We first reported on Blackadore Caye in 2005. That's when reports were that Hollywood Mega star Leonardo Di Caprio had bought the 104 acre private island off the coast of Ambergris Caye. In the 11 years intervening, much has been said about Blackadore, but little done - and today the Caye remains undeveloped, like a pregnant promise that just never delivered. And why is that? Well the media was invited out to the caye today to find out why Blackadore is a beautiful and odd mystery:...
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Looking at Blackadore Caye from it's coast line, a fly over of its land mass, or from its malformed beaches, you might be tempted to view it as just another island paradise waiting to be developed into a pricey tourist getaway.
But, the biologists hired by the intended developers of the Blackadore Caye project say that it's a location under ecological pressures, both man-made, and by nature.
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "We want you to understand Blackadore Caye and what it was like. Over a 100 years ago, this island was used for coconut harvesting, it had wild boar on the island, it actually had one of the only fresh water sources and we are going to take you to see that shortly. This island has been pillaged and ravaged by people coming here."
Juan Rovalo - Biologist "Eighty Percent of the coverage of the island is the grass that have been taking over the land. The land is being taken over by the grass through erosion of the fertile soil that is produced by the coastal literal forest. When you lose that soil into the water, then the grass can grow another feet forward. Also when you lose the coastal line, as you can see the erosion on this side, then the coastal literal forest start to get shorter and shorter and eventually die back. When that happens, the only vegetation that can grow on this hyper saline soil is the hyper saline grass."
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "Erosion is happening at a very fast rate and if you look around where Blackadore is, our biologists feel that all that area was the actual island. It's now only that narrow black strip. You are on an island which can no longer exist if we do not start doing something and making some changes immediately."
Juan Rovalo - Biologist "So instead of having a diverse thriving caye, we're having an ecologically hammered and sick caye."
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "When the island's bought it was 107 acres it has cut down almost 7 acres since then over the past couple years."
So, what's their plan to fix the decades long damage?
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "We are seeking to restore this island."
Juan Rovalo - Biologist "The ecological functions that shaped Blackadore are no longer here anymore."
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "We cannot restore it to 10 or 15 years ago, we have to restore it to over 200 years ago."
Valentine Rosado - Biologist "Throughout the consultations there has been criticisms like why introduce mangroves if there has never been mangroves at Blackadore Caye? But the biological data does confirm that even if it was 100-500 years ago there has been mangroves as they were an important part of the evolution of this island. So what we're going to be doing with the mangroves structures is that we are going to be reintroducing them back into the ecosystem. They are also going to form, if you are familiar with the root system of the mangrove, this intense network of roots that serve as nurseries for the fish but at the same time if you have the juvenile fish it will attract the larger fish that will stay around the area. We are integrating them with the rocks that is in line with the "ramas" that the fishermen used to use because the mangroves take 3-5 years for them to begin having that function. It really depends on the conditions, it could take more but in the short term by integrating them with these rock structures we will ensure that on the short term they're going to begin to attract fish. So that's one aspect of the mangrove."
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "This is our 20 year vision, its not going to be immediate. We've taken over a hundred years to destroy it, we're not going to fix it in 5 days or 20 days or a year. It will take 20 or more years."
And according to the technicians and consultants, this press tour, which is allowing us to take you on a walkthrough of the island, is by no means an attempt at a positive PR Campaign. For them, this just a familiarization trip to show the public that they heard and listened to the views given at the January Public Consultations.
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "At the end of the day you are here prior to our addendum of our EIA being submitted so that we can include areas of importance that you as journalists have heard of and learned within the Belizean environments as you have heard of this project as well."
A major gripe for the conservative-minded attendees at the January consultation was that the developers were considering building over the water. The concern was that this would have been destructive to the fragile ecosystems which make up a part of Blackadore Caye's coast. That idea has since has been scrapped completely.
Dr. Dionne Miranda - Chamberlain Consulting/Blackadore PR "So the project summary from when you were at the last consultation it has changed considerably. We have taken out that outrigger completely that people were against in the original consultation. So the welcome centre has now been removed to the other area that I mentioned and that entire outrigger has been dismantled. The hotel size has shrunk considerably because all of it is going to be on the land. So it's going to be a small hotel, a village centre, private estates, club house, wellness centre, the ecologists centre is there because we believe the need to preserve the history and the ecology. Everything that was brought up in the consultation we have considered, we've listened and we've made changes. This is one of the first time that an investor in this country is an unprecedented event where people actually listen, who actually hold consultations and actually speak and want to hear what it is that need to be different. We want to certify by international green associations abroad. Every step of the way we'll be audited, we will be checked, you will know and we will keep you informed so that you know that we are following the rules and we are going to be here for perpetuity. The investment that is going in this island is not for 5-10 years. People are worried that another developer may come and take it over, the developer that takes it over will not want to live under these strict conditions with these high costs of running. So at the end of the day this is going to be our legacy, this will be here for the rest of the world to see as the best practice."
You heard in the story, back in January, there was a big public consultation hosted by the Department of the Environment, the kind that is required by law for any major private development. Conservation minded San Pedranos were very critical of the first draft of the Environmental studies, which were outlined by the professionals hired by the developers.
And just who are these developers? Well, in April of last year, no less than the New York Times said that Di Caprio bought the island and that he was developing it along with Paul Scialla, a New York City based developer.
Today, though, they downplayed the whole Di-Caprio angle - and no one would confirm if he is indeed the owner of the project. It seems though that Di Caprio has since tried to put some distance between himself and the project because of the polarizing effect of having a Hollywood megastar involved. Of course, he did give the New York times a very forthcoming interview about the project in 2015. There is another public consultation which will take place in a few weeks from now.
On Thursday, May 26th, the Blackadore Caye Development team invited the media corp for a visit to the island. As part of the visit, a presentation was given on the current status of the development of the island, including an update on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as well as the concept for Blackadore Caye - A Restorative Island Resort.
Click photos for more pictures!
Blackadore Caye Development updates media on development plans
During the visit to Blackadore Caye, attendees were provided with a presentation on the current status of the island’s development. Lead Consultant/Managing Director Dionne Chamberlain explained the main goal of the project’s in and a global and local perspective. “The benefits in the global perspective will put the name of our country even higher as the pioneer of initiating an environmental concept that can be delivered worldwide,” said Chamberlain.
At the local level, the restorative project on the island is expected to generate a new revenue stream for the country. According to the presentation, it will create jobs, a new type of tourism and it will give exposure to the local people. “The jobs that will be available when Blackadore Caye is completed will not just any ordinary employment, they will be green jobs,” said Chamberlain. “This new type of exposure will create awareness and encourage everyone to take care of the environment. At the same time, we will partner with the different educational institutions in order to promote a vast educational campaign in regards to green energy.” The plans include introducing vocational courses in schools, so that students can be trained and able to operate eco-friendly equipment such as solar panels. Some of the green technology planned to be used on the island, according to the presenters, has not yet been used anywhere in the world. Blackadore Caye will be the centre of training and point of reference in regards to restorative achievement and clean energy.
After the presentation an onsite tour was conducted on the island by biologist Juan Rovalo. During the tour many of the coconut trees were observed with an orange dye around their trunks. Rovalo explained that it is due to fungi that is affecting all trees on the island. According to him about 80% of the island is covered with hypersaline grass and Love grass. This grass has grown over three feet and is taking over the vegetation on the island after the erosion of the fertile soil that produced a coastal forest. “Instead of having a diverse thriving caye, we are having an ecologically hammered and ill caye,” said Rovalo. “In the remains of littoral forest, we still have around 30 species of plants between shrubs, palms and trees. This is the type of vegetation we should have on the island at the moment. However, due to the constant erosion, more salt water comes on the surface of the island and thus, more hyper saline grass grows.” Rovalo stated that the grass has no benefits for the island, but rather promotes its further erosion, and once its coastal land is lost, nothing can bring it back.
Despite the ecological crisis on Blackadore Caye, around 29 species of fauna still make the island their home. Twelve of these species are actually permanent residents on the island, including three species of bats, one species of mice, hundreds of crabs, eight species of reptile such as lizards, geckos and about three snakes including boa constrictor.
While things do not seem well on the terrestrial area of the caye, its surrounding waters are a prime nursing ground for fish. According to Rovalo, there are hundreds of juvenile fishes harbouring around the island’s shores. “We also have commercial fishes living in these waters, bottom feeders such as permits and bonefish. 80% of the fish population observed was under 20 centimetres long, meaning that they hatch around this area and then leave. We want to enhance that, and with the reforestation of the mangrove plantation project, we expect this to change,” said Rovalo. It is expected that the rehabilitation of the littoral forest will not only increase the number and sizes of fish around the area, but prevent the erosion on the island.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see LOTS more photos in the San Pedro Sun
Consultations Continue for Blackadore Caye
A multi-million dollar eco-friendly hotel to be built on Blackadore Caye has begun its second process of consultations. A number of amendments were made to the Environment Impact Assessment, based on consultations with those who will be affected by the development of the project. For the eco-friendly hotel to become successful, they need a healthy island for their environmental practices. According to biologist Juan Rovalo, who is assessing the area, the island isn’t “living” and needs lots of restoration. This is what the developers of the eco- friendly hotel plans to do over the next couple of years; restore the entire island. Dionne Chamberlain, Public Relations Officer for the Blackadore Group briefed the media on their future goals.
“Island restoration is our focus and our goal but it is an environmental concept brought to life that can be delivered world wide. It is a revenue and economy stream for the country for everybody, from north to south of this country not only for a few and select. It will create jobs, meaningful jobs, jobs that nobody in the rest of the world is trained on, equipment that people are not trained on, the biological data that we have collected and amassed over the last two years of study will be shared with all of the people in the conservation environment and even the equipment will be donated to them after our studies so that they can use it to make sure that we start doing things right and our scientists and biologists will be available so that we continue this for the rest of our lives within our country. Exposure for our people, a new quality of tourists, a growth in tourism by a thoughtful leadership segment who actually care, investors who actually listen.”
The island then, got its name from the rich and black healthy soil, which is scarcely present due to erosion. Mangroves, which were once present about a hundred years ago, are now gone. Rovalo who is from Mexico, explained the state of the island.
“Instead of having a diver’s thriving caye we are having an ecologically hammered and sick caye. We have the remains of the ecosystem that should be here all over the caye. Since the water is coming out and the coastal bed is being eroded then more and more salt water is coming in and hypersalinating this place. We have been studying the bird population, the mammal population including bats. So for example we have three species of bats here and that’s another sign that the ecology is not thriving because in the tropical areas that bat are a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem so just having the three species of bats tells you that it’s not a healthy ecology anymore.”
As we said, the Blackadore Group has changed their EIA due to the consultations. One of them was the over water rooms which they claimed will no longer be. Chamberlain explained more of the amendments.
“The project summary from when you were at the last consultation it has changed considerably. We have taken out that outrigger completely that people were against in the original consultation so the welcome center has not been removed to that other area and the entire outrigger has been dismantled. The hotel’s size has shrunk considerably because all of it is going to be on the land so it’s going to be a small hotel, a village center, private estates, clubhouse, a wellness center, the ecology center is there because we believe the need to preserve the history and the ecology. We want to preserve everything that we found on the island so that visitors, students and Belizean on a whole can see what this island was like one hundred years ago. We will have an employee housing area and we are looking at jobs countrywide at the end of the day for the amount of jobs we will be creating and the training we will be providing we are looking at a large grouping. We are looking at wellness in design, we have people like Deepak Chopra who are playing a part in the design aspects of it, for the environment and the preservation of history with the ecological center, the cultural preservation of course there will be social and economic value it is going to be a business at the end of the day but it will be a business that is worthwhile for Belizeans.”
Rovalo added that the tipping point for natural restoration to keep the island together has long gone but the coastline can be saved with human restoration.
Blackadore Caye Resort is back in the news tonight. The multimillion-dollar, eco-friendly, luxury resort project restructured, following a round of consultations in San Pedro in which residents expressed serious concerns in January about environmental impact that the proposed luxury resort could have on the fragile eco-system. Well someone has been listening because at a media event today, it was revealed that the project has been downsized considerably. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Blackadore Caye, an island west of Ambergris Caye, is an expansive hundred-and-four-acre landmass. Once a layover for fishermen traversing these emerald green waters, the island was teeming with flora and fauna. Much of what was this lush, tropical retreat has since transformed into desolate grassland, the physical result of erosion and other environmental stresses.
Juan Ravalo, Biologist
“Eighty percent of the coverage of the island is the grasses that have been taking over the land, and the land is being taken over by the grass through erosion of the fertile soil that is produced by the coastal littoral forest. When you lose that soil into the water then the grass can grow another feet forward.”
This vast savannah continues to inch its way across much of Blackadore Caye. The only other plant life here are clusters of coconut trees. These too have been affected by the ecological phenomena that is ravaging the island. While the actual size of the property has reduced by three acres since it was purchased several years ago, vegetation is also adversely impacted. A majority of these tropical trees are covered by colonies of red palm mites. Biologist Juan Ravalo describes what has been taking place.
“The original vegetation was cleared out and the coconut was planted in order to produce coconut. So, since it’s a very narrow caye the soil is hyper-salinic. So it’s very difficult for plants to thrive here, plants that are not hyper-saline tolerant or adapted to it. So you can see some of the coconuts here are very sick. We have, as all the Caribbean area, we have red mites and we have lethal yellowing. So the coconut here doesn’t thrive either. The only reasonable thing to do is to bring back the native plants and native ecology.”
That concept, the first of its kind in restoring an island, is part of an ambitious undertaking to create the future home of the most ecofriendly luxury development ever built. The idea itself is quite grandiose, however, with input from arguably the world’s top architect of exclusive hotel resorts, it seems fairly practical.
Dionne Chamberlain, Chamberlain Consulting
“We’re excited to have architect Jean-Michel Gathy onboard with us and the reason why we’re excited is because with John Michel Gathy you don’t choose him, he chooses you. He decides that he needs to like the project, he needs to feel good about the operator, he needs to know that it’s not just business and you’re passionate. He uses minimalism, embraces culture and environment and history in his design and him, along with Jason McLanahan are going to give us that living, building island that we are seeking.”
The initial design for the high-end escape has been scaled down considerably, following a round of consultations with stakeholders in San Pedro in mid-January. That open exchange of opinions brought forward specific concerns, including the possible economic impact on the livelihood of local fishermen who would be displaced from that area of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Miguel Alamilla, Manager, Hol Chan Marine Reserve
“I think the real issue here is not the results you will get from your bio-mimicry but the actual over the water structures and how they will be affected or displaced from their traditional fishing grounds. And again, bio-mimicry is just a fancy word, the Sam Pedro Tour Guide Association has been doing that, local fishermen have been doing that for years, centuries even. The Mayas were doing bio-mimicry. So it’s highly likely that your structures will attract fish but the real issue is the displacement of those fishermen from their traditional fishing grounds.”
Those issues have been partly addressed by Belize Rural South Area Representative and Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia Junior.
Manuel Heredia Jr.
Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism
“If you want to restore the island as they want to do, they want to have it in a way that will be more beautiful and so, heck you are spending tons of money to do this and if you, the density of the island, of construction of the island is so great then there will practically be nothing to restore. So that is the reason they were using and they were very selective as to the area where they will build the structures. Yes, if it can be downsized fine; it’s there for discussion but let us sit down and dialogue.”
Notwithstanding a pending environmental impact assessment, the project is being touted as a worthwhile investment, one which A list actor Leonardo DiCaprio has bought into as a principal in the Blackadore Group.
“The current island profile and the future island cross-section, it’s really a good project and we understand that there were concerns, people thought it was not restorative but financially viable. It will be financially viable.”
According to the development and environmental teams of Blackadore Caye, the island is suffering immensely from erosion, land resource exploitation, local species degradation and deforestation and if no action is taken to stop, reverse and restore the island back to its pristine state, it will eventually disappear.
The research team at Blackadore Caye has indicated all these variables affecting the island, which has already it has lost almost seven acres of land over the past couple years. The rich vegetation of the island is dying fast, along with the rich diversity of fauna that once inhabited the island. Coconut trees are suffering/dying from Lethal Yellowing disease and high levels of salinity in the soil content is preventing any other vegetation from flourishing other than high grass. Local hunting on the island has also completely rid the island of wild boars, coatimundi and deer.
Developers have addressed the initial concerns of the local community by re-drafting their initial plans to build over over the water structures. There will be no longer be any over the water hotel rooms/ buildings at Blackadore; the Welcome Center has been moved to the northern part of the island to help preserve the sensitive ecosystem on the south end. These are just a couple changes the developers took after major environmental concerns were raised at the first public consultation on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
But before any construction of the eco-resort takes place, developers have stressed on the importance of restoring the island back to its pristine state, or at least kick start the process to ensure the island does not erode and die. This is why the project at Blackadore is being called “A Restorative Island”; developers, investors, architects and contractor are all conscious of the sensitivity of the island’s eco systems and are willing to work under practices that will ensure the protection and enhancement of Blackadore’s natural resources.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the Ambergris Today
Everything they are saying about Blackadore Caye can also be said about Ambergris Caye. It too was a coconut plantation with a diverse marine ecosystem that has been sacrificed for development. Don't take my remarks as being critical of those opposing the project. I personally struggle with forming an opinion that would oppose the development since I own property that was once in its natural state before being developed. I understand there should be a limit on what is developed. But, when I see all the development being done, I don't see any limits. Again, don't take my remarks as being in favor of the development. I only question how other similar projects are being allowed, or contemplated, and how this project differs. There needs to be a better, and consistent, national plan that, if possible at this stage, finds a balance between development and protecting natural resources and is applied equally to all.
Some said the same thing about Cayo Espanto when it was proposed. The business logic of the average person does not always apply to those with more money than they know what to do with. Besides, if you are going to have uncontrolled development, which seems to be the case, I would much prefer mega million dollar projects, as opposed to some of the eye sores that that have been built. Reef village, villas built over what once was water and unfinished buildings rusting away that one sees after crossing the bridge, and Sands Villas now falling apart and a huge eye sore, just to name two. Of course not all multi million dollar developments are necessarily a plus. Mahogany Bay as an example. Built on "manufactured land" and a population density that rivals any Goverment housing progect in any slum in the US. And of course there is Grand Belizean Estates. Where do I start about that?
Blackadore Caye, Belize: Restoration and Development, I Think I Finally Get It
Yesterday, I snagged my first invite to head over to Blackadore Caye with the Jim, who works in Environmental Protection & Restoration, Juan, a head biologist and a crew of Belizeans including a student in Biology at University of Belize to learn about Blackadore Caye.
The caye is 2.5 miles long and lies north to south parallel to Ambergris Caye between our caye and the mainland. It is pencil thin – at no point during my trekking could I NOT see the other side.
I will not profess to be an expert – AT ALL. But I went to the EIA meeting a few months ago to listen, I went to the island yesterday to look around and listen and here is what I think:
The island is exceptionally beautiful – I mean CRAZY STUNNING EYE-POPPING EXHAUSTINGLY GORGEOUS.
2. It is in a state that we see all along the windward coast of Ambergris Caye – erosion and decay. The very few trees on the island are falling into the water and what is behind them? Acres and acres of shallow rooted savannah grasses that won’t keep the remaining soil on the island. There is literally ONE mangrove tree left. ONE.
Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Scoop