Dr. Michael Hirschfield, Audrey Matura-Sheppard and Keith AddisOn Tuesday, March 30, the Guardian and other media houses joined a group of Oceana supporters and donors on a trip to the breathtaking Silk Cayes. The Cayes are about an hour away from Placencia. It is a protected marine reserve and the area is extremely important for marine life.

Oceana is the largest international Ocean Protection & Restoration Environmental advocacy group dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's oceans. In late 2009, the Guardian spoke to Andrew Sharpless, Chief Executive Officer of Oceana. He said that Oceana is all about “advocating for policy changes that will protect and assure that Belize has a sea that is abundant - that provides all kinds of fishing jobs, tourism opportunities and food forever.” There were two factors that motivated Oceana to open a base in Belize. The first is a report by UNESCO which stated that the Barrier Reef of Belize is at risk of losing its World Heritage Status. The second is the report conducted by the Healthy Reefs inspectors which showed that Belize’s reef is in trouble. The organization focuses on three main issues. The first is over fishing; second is habitat destruction and the third is pollution. Oceana has over 300,000 supporters in 150 countries and over a couple dozen made their way to Belize to experience first hand what it is that they are protecting.

Keith Addis is the Chairman of the Board of Oceana. He went diving in the protected waters and said that his discovery was frightening. Addis said that after diving for over forty-five minutes he only saw fifty or sixty fish. He said that there should definitely be more in a marine protected area. He said that this might be caused by the injury to the reef. The reef is important to the nursery system of many marine species. Addis said that the main thing that hurts marine life is stupidity- not greed. He said there is nothing wrong with fishing “but if we were wise we would manage the resources so that we can have them around in the future”.

Audrey Matura-Sheppard, Vice President- Oceana Belize and Dr. Michael Hirschfield, Chief Marine Biologist for Oceana, said that Belize has done an excellent job at promoting sustainable development; however, more needs to be done. They stressed that the ecosystem is all interconnected and damage to the reef means damage to marine life in general.

The purpose of the trip was definitely accomplished. In speaking to other American tourists on the island, the Guardian learned that the very island which we visited was in danger. The group of five said they visited the island two years ago and fell in love with the “little paradise”. This time they brought friends but to their surprise one-fourth of the island had been devoured by the sea. Thereafter, the environmentalist from Oceana dived into our sea and saw the damage done to marine life by the weakening of our reef system; they dined on a beautiful island that was being wiped away by the effects of climate change and they greater understood that Mother Nature’s best kept secret is in trouble. Just before we left the island, a Parrot Fish came to the shore in water no deeper than six inches and stayed there for a while. Everyone was amazed at the fact that this endangered specie was not afraid of individuals walking in the water to get close to it. The fish swam there in all its beauty as if it was giving the Oceana supporters and donors one last reminder of what they are fighting and spending money to protect.

Guardian