BIRD SANCTUARY/WETLANDS DEVELOPMENT
February 9, 2000
Dear Mr. Sabido,
I am writing to inquire about the status of the Wildlife Bird Sanctuary Expansion and to find out what stage of review the management plan is at.
The timing of this letter is such due to disconcerting information I was recently provided with. Last week, Green Reef received a report of bird hunting occurring on one of the cayes (Cayo Rosario) included in the boundaries of the expansion. We at Green Reef view this report of alleged hunting of critical bird species as a red flag that the protected status of these cayes must be implemented soon, if we are to prevent further detrimental activity from occurring. As President of Green Reef, I urge Natural Resources to expedite the process and allow for the expansion of the Wildlife Bird Sanctuaries to occur. Since you recently visited the Bird Sanctuaries, you may have recalled Cayo Rosario. It is one of the largest cayes and has a high population of Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets, both of which are threatened species of the Caribbean. This caye is a popular nesting and brooding habitat for many migratory bird species. For this reason, it happens to be one of the most highly visited cayes among bird watchers, and for that matter, apparently among bird hunters as well.
As outlined in the proposed management plan, Cayo Rosario, as well as 13 adjacent and surrounding cayes and wetlands are considered critical feeding and nesting habitat for many bird species. These cayes, as proven by the recent report of hunting, do face very real threats; thus they are in great need of protected status. Moreover, once the expansion of the Wildlife Bird Sanctuary is granted, Green Reef will have a greater opportunity to explore outside funding sources. Ultimately, these funds will allow Green Reef the resources to improve the management and protection of these cayes.
Until the expansion is granted, our hands are tied. Please help us at Green Reef do our part to protect this habitat and put an end to this type of illegal activity. Thank you for your time. If you would like further information regarding the alleged hunting activity, please call me at 226-3739.
May 4, 2000
Honorable Johnny Briceno
Dear Honorable Briceno,
As President of Green Reef, the environmental education, conservation and advocacy organization of San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, I would like to express my grave concern relating to the current proposed residential subdivision in the Buena Vista Area, north of San Pedro Town. Issues of immediate concern include the potential habitat destruction of the proposed area, possible negative impact to the tourism industry, and cost effectiveness related to the project.
The proposed area of development contains mostly wetlands, mangroves and lagoons (approximately 590 acres) and is located approximately a mile north of the San Pedro Town cut. This area is environmentally valuable due to the presence of wetlands, which act like a giant sponge, absorbing large amounts of water during rains, and are capable of trapping sediments and toxins from terrestrial run-off that would otherwise damage this fragile habitat. Moreover, mangroves and littoral forest that are present in this area are an essential component of the wetland ecosystem, acting to naturally create a physical barrier to inland areas and providing protection from storm surges.
For the past two years, we at Green Reef have become very familiar with this area and have even included these wetlands to be protected in our Proposed Wildlife Sanctuary Management Plan (submitted to the Department of Natural Resources). Many migratory and resident bird species depend on these wetlands, littoral forest and lagoons for critical feeding habitat. Likewise, other animals, such as crocodiles, depend on this area for breeding and foraging grounds. It is our fear that if these wetlands are not kept intact or are inappropriately developed these animals will Ultimately be forced to look elsewhere for habitat. Habitat destruction is almost always the principal reason species become threatened or endangered.
In addition to species loss, degradation of this habitat would also likely threaten the tourism potential of the area. This wetland area is primarily comprised of open water and lagoons; thus it offers a unique recreational area, providing kayakers and bird-watchers alike with unspoiled natural habitat to explore. Moreover, local fishermen are well aware of the abundance of such fish as mutton snapper, cubera, and tarpon that occur and possibly spawn in the lagoon environment. Developing this environment will no doubt diminish its attraction as a recreational area, thus hindering the livelihood of many tour guides and fishermen who frequently use the area.
It is our understanding that as of yet, little or no environmental impact or economic feasibility studies have taken place in the proposed development area. As with all wetlands, this area is highly saturated and is currently unsuitable for development, thus a significant amount of dredging and filling will inevitably be used, a method that is notoriously damaging to this fragile ecosystem. Green Reef questions the cost-effectiveness of such a project since a significant amount of dredging will be needed to make the area suitable for development. In Belize City the cost to dredge per acre is approximately $500,000; we can only assume this cost would be even greater on Ambergris Caye. Furthermore, Green Reef also has concerns as to how the sub-divisions will be connected to water and sewage, actions that could again potentially degrade the environment and financially add up. These are only a few examples of why we feel that both environmental and economic feasibility studies must take place before further development occurs.
Ambergris Caye is a popular tourist attraction that has the potential to become a world class destination. For this to be achieved, however, the basis of tourism must be rooted in sustainable principles. Thus, any development must be environmentally sound and economically viable, as well as socially and culturally acceptable. Green Reef recognizes that change to Ambergris Caye is inevitable, we simply suggest that there are positive and thoughtful ways to approach this change. It is Green Reef's belief that the most effective approach to ensuring the long-term survival of important natural areas is through an integrated strategy of development and conservation that combines intelligent policy instruments, sound science and the use of innovative technology and practices. When planned and managed effectively, tourism development can have minimal negative impact on the natural environment, while also acting as a catalyst for social development and biodiversity conservation. Likewise, tourism developers are equally dependent on the continued health of the coastal areas, since a large portion of the industry relies either directly or indirectly on a healthy environment to provide a quality product.
In conclusion, we at Green Reef request that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment investigate this issue further and take the time to consider alternatives to this proposed development, such as highland areas located adjacent to and north of these wetlands. Moreover, due to the environmental significance and tourism potential of the area, we suggest that extensive environmental and economic feasibility studies be carried out. Ambergris Caye has a history of poorly planned development projects that have severely degraded the environment. We fear that if proper consideration is not given to this project, Ambergris Caye will again lose an area of significant environmental value to yet another development of slums.
cc. Hon. Daniel Silva, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries & Cooperatives
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