Sargassum has become a plague that is especially affecting tourist destinations in our country. Not only is it unsightly, but the smell is nothing short of unbearable. It has become such a problem that last year, a Sargassum Task Force was created which comprises of several institutions including the Ministry of Tourism, Belize Tourism Board, Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Belize Hotel Association (BHA), Department of Environment, and more. The government had worked alongside the taskforce in allowing a four month tax relief for accommodation that were situated on the beachfront in the four most affected municipalities: San Pedro, Placencia, Caye Caulker, and Hopkins. Additionally, the Govenrment of Belize provided a duty exemption for imported equipment that would support clean-up and containment efforts. Love News was able to speak with both John Burgos, the Executive Director of BTIA, and Barbara Hall, the second Vice President for BHA, on these efforts.
John Burgos – Executive Director, BTIA: In terms of the numbers, you are looking at all hotels in the four key destinations: San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia so anyone of those hotels that are in front of the coast that receive the sargassum are able to qualify for the relief. The support is definitely helping, it is assisting the properties on the ground that have to deal with the sargassum on a daily basis. You can go to sleep tonight, it is clean and when you wake up in the morning you have 50 ft of sargassum at the foot of your property so the relief and support from Government is definitely helping and contributing. What we want to do is we want to be able to develop a more national plan so that we are able to in a way secure more resources so that we are able to address this in the same manner that we address hurricane. This is an emergency situation but due to some technicality, we still have not been able to receive that recognition for what the sargassum really represents.
Barbara Hall – 2nd Vice President, Belize Hotel Association: The Belize Hotel Association jointly prepared a white paper making recommendations to the Minister of Tourism basically stating that one, we acknowledge that the sargassum is here to stay just based on everything that we have heard and what we have basically stated is basically we have to put it under the responsibility of one of the government entities, for example, NEMO, because we feel that it is something that requires that level of focus. What we also recommend is that the Government maintain the present system of financial relief for the coastal hotel properties and municipalities based on the actual sargassum conditions.
According to Hall, as per the duty exemption, Placencia has received a tractor along with some wheelbarrows and more to help the cleanup. Not only that, but the village council has a pickup crew and they have released that if the sargassum is quickly taken out of the water, there is no smell. Burgos also told us more about future endeavors to keep the sargassum at bay.
John Burgos – Executive Director, BTIA: We have been looking at different pilot projects that have been presented. Right now I know the San Pedro Town Council has a delegation in Puerto Morelos and Majahual to look at how they are addressing the sargassum issue. You hear about the different success stories in Barbados where it has been used to develop a fertilizer, these are all good but the main problem still relies on two things: one is that you have to remove it from the sea which comes at a cost, the second one is transportation so wherever your business is going to be located it has to consider those two causes. Then the reality is that it is seasonal, it is not all year round so anything that is going to require capital investment you have to really look at long term because if you are going to be investing a million dollars in equipment or a half million dollars in equipment and then the next six months it is done, it is a failed investment. Right now we are looking to see what are the best alternatives to be able to see what Belize can do with the sargassum. We are looking at two pilot projects: we have one in San Pedro with the Boom system to try to see how that would work and then we have another one in Placencia so we are looking to see but we know that it is not a one bullet fix all situation so we need to look at the different options.
The sargassum issue in San Pedro is undoubtedly worse than in the other 3 municipalities and so they have been looking into installing booms, as Burgos has mentioned. We also learnt that members of the Tourism Ministry had recently visited Harvest Caye, which has booms installed, to see the material that is used for those as well as how effective it is at redirecting the sargassum.