Working under The Nature Conservancy, Heyman was sent to Belize in 1994 to collaborate with local fishermen and other stakeholders to create a marine protected area. While there, local fishermen helped him to understand that Gladden Spit, a reef off the coast of southern Belize, hosted multispecies spawning aggregations (SPAGs) that were a major draw for whale sharks to feed. By identifying the habits and likely location of the whale sharks, Heyman and Graham helped foster the development of an estimated $3.7 million tourist industry for the area.
Heyman’s continuing work in evaluating the geography, ecology and value of SPAGs and educating local fishermen, the government, and other nongovernmental organizations about them has spurred development of 11 new marine reserves. The reserves and resulting regulations on fishing have helped the region maintain its whale shark tourism industry and combat the problem of declining fish populations. “Rescuing the Reefs can be read online at http://nwf.org/nationalwildlife/article.cfm?issueID=119&articleID=1540. For more information on Heyman’s work visit the Geography website at http://geography.tamu.edu/.