tourism industry. San Pedro Town is the fastest growing and one of the most important tourist destinations in Belize. Of the 36,887 visitors to the HCMR in 2001, 70% came from San Pedro.

Objective/Purpose of site

To conserve marine ecosystems (i.e. mangrove, turtle grass beds and coral reefs), which are representative of the reef complex and that function as an ecological entity.

Ecological features and assets

HCMR is located at the northern end of the Belize Barrier reef. The main feature of interest is the Hol Chan ‘cut’, a natural break on the reef.

Socioeconomic features and assets

Tourism is the main income earning industry on Ambergris Caye.

Major Threats

  • Tremendous increase in visitation to Hol Chan since it was established as a MPA.
  • The clearing of mangrove and habitat alteration adjacent to the Reserve
  • Inadequate waste management for a growing community
  • Coral bleaching (1998), recent major hurricanes (1998 and 2000) and coral diseases
  • This area was severally affected by uncontrolled fishing in the 1960’s and years of over fishing have drastically reduced fish stocks along the reef off Ambergris Cay.

Background legislation and policy support

In July of 1987 the Hol Chan Marine Reserve was legally established by order of the minister responsible for fisheries. In 1994 these regulations were amended to allow the formation of a Board of Trustees which is responsible to direct and manage the affairs of the Reserve.

Management structure

The Fisheries Department is the principal governmental agency responsible for management of marine resources. The Marine Reserve is managed by a Board of Trustees, which is made up of members from both the public and private sector. The Manager of the Reserve is directly accountable to the Board of Trustees. The Marine Reserve employs three Park Rangers, an administrative assistant, and a Manager. A Peace Corps volunteer assists in the monitoring and education program. The Board of Trustees owns the building which houses the office and visitor’s center of the Reserve.


  • Enforcement: Daily patrols are carried out by the Park Rangers to monitor activities and enforce regulations. The Marine Reserve employs a Patrol vessel specifically for enforcement.
  • Mooring buoys: HCMR has installed and maintains over twenty mooring buoys in the Marine Reserve. This year the Reserve will increase the number of mooring buoys. The Reserve has also installed marker buoys to clearly demarcate the boundaries.
  • Public awareness program: With financial assistance from IUCN, Hol Chan has published an information booklet that will be distributed to tour guides and tour operators. A brochure has also been published. HCMR in collaboration with Smith College run a summer program with local schools.
  • Coral Reef Monitoring Program: Currently, HCMR runs a monitoring program. However, due to lack of finance this program has not been successful.

Stakeholder Involvement and participation

HCMR works closely with local tour guide and fishermen associations. Tour guides have played an important part in the success of the no take zone through voluntary compliance and assisting staff in minimizing illegal activities in the area. The San Pedro Tour Guide Association facilitated the process in annexing Shark and Ray Alley as designated reserve Zone. Presently, the San Pedro Tour Guide Association and the local fishermen support a proposed extension of the HCMR.

Financing Mechanism

The bulk of the revenue generated by the Reserve comes from a $2:50 USD user fee paid by each visitor to the Marine Reserve. There is a $3.50 user fee for Zone D. However, HCMR does not have the capacity to collect this fee. Revenue is also generated from a yearly boat registration fee. Funding agencies have also provided financial support to HCMR through grants.

Major successes and failures

The Marine Reserve has achieved some degree of success and has been used as example for the development of other MPAs in Belize and Mexico (Xcalak).

Major Needs

  • Monitoring the increased visitation since the Reserve was established: There is a need for an impact assessment to quantify the effects on divers and snorkelers on the reef. Also, there is need for a carrying capacity survey in order to establish standards and regulate the number of visitor to the Reserve.
  • Need for financial sustainability plan: At the moment the Marine Reserve is highly dependent on the revenue generated by visitor’s fee. Nevertheless, this is not enough to for our yearly budget and expenditures.
  • Implement an adequate monitoring program: HCMR is currently running a monitoring program but has not been effective due to the lack of funds.
  • Provide adequate environmental education to local communities: HCMR has run several environmental education programs however there is no continuity due to lack of funding.