Bacalar Chico Marine and Wildlife Reserve

Baby turtles at their nesting site at Bacalar Chico

The Bacalar Chico Park and Reserve supports the largest number of Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle nests in Belize, as well as periodic visits by nesting Hawksbill Turtles.


Belize possesses many beautiful sites, gorgeous reserves, and stunning views. It is no wonder why it has become known as Mother Nature’s best kept secret. One such site is known as Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park. Over a decade ago Bacalar Chico was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). What would merit Bacalar to get such an international recognition and why is it important to save what our families have enjoyed for years?

    Early field studies of the region quickly recognized the region’s unique natural characteristics. They understood that it warranted managed conservation, and hence promised an ideal location for a mixed terrestrial and marine reserve.

    The coastal reaches of the Bacalar region also support many unique natural characteristics. Part of the marine reserve encompasses the area known locally as Rocky Point, which is the only location in Belize where the Belize Barrier Reef touches the shoreline. During the 1990’s, the coastline from Rocky Point southwards to Robles Point was recognized as an important marine turtle nesting area, supporting the largest number of Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtle nests in Belize, as well as periodic visits by nesting Hawksbill Turtles. The offshore marine habitat was long known as an important breeding area for the commercially valuable Queen Conch, as well as a seasonal spawning bank for Nassau and Yellowfin Groupers, and a variety of other species.

    The Bacalar region has a long history of cultural importance. Archaeological studies conducted in the 1980’s recognized the coastal reaches of the Bacalar region once supported several trading, agricultural and fishing settlements established by the ancient Maya; and the area has intermittently been utilized by settlers from colonial times to the present day. Both the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve were granted legal recognition in 1996.

    The national park encompasses 12,640 acres of land and includes the Laguna de Cantena, which is one of the largest lagoons in Northern Ambergris Caye.

    With Belize no longer being a secret, many flock to the island with the hopes of making it their slice of paradise, the place that they’ll call home. All over the island people can see developments, buildings being erected, it is no secret that Ambergris Caye is expanding greatly. One such development is Ambergris Caye Belize Resort Development. The developer is Belizean Gil Castillo and his proposal is to have 5-star lodging. But why is this development involved in controversy even before the first tree has been cleared? Well, because the development will take place in 180 acres of which 30+ acres is the floor of Laguna de Cantena, which is accessed through the Bacalar Chico passage between Belize and Mexico, located on the beach north of Rocky Point. Although the land is privately owned, it lies between Bacalar Chico National Park (to the west) and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve (to the east). The development is north of the turtle nesting area.

    So how would a development affect what we and visitors alike know as Bacalar Chico? What are the actually development plans? Bacalar Chico National Park encompasses vital littoral forest, which includes dense strand vegetation, including lilies (prob. Hymenocallis), Sandspur (Cenchrus sp), small white composite, occasional Caribbean Sedge (Cyperus ligularis), Seaside Lavender (Mallotonia gnapholoides), Seaside Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), Chamaesyce spp), Seaside Bean (Canavalia), occasional Bay-cedar (Suriana maritime) etc. Sporadic Coconut Trees (Cocos nucifera) mainly on beach areas. In 1994, the International Tropical Conservation Foundation (ITCF) conducted a terrestrial wildlife survey of the Bacalar region and determined that Jaguar (Pantera onca) and Puma (Puma concolor) both threatened species, continued to be in existence within the region. More recent studies, however, suggest that at least 10 threatened species continue to be extant within the park. Some of the littoral forest will be cut down to make way for a road, it will be cut down as well to make room for two 50 –foot pools, and beach access. The construction of the road poses its own problems; the road will allow people to readily access the park and reserve. Both have already been victims of poaching, especially of wild game in the National Park.

    Prior to any construction, developers have to submit to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA for Ambergris Caye Belize Resort Development shows plans that three bridges will be constructed on the site. These three bridges will require dredging due to shallow water in order to allow boat entry. Dredging will impact the reef immensely especially with the proximity of the reef to the land in that specific area.

    Waste water management and sewer treatment have always been a concern to San Pedro. This development plans to produce 10,000 gallons of desalinized water a day. Where will the waste water go? Whether it goes directly to the environment or not, it does eventually affect the surroundings. It is speculated, not confirmed, that it might be pumped into the Cantena Lagoon where all fly fishermen depend on to do their tours.

    Joe Villafranco of the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) stated that the main concerns for the development were the proximity to the turtle nesting site and the littoral forest cut down. Ministry of the Environment is assessing the Environmental Impact Assessment so that if the project goes through; it will go through with the less impact to the environment as possible.

    Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Government Organizations, BACONGO, stated, “we would like to express our concerns over the escalating pace of coastal development, the lack of a coordinated national coastal zone management plan and the increasing cumulative impacts on marine resources and marine-based livelihoods. Of particular concern are the number of large projects currently underway or planned that include the destruction of mangroves through dredging and filling and the loss of seagrass beds through dredging. BACONGO recommends a moratorium on coastal development projects until the Coastal Zone Management Plan is approved by Cabinet. It was tabled on 2004.”

    Alicia Eck, manager for Bacalar, commented, “we are not entirely against development. We simply want development that takes into consideration the sensitivity of our environment. The less impact to our environment the better.” Developments are going all around the community. EIA’s are public knowledge and in order to preserve what Belize proudly has then it is up to everyone to care for her. Educate yourself on the various reserves, and the developments going around. EIA’s can be found at the Ministry of Natural Resources website, as well as public libraries and your Town Councils and Boards.

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