Mangroves are worth serious money!
By Patricia Celenza
Belize’s most respected patriot and diplomat, Philip S.W. Goldson stated, “The time to save your country is before you lose it.”
Never were wiser or more prophetic words of advice proffered.
As Belize grows into its own as a maturing independent nation, it faces many critical issues.
One of those issues is the protection of our environment, most particularly, our mangroves.
At an alarmingly rapid rate and on a massive scale, development is not only threatening, but destroying our most precious of natural resources. We have all been informed of the scientific data and research documenting the mangroves as primary protectors and nurturers of our marine ecosystem, from stabilizing shorelines, filtering water, and providing nursery habitat for many varieties of both commercial and reef fish.
The current government of Belize recognized not only the importance of mangroves, but also understood the threat development posed to them when on February 15, of this year, it issued a moratorium on the altering of mangroves. This moratorium overrides all permits.
However, this moratorium, while a very positive move, is only a temporary protection. This moratorium ends on November 15, 2008. So what is the future of our mangroves after this date? Our answer can be found in a recent study of the fishing industry off the western coast of Mexico.
For the very first time, a scientific study has measured the financial consequences of mangrove destruction.
The detailed research of this study puts a real dollar value on the potentially irreparable damage being done to our treasured coastal ecosystems.
In a world where money talks, we now know scientifically, that mangroves mean money.
We have even more reason to protect them.
Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in LaJolla, California selected thirteen marine regions with largely natural coastlines around Mexico’s Gulf of California and on Baja California’s lower Pacific Coast, where fishing is a vital source of food and income. The scientists looked at fisheries records and studied catches at these thirteen fishing regions.
During the period of the study, fishermen in all thirteen regions averaged hauls of fish and blue crab for a combined generated income worth U.S. $19 million.
Roughly one third of all the fisheries landings were of fish species which rely on mangroves as a habitat.
The head scientist of this study concluded: “Without a coastal mangrove ecosystem, the cost of food can only increase.”
With the removal of the mangroves, the amount of fish caught is reduced.
With a reduction of food source, people must pay more for that food source.
This economic value reinforces the need for governments to preserve mangroves.
Based on this study, the scientists say that Mexico grossly underestimated the mangroves’ value in land sales aimed at aggressive tourism development and by setting low prices for these coastal regions, put them at high risk of large-scale destruction.
In the past, the Mexican government has sold mangrove areas for around U.S.$1,000 per hectare, but based upon this study, mangrove zones produce fish hauls with a median value of U.S. $37,500 per hectare annually.
The head scientist, looking to the future, continues: “ Governments need to think about a generational value.”
His team estimates that over a thirty year period, the mangroves should be valued at more than U.S.$600,000 per hectare.
As a result of this study, and in an attempt to prevent a repeat of past catastrophes, Mexico enacted a new law outlawing mangrove destruction.
However, the development industry is investing large amounts of money in lobbying the Mexican Congress to overturn the protections.
This report is from the on-line edition of Nature. (http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080721/full/news.2008.966.html
This study provides Belize with a clear and urgent mission to protect our mangroves.
Mangroves are like children. They require protection, for mangroves cannot protect themselves. They require advocates. Advocates like the government of Belize: the political leaders, government ministers, department heads, and advocates like you and me, the average citizens of Belize.
We need to legislate protections, monitor them, and enforce them. It is time to stop talking about protecting the mangroves. It is time for action.
It is time to legislate that a developer or any purchaser of mangroves be allowed to remove only twenty five percent of those mangroves.
That developer must preserve the remaining seventy five percent. It is not the intent to stop development, but to regulate it.
It is time to seriously monitor developers and enforce this legislation. No more slaps on the wrist when violations occur.
Knowing that our mangroves represent serious money and also are protectors of a delicate ecosystem and the Barrier Reef, penalties must reflect that. Penalties must be swift, stiff and serious: they should be double what they are now.
It will make any developer think twice before bulldozers and dirt trucks bury our mangroves.
This is no time for hesitation, for dallying.
It is a time of urgency.
It is time to listen to and heed our beloved Mr. Goldson: “The time to save your country is before you lose it.”