Climate-Smarting Marine Protected Areas and Coastal Management in the Mesoamerican Reef Region

The mesoamerican reef (mar) is the largest transboundary reef system in the world and contains the world’s second longest barrier reef, the system stretches across four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, along more than 1,000 km of coastlineans is a hotspot for biodiversity including endagered marine turtles, more than 60 types of corals ans more than 500 fish species.

Arrecife Mesoámericano; foto © WWF

Initial situation

Coastal and marine resources in the Mesoamerican Reef region provide essential ecosystem services, sustain key economic sectors (esp. fisheries and  tourism),  support the livelihoods of more than two million people and contribute to the protection of    coastal communities against adverse effects of climate change. At the same time, the Caribbean coastlines of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are among the most vulnerable regions worldwide to climate change impacts. The management of these resources, including through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and overarching coastal development frameworks, does not yet adequately take into account adaptation principles and options. There is a need to strengthen capacities in coastal communities and government institutions to integrate climate change  scenarios and  adaptation  options into a participatory decision-making process that can inform MPA as well as coastal zone management and development policies.


About the project

Recently released through the support  of the International Climate Initiative, the Smart Coasts project aims to mainstream climate-smart principles into Marine Protected Area management and coastal development policies in countries bordering the Mesoamerican Reef with a view to improve the adaptive capacities of coastal communities in the region. Specific, e.g. ecosystem-based, adaptation options will be determined in a cross-sector and stakeholder-driven decision-making process applying science-based tools including ecological risk assessments and cost-benefit. Analyses that integrate climate change and social development scenarios, ecosystem services modelling and green vs. grey infrastructure. While informing relevant policy and management frameworks, adaptation measures will be implemented in selected coastal areas in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The project will enhance knowledge and capacities at local and national levels, contribute to national adaptation policies and action plans and make best practices available at relevant national and international fora.


Multiplier  effect

The project builds on various strategies to multiply its direct impact. Key representatives of coastal communities, government institutions and non- governmental organizations will be systematically trained on methods and tools to identify and assess appropriate solutions for adapting to the effects of climate change. By integrating climate- smart principles into relevant local, sub-national and national policy and management frameworks, strategies to better adapt to climate change will be fostered in the region over space and time. In addition, best practices on integrating climate change considerations into policies for and management of coastal and marine resources will be compiled and shared at relevant national, regional and global fora. The project thereby aims to allow for institutionalization of climate-smart policy and management frameworks for coastal and marine resources and replication of activities beyond the geographical scope and duration of the project.


foto © WWF

Target sites

The Project is being implemented in the four countries that conform the Mesoamerican Reef System.

  1. In Mexico, the target sites are the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve (Yucatan) and in the Flora and Fauna Protection Area of Yum Balam (Quintana Roo).
  2. In Belize, three project regions are planned in accordance with the national Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan: the Northern Regional Planning Zone, the Ambergris Caye Regional Planning Zone, and the Southern Regional Planning Zone.
  3. In Guatemala, the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area.
  4. In Honduras, the focus will be aimed at   four protected areas: Cuyamel-Omoa National Park, Jeannette Kawas (Punta Sal) National Park, Punta Izopo National Park, and Bahía de Tela Marine Wildlife Refuge and an 11,700 ha large connecting zone between two of the protected areas


All of these sites were chosen due to the importance they have for biodiversity conservation and due to their population’s vulnerability towards climate change


Resultados esperados

  • Un portafolio de opciones de adaptación al cambio climático identificadas a través de un proceso participativo que toma en cuenta las necesidades de las comunidades locales y la conservación del ambiente.
  • Las poblaciones locales y tomadores de decisiones fortalecen sus capacidades para identificar y priorizar opciones de adaptación al cambio climático.
  • Las autoridades de gobierno cuentan con recomendaciones para integrar aspectos y criterios de adaptación al cambio climático en los instrumentos de planeación territorial.
  • Medidas de adaptación implementadas con la participación de actores locales.
  • Un grupo de trabajo para la difusión de buenas prácticas sobre identificación, integración e implementación de medidas de adaptación en zonas costeras y áreas marinas protegidas.


Expected Results 

  1. A portfolio of climate change adaptation options have been identified through a participatory process that considers local community needs and environment conservation.
  2. Local populations and decision makers have strengthened their capacity to identify and prioritize climate change adaptation options.
  3. Government authorities have recommendations to integrate climate change adaptation aspects and criteria in land planning instruments.
  4. Adaptation measures are implemented with the participation of local stakeholders.
  5. A working group is established to promote better practices on the identification, integration and implementation of adaptation measures in coastal zones and marine protected areas.

Participant partners


  • National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)
  • Division/Department: Yucatan Peninsula and Mexican Caribbean Region


  • Ministry of Agriculture,  Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development. Division/Department: Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI)


  • Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN)
  • Division/Department: Department of Ecosystems


  • Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines (MiAmbiente+)
  • Division/Department: Department of Protected Areas
  • National Institute of Forest Conservation and Development, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF)

Implementing partners

  • WWF Guatemala/ Mesoamérica
  • WWF México
  • WWF US / Columbia University
  • Natural Capital Project- Stanford University

Executing organization

  • WWF Germany



Ninel Escobar, Coordinadora de Cambio Climático

WWF México



Alejandra Calzada Vázquez Vela

Oficial Senior del Arrecife Mesoamericano

WWF México


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