Southern Environmental Association:
Getting to Know Our Parks:
Laughing Bird Caye National Park
Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) was designated a national park in December 1991. It is located only 11 miles off the coast of Placencia Village. The park has a long history of community involvement. In fact it was largely due to community concerns over development that led to the protection of the caye itself in 1991.
In 1992 Friends of Laughing Bird Caye was formed to work closely with the Forest Department to manage this newly declared protected area. In 1996 the national park was expanded to include all of the Laughing Bird Caye Faro, that same year it was named a site in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site. Over the years Friends of Laughing Bird Caye has changed to Friends of Nature and now Southern Environmental Association (SEAbelize), but the goal of protection and management of this important site has remained.
Although Laughing Bird Caye is relatively small, it sits on top of a unique coral habitat known as a faro. There are only a few of these formations in the world and which makes this area unique. The LBCNP is used extensively by tour operators who travel daily from the Placencia peninsula to snorkel, scuba, and picnic.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park got its name from the Laughing Gull. Historically this bird nested on the caye, but due to a growing human presence the bird has moved to nearby cayes for breeding. (Laughing Gulls have returned in small numbers to breed on the caye in the past two years.) Most visitors to the caye are likely to see Laughing Gulls feeding on the island.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park is home to a wide range of unique and beautiful creatures. The beautiful waters surrounding the island are also home to a wide variety of colorful coral and reef fish. The national park is also home to a variety of important commercial species such as spiny lobster, queen conch, a variety of snappers, barracuda, hogfish, Nassau grouper and bar jack. However, since its declaration as a National Park in 1996, and a World Heritage site in 1996, the park has been a strict ‘no-take’ marine protected area. This means that only non-extractive activities like swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and picnics are all allowed within park boundaries. The cayes sandy beaches are important an nesting ground for Hawksbill turtles. Visitors to the caye are invited to enjoy the island and spend time getting to know the many beautiful animals that call LBCNP home.
The Forestry Department currently has a co-management agreement with Southern Environmental Association (SEA), formerly Friends of Nature (FoN) and Toldeo Association for Sustainable Tourism and Empowerment (TASTE), for the daily on-site management of the park. SEA employs a staff of three rangers who take care of the small island and patrol within the park boundaries. These rangers are also responsible for enforcing the parks rules and regulations. In addition to park management Southern Environmental Association undertakes a wide range of tasks from community outreach to scientific research at LBCNP.
Some of the rules for LBCNP include:
Do not touch, walk, or anchor on the reef.
Take your garbage with you.
Dive, snorkel and private boats should maintain a distance of at least 200 feet between each other.
No gloves or fishing are allowed when SCUBA diving.
No destruction of natural habitat.
No net fishing.
No spear fishing.
All boats must use the mooring buoys where provided.
Read and Follow all signs and directions from the national park.
All local Fisheries, Wildlife, Forestry, Tourism, and Archeological Laws apply.
Do not tamper with posted signs, buoys or notices.
Only non-extractive recreational activities allowed such as snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and sightseeing
SEA has worked closely with tour guides to ensure that this tiny island remains a popular but sustainably managed site. This has included a number of improvements to the island including the recently completed construction of new eco-friendly bathroom facilities, as well as construction of a covered palapa and grills. SEA has also conducted a number of programs and projects to improve local awareness about the importance of the site, including a series of environmental trips for local school children and the development of alternative dive sites and dive training to help provide local jobs and reduce the impact on the reef. As SEA looks to the future it is hoped that Laughing Bird Caye National Park will continue to be an example of successful management and environmental protection.
About SEA: Southern Environmental Association (SEA) is a newly created non-governmental organization. Developed from a merger of Friends of Nature (FON) and the Toledo Association for Sustainable Tourism and Empowerment (TASTE) to ensure improved community involvement in the conservation and co-management of the natural resources in Southern Belize. SEA takes a practical, hands–on approach to conservation and management of much of the Southern Barrier Reef Complex. SEA has co-management agreements for the day-to-day management of Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) with the Forest Department, and Gladden Spit and Silk Cages Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) and the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve (SCMR) with the Fisheries Department. SEA works closely with the eight stakeholder communities of Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight, Placencia, Independence, Monkey River, Punta Negra and Punta Gorda. SEA focuses its efforts in three major program areas including marine protected areas management (enforcement, visitation), science (monitoring, research) and education and outreach (environmental education, alternative livelihoods, community education), in order to ensure adaptive management of the marine resources of southern Belize.
For more information on SEA come by our office above Scotia Bank in Placencia Village or visit our website at www.seabelize.org.