Turneffe Atoll Trust, Belize

catch and release

Status of registration

501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization (US) and NGO (Belize)

Governance and management structure of the group

Turneffe Atoll Trust (TAT) was established in 2002 and has two full-time staff members and an eleven-member board of directors. TAT works with the Turneffe Atoll Coastal Advisory Committee, which is comprised of various stakeholders, such as NGOs, governmental agencies, fishermen and private businesses. Over the past ten years TAT has led planning for the conservation of Turneffe Atoll in conjunction with the Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute. TAT also successfully advocated for catch-and-release legislation and for Turneffe’s designation as a marine reserve.

Exact location, including geographic coordinates

Turneffe Atoll is located 50 kilometres east of Belize City in the Caribbean Sea. N 17°26’21.63′′, W 87°49′56.01′′

Short description of the area and the land to be purchased

Turneffe Atoll is the largest of three offshore atolls located 50 kilometres east of Belize City. Turneffe is one of the best-developed atolls of the Mesoamerican Reef region. It is made up of more than 150 islands of savannah, littoral forest and intact mangrove forests and considered a global ecological hotspot for marine biodiversity. Roughly a quarter of the total land ownership is private and only six locations (80 hectares) have been developed for tourism.

Main threats

Turneffe Atoll faces numerous threats because of its close proximity to Belize City. The highest threats identified are:

  • pressure from fishing, especially unsustainable practices
  • development and dredging, leading to the destruction of habitats
  • extraction of non-timber products

The privately owned land, especially littoral forest, is threatened by speculative investment in residential and ecotourism development. Fragmented decision-making within and among government agencies results in a lack of enforcement, regulation and oversight, as well as substandard environmental assessments and review prior to issuing permits.

If we are unable to purchase this land, illegal and improper development, clearing of mangroves and dredging may occur. These activities decrease water quality, increase erosion causing sedimentation and release carbon dioxide and pollutants thus threatening seagrass and coral viability as well as the habitat supporting many aquatic and terrestrial species.

Estimated value ($) of a single hectare (average)


Long-term conservation plan for the purchased land

Each property acquired by Turneffe Atoll Trust will follow the guidelines and recommendations of the Turneffe Atoll Management Plan. In addition specific management plans will be developed for each parcel of land purchased, depending on its unique characteristics, needs and opportunities.

Our active management will address:
1) improper development (clearing and dredging): Once purchased, TAT staff and Turneffe enforcement rangers will be able to monitor the properties and make sure they remain protected from illegal clearing, dredging and development. The enforcement rangers live permanently at Turneffe and are funded through the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA).  Close collaboration with TASA and the rangers will be required as new land is purchased.

2)  Over-, illegal- and out-of-season harvest of fish, conch and lobster: Education and employment of local fisherman, catch-and-release  legislation, and daily patrols and enforcement of the marine-reserve regulations are helping to protect land and water resources. These programmes will continue, and TAT will look for new ways to ensure long-term protection through legislative and legal processes. TAT is also embarking on a new program—Land and Water Watch—in which we will work with legal consultants to review environmental assessments of proposed developments and with the Belize Fisheries Department to make sure permits are issued correctly and enforced. This programme will also apply to future land purchases.

TAT will also pursue a UNESCO biosphere-reserve designation for Turneffe. With this designation comes a higher level of national and global protection and more opportunities for funding, enforcement and oversight to help ensure the protection of the atoll and the land that TAT purchases for conservation.