The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI) is working on an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan for Belize, which spans 9 zones, and it hopes to complete the plan by March 2012. It wants the public to be involved in another wave of consultations and is extending an invitation for the public to attend a series of community meetings before the plan is finally taken to Government for final vetting.

Those meetings are scheduled for January 25 to February 29. (Please see the itinerary that follows this article for the details.)

Amandala interviewed Colin Gillett, director of the CZMAI’s Institute, who told us more about the planning.

We asked him: What are the main things you would like to achieve?

Gillett responded, saying, “...we want people to see that it’s all about planning, and if we don’t plan what we are going to do with our coastal zone, we will end up with more problems.”

CZMAI’s vision for the future, he said, is to use the best possible information so people in those regions can make the best possible decisions.

He told our newspaper that the process began almost ten years ago, around 2002, when a strategy document was formulated to outline areas for management. There were coastal advisory committees for each of the 9 areas shown in the accompanying map. The document was later taken to Cabinet for endorsement and the plan now being formulated flows out of that strategy document.

The Coastal Zone Management Act says every four years the plan has to be updated, said Gillett. By the time the next review comes in 4 years, he said, there will be better information.

There is a need, he said, for Belize to develop guidelines for what is allowed and what is not within the various parts of the coastal zone.

Once the plan is accepted by the Government, the CZMAI will establish a portal online where public users can click on links of interest and a bubble would pop up to say what can be done and what permits will be needed for certain types of development or activities in the said zones.

The recommendations are almost finished and the CZMAI wants to get them out to the public, said Gillett.

He told us that using a GIS tool called Marine Invest, sponsored by Stanford University, they have been able to run models of scenarios to explore what best to do with certain lands within the coastal zone regime.

The tool proved very useful in an instance where a housing development was proposed along the coast, but the model demonstrated that it would be put in a flood plain. This led to the recommendation that the area should be put to some other use or that appropriate building guidelines should be incorporated.

Gillett said that the CZMAI is trying to work with the Central Building Authority to add guidelines for building codes for people who want to build along the coast.

He also noted that they are now seeing a growing appreciation for mangroves, now that they are disappearing.

One thing they have been able to do with the GIS tool is to run a model for right in front of Belize City, where there are a lot of mangrove islands, to show the devastation that can happen if all the mangroves are removed.

The zone in front of Belize City is a good zone for tourism. Gillett said that once it’s zoned for that, developers will know what to use the islands for and what guidelines they are to follow.

There is also the question of whether the government wants to open up the south of Belize for cruise tourism.

“Our planning for these areas and zoning is also based on the government’s direction for the future,” he said, noting that they also consider what is included in the scope of Horizon 2030, the country’s long-term strategic plan.

Gillett said that the biggest problem coastal zone managers face is enforcement; however, the Coast Guard responds very effectively to their calls for assistance.

One of the areas where enforcement is lacking is ensuring a 66-foot buffer zone, as a reserve for coastal development. Another problem is that even in some places where the 66-foot buffer was allowed, erosion has meant a stripping of this valuable protective reserve.

Gillett said that efforts are being made to prevent erosion and also to put back some of the beach to give the required space where possible.

As for the case of severe erosion in Monkey River, he noted that the cause of that degradation was excessive sand mining, which undermined the natural replenishment of the beach.

There are also concerns over access to piers over the public waterways. It has been noted that some developers claim full ownership of piers and restrict public access, but Gillett said that despite the fact that a lot of people fence off these piers, they are really supposed to be public access.

“When you build a pier or marina, as long as it is built over a public waterway, it is not yours,” he said.

Reasonable access should be provided to the public, such as from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Some developers were saying they don’t want anybody on their pier... I wanted to test the theory and sit on the pier all day and fish and see what would happen. I would sue if they ever tried to put me off!” he said.

The CZMAI was dormant between 2004 and 2008, but since then, it has been revitalized to more comprehensively take on its mandate to help protect Belize’s coast and its wealth of resources.

We asked Gillett about offshore oil exploration, and he said: “We have to plan for it, because Government hasn’t said no.”

 

Region

 

Date

 

Location

 

Venue

 

Turneffe Region

 

January 25

 

Belize City

 

TBA

 

Lighthouse Reef Region

 

January 31

 

Belize City

 

TBA

 

Southern [ Toledo ] Region

 

February 3

 

Punta Gorda

 

TBA

 

Dangriga Region

 

February 15

 

Dangriga

 

Sacred Heart Parish Hall

 

Placencia Region

 

February 16

 

Placencia

 

Community Center

 

Northern [Corozal] Region

 

February 21

 

Corozal Town

 

Tony’s Inn

 

Belize City Cayes Region

 

February 23

 

Belize City

 

The CZM Training Room

 

Ambergris Caye Region

 

February 28

 

San Pedro

 

Lion’s Den

 

Caye Caulker Region

 

February 29

 

Caye Caulker

 

Community Center