The mangroves of Belize. Part 1. Distribution, composition and classification

MR Murray*, SA Zisman, PA Furley, DM Munro, J Gibson, J Ratter, S Bridgewater, CD Minty, CJ Place

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, significant sections of the Belizean coast came under escalating pressure from development. The resulting habitat loss highlighted the need for a comprehensive assessment of the extent, characteristics and use of the country’s remaining mangrove.

This paper reports on the resulting study, and confirms the presence of three true mangroves—Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia germinans and Laguncularia racemosa, plus one mangrove associate—Conocarpus erectus. Twenty different sub-communities are distinguished on the basis of physiographic setting, vegetation structure and species composition. Of these, Rhizophora scrub is the most widespread, accounting for over 60% of the country’s mangrove habitats. True forest sub-communities account for only 10%, the remainder comprises thickets or hypersaline supra-tidal savannas.

GIS analysis of 1990 remote sensing data reveals that Belize’s mangroves covers 78,511 ha, equivalent to 3.4% of the country’s land area and approximately 2% of the mangrove remaining in the Americas. Through the examination of early aerial photos, historical records and ground conditions, it is estimated that about 98% of Belize’s original mangrove cover (80,016 ha) remained at this time. However, more recent mapping for the Belize City area, using 1992 aerial photos, reveals that a further 519 ha has been cleared, a 0.7% reduction in the national total in just two years.

The main geographical factors controlling the distribution of mangroves in Belize are the presence of the barrier reef, the coastline’s shallow gradient and the narrow tidal range. Mangrove distribution is further influenced by local subsidence, geomorphology, drainage, hinterland soils and past hurricane tracks. How much mangrove cover Belize may support in the future is thought to largely depend on two factors—hurricane activity and human influence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-279
Number of pages15
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2003


  • Belize
  • mangrove
  • mapping
  • remote sensing
  • GIS
  • mangrove physiographic classification
  • resource assessment


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