Issues in Water Quality Stemming from Lack of a Riparian Buffer


Compromised Riverbank Integrity

This could be a picture of Anywhere, Belize.  We see the convergence of nature and man, and a river that runs through it all.

This photo was taken recently here during the dry season in southern Belize.  You can see the riverbank sloping upward toward the corn field in the distance.  That there is no natural vegetation separating that field from the riverbank is significant.  Such an area, were it to exist, would be called a riparian (riverbank) buffer and it is crucially important for maintaining the integrity of the river.  They provide a buffer between the activities which occur on land and the riverine environment, reducing the effects of contaminants, nutrients and sediments and moderating run-off to the river.  They control erosion and provide habitat for a variety of species.

On top of that (quite literally) we see a bridge, from which a variety of sediments will run off into the river.  Unnatural sedimentation is also a serious concern in river ecosystems because it may reduce light levels and can smother sensitive plant and animal life that depends on the habitat. This is additionally problematic in coastal areas where marine ecosystems and coral formations are affected.

Riparian deforestation is probably one of the most chronic and wide-ranging of the threats to freshwater integrity in this area. Riparian forests are threatened by a range of land-use activities. Approximately 80% of Toledo’s population is reliant on slash and burn farming, cattle ranching is increasing throughout the region, and the commercial sector is replacing riparian forests with citrus, banana and mango plantations. These forests play an integral role in maintaining ecosystem structure and function. Their loss and fragmentation, particularly along headwater tributaries, is thought to be having considerable impact upon riparian, freshwater, near-shore and reef integrity.

As a result, Ya’axche is beginning to implement a freshwater monitoring program to assess the impact of threats such as these to riverine and marine health.  Stay tuned for updates on this new program of ours!


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