In the turquoise waters off Tobacco Caye, Belize — part of the second-largest barrier reef system in the world — spearfishermen come to hunt. Here, local sport fisherman Brad Bowman surfaces in December 2015. He lifts a snapper over the gunwale of his small boat, before plunging 15 to 25 feet in search of more fish.
Bowman hunts recreationally in the warm, tropical waters near his home. But for many Belizean fishermen, their speargun is their livelihood. Snorkel and fins are their work uniform. They depend on healthy reefs and abundant fish to make a living, said Oceana in Belize’s Janelle Chanona, who is based in Belmopan.
More than half of Belize’s population relies on the barrier reef for income from fishing and tourism. About 1,400 species call these reefs home.
Degradation from destructive fishing gear or a future oil spill could ruin the natural bounty here. That’s why Oceana has fought destructive bottom trawling and offshore oil development in Belize for more than a decade. Today, the country bans all forms of bottom trawling, and as of December 2017, became the first developing nation to reject offshore oil, permanently.
Fishermen like Bowman need ocean riches. Their way of life depends on the sea. The snapper in this photograph is one of many plentiful species here. Protecting Belize’s reefs will keep these fish common, and keep spearfishermen hunting, for years to come.