By Brittni Brown
Adapting to the growth rates, infrastructure, and conservation of natural resources in developing countries can be exceptionally difficult. Belize is no exception to that. The country is the second smallest in Central America, and is commonly known for its diverse culture and natural wonders.
Protecting many of these resources has become somewhat of a concern in the scientific community both within and outside of the country. With many coastal developments, high deforestation rates, and difficulty allocating funds for environmental protection, natural resources are taking a bit of a beating.
New technologies are helping to begin tackling the problem. The implementation of geographic mapping software (GIS) into conservation talks can improve efficiency, reduce expenditures, and help protect some of the country’s most beautiful locations. GIS is a powerful mapping software that can help land managers and scientists alike view data collected within the country spatially and help them visualize which areas are in need of the most attention.
Multiple ‘layers’ of data can be added to any given map so users can overlay different data sets and view them all at once. In this manner, map users can view country roads and protected areas at the same time and then create a buffer zone of unsuitable habitat as a result. Viewing layers of human populations in proximity to jaguar habitat or prime conservation areas can also be beneficial.
An issue that is becoming larger within the country is the entry of individuals into the forest to poach natural resources including game animals and plants used in furniture. In a very similar manner to how police units use GIS to identify crime hot spots, land managers can use the maps to locate areas where illegal activity is happening more frequently and distribute law enforcement accordingly. Doing so can save time and resources – making funding more effective.
Additionally, the maps can be used to identify important migration corridors that are at risk of human encroachment and direct funding and conservation efforts to the protection of these areas. Advanced map use can help determine which tracts of land will have the largest conservation impact relative to their size. Furthermore, it can help locate communities that have the largest stake in preserving the chosen area and that are most likely to be interested in community-based initiatives.
Because of high scientific interest in the area, much of the necessary base layers to create usable maps has already been created and is hosted in a variety of different clearinghouses based upon the region and which entity collected the data. Frequently they are free on request and download into a personal GIS system in order to manipulate the data to display an accurate image of what is being represented.
Belize certainly has a way to go in implementing and enforcing useful environmental regulations. Many of the current laws in place are ineffective and in serious need of updating. Furthermore, minimal funding as limited the number of sustainable officers that can be put into place. Utilizing GIS software offers technical aid in addressing some of these issues through its ability to display and analyze data in a more cost effective manner that may enable these funds to be spread for the largest impact.
Brittni Brown is a recent graduate of The College of Idaho with a degree in environmental studies; she currently works for a local marketing startup. In her free time she enjoys a variety of outdoor activities as well as reading and trivia.
- People living in less affluent regions are more environmentally friendly in Latin America, Caribbean (news.vanderbilt.edu)
- Mapping Microscopic Disease with Big Data (medtechboston.medstro.com)
- Belize Joins Ten Island Challenge to Transition to 100% Renewable Energy (ecowatch.com)