Well, we know of one protected area they can help to better manage. It’s the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary – little known but legally constituted – and forming part of Belize’s famous 40%, that number referring to the combined area of Belize’s land and sea that is protected. But maybe it’s a little less than that because according to reports into our office one thousand acres of Deer Caye have been placed into private hands. But where is Deer Caye and which reserve is it? Last week 7NEWS went to the island which sits just west of Ambergris Caye to find out more.
Jules Vasquez Reporting,
This is Northern Deer Caye – bordered in green, this map of Belize says that it’s a part of the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area, a reserve. But reserved for whom? We were taken out there last week by Valentine Rosado of the Green Reef Conservation Group. And we found these: survey markers – and survey lines marked and cut right through the mangrove. In fact in some cases, the survey markers were put right into the sea bed. These small islets within the Deer Caye Range have also been surveyed. And indeed, information to 7NEWS says this island reserve has been surveyed and is being sold at $10,000 an acre, a total, our reports say, of 1,000 acres.
We also found the tarpaulin covered work camp at the northern part of te island – presumably where the surveying team operates from. No one was there, but there were signs of recent and ongoing use. There were also these concrete pillars, which we presume are to be used as property markers. But the area has not been de-reserved – and if it’s not been de-reserved, then it can’t legally be converted into private property, surveyed and sold off – or at least not legally. But it looks like that’s just what has happened.
But according to Allan Usher, the CEO in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Deer Caye is not a reserve. He says only the waters around it are reserved. Sounds somewhat flimsy because whatever happens on the land would affect the water in any case – but that’s the official line – reserved water – not reserved lands - although we’re not quite sure how that official line works in areas such as this where markers show that the seabed has actually been surveyed.
And while this survey has been ongoing for at least the past four weeks, no one has raised the alarm really because Deer Caye is one of the least known reserves. In fact, it is what they call a paper park – because there’s no management agency overseeing it. But it is a protected area nonetheless and now government has to answer to the conservation community how it has been converted to private property – seabed and all.
Again, Usher says that the sea around Deer Caye is reserved and not the caye itself. And indeed Southern Deer Caye is reported to be privately owned. But even if that is the case, any development in any area adjoining a reserve, particularly a marine reserve has to undergo close environmental scrutiny and review. With the survey now well underway, we are assured that this one has not. It’s a story we’ll keep following, and an issue that is likely to come up tomorrow as conservation groups draft a call for action from the government on environmental issues.