The Littoral Forest of Ambergris

Bubba got out his Latin dictionary for this week's title; "Littoral Forest" is by definition coastal forest. not mangrove or cocal but a special ecosystem and unique habitat for birds such as the Rufous Necked Woodrail, White Crowned Pigeon. Boobies, and Black Cat Bird.

The littoral forest habitat covers the smallest area of any in Belize. It is found on the high sandy ground of coastal mainland and cayes such as Halfmoon and Ambergris. Its dense vegetation harbors a rich variety and large number of birds. supported by a seasonal succession of fruits and berries.

Of all the habitats in Belize, the littoral forest on the cayes is the most endangered due to coastal development. Littoral forest grows on a thin strip along a windward beach ridge of Ambergris and is composed of seagrape, cocoplum, poision wood, wild oregano. gumbo limbo, and palmetto. Many cayes have no beach ridge at all and are too tiny to support the plant diversity necessary to maintain large bird populations. Cayes like Ambergris can be easily cleared of native vegetation in a very short period of time during rapid unplanned development. As a result Ambergris Caye has been pointed out in Belize environmental studies to be where littoral forest are most rapidly disappearing. Bubba said he understood this to mean many of the birds of Ambergris would disappear also, and I agree. I asked him how this was happening and what could we do about it. He explained that a major step toward the solution of the problem was the creation of the 12,000 acre Bacalar Chico National Park on North Ambergris. however there still seems to be two large problems. The National Parks Systems Act of 1981 stated it's intention ,was to preserve and protect. The Act itself is flawed. It contains a clause termed "de-reservation" which allows the Minister the right to de-reserve or change boundaries of any protected area. Forest reserves have a history of having portions preserved for development. Developers can influence Ministers and target areas for their own activities that could deprive locals of both income andtheirenvironment's healthy future.

The second problem is "enforcement". Funds for officers and boats to patrol such areas always seem to be insufficient to protect it from those who would abuse. The demand for post for docks, sticks for fish traps, and palmetto for cabanas has created a slightly new slant on illegal logging. Bubba came up with a profound thought on the subject. He said, "In the absence of government we must govern ourselves." I think what he is trying to say is we ourselves must make sure we are not guilty of misuse of these habitats, help by respecting these areas and report their abuses. I have a thought of my own about it. If it isn't shown that we care by our actions, "our country will run us" instead of "we run our country".

People wishing to write letters should contact either or both of these of fices: The

Belize Audubon Society, 12 Fort Street, Belize City, Belize, phone 02-34533 or The Department of Environment, Chief Environmental Officer, 1012 Ambergris Avenue, Belmopan, Belize, phone 08-22249.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

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