Rainforest covers nearly 60% of Belize’s land territory – down from 75% in late 1980.
Belize is a Caribbean country located on the northeastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. The area of the country totals 22,960 square kilometres (8,865 sq mi), an area slightly larger than El Salvador, Israel, New Jersey or Wales.
While over 60% of Belize’s land surface is covered by forest, some 20% of the country’s land is covered by cultivated land (agriculture) and human settlements. Belize had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 6.15/10, ranking it 85th globally out of 172 countries. Savanna, scrubland and wetland constitute the remainder of Belize’s land cover. Important mangrove ecosystems are also represented across Belize’s landscape. Four terrestrial ecoregions lie within the country’s borders: Petén-Veracruz moist forests, Belizian pine forests, Belizean Coast mangroves, and Belizean Reef mangroves.
Belize is also a leader in protecting biodiversity and natural resources. According to the World Database on Protected Areas, 37% of Belize’s land territory falls under some form of official protection, giving Belize one of the most extensive systems of terrestrial protected areas in the Americas.
A remote sensing study conducted by the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) and NASA, in collaboration with the Forest Department and the Land Information Centre (LIC) of the government of Belize’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE) and published in August 2010 revealed that Belize’s forest cover in early 2010 was approximately 62.7%, down from 75.9% in late 1980.
A similar study by Belize Tropical Forest Studies and Conservation International revealed similar trends in terms of Belize’s forest cover. Both studies indicate that each year, 0.6% of Belize’s forest cover is lost, translating to the clearing of an average of 10,050 hectares (24,835 acres) each year. The USAID-supported SERVIR study by CATHALAC, NASA, and the MNRE also showed that Belize’s protected areas have been extremely effective in protecting the country’s forests. While only some 6.4% of forests inside of legally declared protected areas were cleared between 1980 and 2010, over a quarter of forests outside of protected areas were lost between 1980 and 2010. As a country with a relatively high forest cover and a low deforestation rate, Belize has significant potential for participation in initiatives such as REDD+.
A map of Belize’s National Protected Areas, including the 17 forest reserves.