Roger is a world renown underwater videographer. His travel articles are read by dive shops and dive enthusiasts worldwide. We are lucky to have him visiting our corner of the world at this time. Below is his latest article. Thank you Roger.
©2009 Roger Roth
Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret
I’m currently in Belize where the Tourism Board calls the country “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret.” The diving is superb and the people are as friendly as anywhere on earth. Today’s forecast is sunny and warm so it doesn’t get much better than this for writing.
Belize Reefs Being Raped for Profit: It has come to my attention that there is a developer in Belize who has a history of buying land, dredging and filling hundreds of acres of Mangrove forests and putting up what some call sub-standard “condos” for his personal profit. We all know the importance of the Mangrove stands from protecting against erosion to being nurseries for juvenile marine creatures. How could anyone destroy these natural reef protectors and builders by tearing them down prompting beach erosion and causing an unsustainable ecosystem for marine life?
There are laws in Belize against destroying mangroves. However these laws are many times not enforced because pockets are being lined through the many layers of government responsible for the preservation of Belize’s natural resources. One example of this is when the developer went around the local authorities and the necessary “environmental impact study” by obtaining a “permit to mine,” which allowed his damaging dredging process.
On 22 acres of lagoon in San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, he dredged and destroyed most of the mangroves, filling and covering the building sites with sand to build condos and timeshares along the entire stretch of natural cart path. This area had been lined with mature mangroves. Even though this project began several years ago, it is still not completed and stands vacant on nothing but sand.
The original plans showed a sewage treatment plant which was to assist not only his development, but also the adjacent elementary school site and a slum subdivision that was in need of this type of facility. Instead of following the approved plans, he installed plastic tanks underground to capture the raw sewage and he allows the gray water to run directly into the lagoon. Tour guides are reporting that there are now no fish nor birds in habitation of this lagoon, which was a popular site for bonefish, barracuda, tarpon and bird-watching.
The Belize Tourism Board likes to advertise the 250 mile long barrier reef as the second largest in the world. This has attracted scuba divers, snorkelers, and fishermen which have been the sustaining industry of the cayes for generations; however, a recent report card for the Mesoamerican Reef reports a tremendous decline in reef health in the last 35 years. (www.HealthReefs.org) much of this deterioration can be attributed to poor building practices.
Belize has set aside large portions of the reef as marine preserves. The most famous one is the well-known “Hol Chan,” or Little Channel. This precious snorkel/dive site is now being threatened by this aforementioned developer in a second project.
He supposedly has purchased over 500 acres of wetlands at the south end of the Caye, which is adjacent to Hol Chan Marine Reserve. He intends to again dredge and fill and build a settlement, housing over 7,000 people modeling the design of South Beach, Florida; naming it South Beach, Belize (SBB). It is clear to the local Belizeans that this will destroy the wetlands as well as the world-famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
In an effort to save their reef, livelihood, and economy, a group has been formed to stop this destructive project. The Ambergris Caye Concerned Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) has been holding public informational meetings weekly and by March 1, 2009 has over 400 members. ACCSD goals include sustainable development as evidenced by their Mission statement which in part reads as follows: “Embracing development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In response to the efforts of the ACCSD, the developer has claimed that there was no sea or bird life in and/or around these wetlands. To disprove this, ACCSD members have dived the lagoon and documented with video and pictures the abundance of fishes of all sizes and species in this lagoon. These wetlands and mangrove lagoon are the nurseries that feed the reef and Hol Chan in particular, but if development like this is allowed to go forward, the entire reef system of Belize will be at greater risk.
It should be known that ACCSD members are dedicated to monitoring all future developments, not just this one at South Beach. This is evidenced by the fact that the general membership of ACCSD includes conscientious developers who love and protect the environment. These conscientious developers have taken many precautions to preserve the environment in their building efforts and even use natural products in their building processes.
These conscientious developers have surrounding fences of properties constructed of local hardwoods such as Sea Grape and Gumbo-Limbo trees. Discarded conch shells and washed up corals are used in interior design and decoration as well as a type of “barbed wire” on the tops of cement fences. Thatch is still used on house and palapa roofs to retain the island ambiance.
ACCSD has implemented fund-raising projects including a specially-designed T-shirt showing mangroves above and below water. The roots of the mangroves are full of fish with a caption, “Fish Do Grow on Trees. These are being sold for $20 Belize ($10 US) and can be ordered through their website listed below. Donations can also be made through the same website.
It’s obvious that the diving community as a whole needs to be concerned about irresponsible building practices not only in Belize, but world-wide in order to preserve and conserve our oceans and waterways. We are the ambassadors responsible for disseminating the necessary information to the general public because we understand the need for sustainability in these waters as well as anyone. We are the ones who need to police developments like the one described above so that our children will have the same opportunity to enjoy and protect the oceans.
For further information and to get involved, you can see the ACCSD WEBSITE: http://sites.google.com/site/accsdbze/
**This Videolights article was inspired and co-authored by Harriette Fisher. Harriette is a former marketing manager and president of the Northern California Underwater Photographic Society and has been living permanently on the beach in Belize for over 5 years. Sea Ya!
Critter corner: There are some fishermen around Belize that have shark fishing licenses, however, there are no limits to catch size. Recently a fishing boat was seen to have over 30 nurse sharks on board and filleting was occurring as pictures were taken. This fishing boat was documented taking sharks within 10-15 minutes of Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley where there are no longer sharks around.