In 2004, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the Mesoamerican Reef, with the support of NOAA and local partners, developed and launched a public awareness campaign to raise awareness about the fisheries benefits of fully protected marine reserves, and to support the development of a regional network of representative MPAs, including fully protected zones.

The “Big Mamma” campaign featured a colorful big mamma logo, a lively song (radio advertisement), and a three minute video (TV advertisement). The ads were aired in March, 2004, and coincided with community meetings held in fishing communities in Belize, Mexico and Honduras. At these meetings, fishers listened to presentations about the science behind MPA design, connectivity, and fisheries benefits. The increased egg production of larger fish is a largely unrecognized component of these benefits, and was the focus of the campaign. Fishers quickly understood the significance of the increased egg production, through the song lyrics: “Bigger fish mean more eggs… more eggs mean more fish… more fish mean more money… fisherman can’t you see?” They were also very interested in the latest findings regarding the region’s ocean current patterns, connectivity and the current MPA statistics. Prior to the compilation of these statistics, there was substantial mis-information and a large over-estimation of the area under protection. For example, Belize has a system of MPAs covering approximately 22% of its shelf, but only 2% is fully protected. The fishers participated in lively discussions, listened and even danced to the big mamma calypso beat, and went home feeling better about the MPAs. They also took home a colorful big mamma T-shirt as a reminder of the message.

Post meeting opinion surveys in Belize found that 75% of fishers participating in the meetings supported fully protected MPAs as a fisheries management tool. This compares to a 2002 survey, which found that 45% of fishers believed MPAs actually had a negative impact on fisheries resources. Fishers did express concern over the need for better definition, demarcation and enforcement of the existing fully-protected zones, and any new ones to be established. They also expressed a desire for training in alternative livelihoods, and for exchange programs to discuss management implementation and fishing practices in other parts of the region. WWF engaged in both of these activities in 2004-2006, through the ICRAN-USAID Mesoamerican Reef Alliance Project. Many of these fishers are now actively engaged in marine tour guiding, and are becoming involved in conservation issues.

Overall this campaign has been highly successful, due to the popularity of the icon “Big Mamma,” and to the simplicity of the message. Such efforts to reach out and inform fishers about the fisheries benefits of marine reserves are seen as a critical component of any effort to develop functional networks of MPAs. The tourism benefits of fully-protected MPAs are clear, well-recognized, and supported by the tourism industry. However, similar engagement with the fishing industry must be made, to better explain the role of fully-protected MPAs within a broader framework of ecosystem-based fisheries management practices.

The value of saving Big Mamma is being realized in the wider fishing community in the Mesoamerican reef. In fact, the Big Mamma campaign is expanding, reaching areas throughout the world. The resources developed as part of this campaign are available below. For more information, contact, WWF Belize, Central America.

Big Mamma Resources

Benefits of Marine Reserves for Fisheries – English Presentation

Beneficios de Reservas Marinas – Presentación Español

Big Mamma Song (1:16)

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TV Advertisement (English) (2:22)

Anuncio TV (Español) (2:11)

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