Harvest Caye: A Threat to Our LIVE Corals??
In 2013 Harvest Caye was purchased by the Norwegian Cruise Lines with the intention of constructing a top of the line resort, located about two miles south of the southern tip of the Placencia Peninsula in the Stann Creek District. Dredging works have begun around the caye as the investors have received the green light following an environmental impact assessment that was reportedly conducted … but now, there are concerns of what the works are doing to the corals and marine life as expressed by Marine Biologist, Lisa Carne.
“The most pressing concern was the fact that giant pieces of boulder or concrete both artificial and natural pieces were dumped on top of live coral breaking the surface and breaking up the live coral underneath the surface and this is a concern because it is illegal in Belize to damage any live coral, there are fines associated with that and it is completely illegal and it is unclear why this amount of artificial rock was dumped in this area at all; that is a major concern. Another major concern is the silt curtain, so whenever there is dredging most of the EIA requires in their ECP (Environmental Compliance Plan) that they use silt curtains to prevent the soil or the silt from dredging activities to harm the nearby environment and we evaluated two of these silt curtains and one of them was not complete, in others words it did not enclose the area. It is an open end so there was no way to keep all that silt or spoil from coming out on the nearby sea grass areas and the second one that I evaluated and took photos of was damaged so the vertical silk curtain that is attached to the float on the surface was detached meaning it is not doing its job it cannot hold back in the spoils or silt from the dredging.”
According to Carne, she visited the area on several previous occasions and found an absence of Elkhorn and staghorn corals in the waters at Harvest Caye but during her visit today, she found the recovery of those corals among others. This, she says, is an indication that the corals have a chance to come back.
“For years since 2006,as a matter of fact when I first began work with the Elkhorn which are a critically endangered species I was told by tour guides that they had visited here at Harvest Caye and had been here several times and had been looking for them and I had not found them and today I found, what, based on their size and health are recently recruited so meaning they are recovering in this; which indicates to me that there is a chance for them to come back but with this beach and the plan to move forward they will not have a chance here and that was the exciting thing to see that there was these natural recruits of the stag horn and part of my project is mapping where these corals are in Belize to document where their abundance and distribution. So we can look at where best we can have a restoration site, so, we currently have a restoration site at Laughing Bird Caye National Park and a protected area and I have been mapping all of these inner sea areas so today I found relatively new but very healthy multiple colonies of the stag horn.”
Carne’s concerns were expressed via letters to the Government and other agencies prior to the approval of the project and now that works have started, she is concerned that certain parts of the compliance plan are not being adhered to.
“I have expressed these concerns before permission was granted so when the proposal was first out there I had written letters to all the appropriate government agencies including the Prime Minister expressing my concern about this entire development and we are not even talking about when the cruise ships actually come. We are only discussing and my understanding is the EIA only addresses the development at Harvest Caye it doesn’t even address when the cruise ships and the impact of the visitation of the people on the cruise ship meaning when they do their land or marine tours there has been no proper assessment of that environmental or socioeconomic impact assessment on the effect of having these thousands of people come to southern Belize so the EIA is focused on just the development around Harvest Caye and as you know in Belize many Cayes are developed and that is not a crisis but what we are seeing right now, what I saw today is that they are not complying with the existing regulations for respecting live coral, the rules and regulations on how you do dredging even when it is approved and so this concerns me because I think the biggest impact is still to come and at this early stage to see this disrespectful activities indicates to me that there is more yet negative impact to come.”
Love News understands that the resort at Harvest Caye will include a private airstrip, almost twelve acres of private residential development as well as hotel rooms, restaurants, a marina, four piers and two beach areas.