——Assessing habitat risk from human activities to inform coastal and marine spatial planning: a demonstration in Belize
Integrated coastal and ocean management requires transparent and accessible approaches for understanding the influence of human activities on marine environments. Here we introduce a model for assessing the combined risk to habitats from multiple ocean uses. We apply the model to coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds in Belize to inform the design of the country’s first Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Plan. Based on extensive stakeholder engagement, review of existing legislation and data collected from diverse sources, we map the current distribution of coastal and ocean activities and develop three scenarios for zoning these activities in the future. We then estimate ecosystem risk under the current and three future scenarios. Current levels of risk vary spatially among the nine coastal planning regions in Belize.Empirical tests of the model are strong—three-quarters of the measured data for coral reef health lie within the 95% confidence interval of interpolated model data and 79% of the predicted mangrove occurrences are associated with observed responses. The future scenario that harmonizes conservation and development goals results in a 20% reduction in the area of highrisk habitat compared to the current scenario, while increasing the extent of several ocean uses.Our results are a component of the ICZM Plan for Belize that will undergo review by the national legislature in 2015. This application of our model to marine spatial planning in Belize illustrates an approach that can be used broadly by coastal and ocean planners to assess risk to habitats under current and future management scenarios.