Smart Coasts

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


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.

©: © Antonio Busiello / WWF-US


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 coastline and is a hotspot for biodiversity including endangered marine turtles, more than 60 types of corals and more than 500 fish species.

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.

©: © Antonio Busiello / WWF-US

Multiplier effect

The project builds on various strategies to multiply its direct impact. Key representatives of coastal communities, government institutions and nongovernmental 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 resourceswill 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.


Target sites

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

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). 

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.

In Guatemala, the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area is the target site.

In Honduras, the focus will be laid on 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.

Participant partners

Political 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/ Mesoamerica WWF

WWF Mexico and WWF US / Columbia University and Natural Capital Project- Stanford University

Executing organization:
WWF Germany

©: © Antonio Busiello / WWF-US

Expected results

1. A portfolio of climate change adaptation options has 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 spatial 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.


This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI).

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.