The expedition into the Chiquibul continues as we re-cap yet
another part of Cherisse Halsall's fact-finding mission.
This time we'll delve into some of the fundamental questions about the
operations of the Mining company working in the Maya mountains. Here's
Last night we gave you a glimpse of our into the Chiquibul, taking you all
the way up to our final destination The Boiton Minerals Ltd. mining camp in
the Maya Mountains has been in the headlines - but not on camera - and when
we saw it for the first time - it was striking: a stripped area in the
middle of a vast forest.
Rafael Manzanero - Executive Director, FCD
"This is really the Chiquibul national park and originally the
development of this area under that category of a protected area which
makes it really a high category of as a national park, it was really
because of the water resources."
And FCD believes protecting that water resource is of paramount concern -
and that means playing strictly by the rules:
"I think the major concern here has been if the company is actually
engaging and following up the environmental compliance plan and that is
what pretty much we don't really fully understand because we are not
really purview to all the discussions and kind of all the regulations
that were attached to this, so for us it's really more of a searching
for information that hopefully we'll be able to understand more over
the next couple of days. You know given that as far as we know the
government is only now putting more interest in terms of what else is
That's the crux of the matter and the worry is that a journey like our
fact-finding one isn't something that the average public officer is able to
make twice a month.
Elma Kay - Forest Biologist, FCD
"In this particular instance you are in such a remote area. All of us
who came on this trip and you know I'm used to being in the forest, but
this trip I mean, as we would say in creole you take a liking, right,
because you are on this tractor for this long, that's how the workmen
for the company you know for the operations that your about to see they
also travel by tractor because this is the only way and it's not an
easy ride, so you have to ask yourselves, what is it that when we made
this decision to grant this license and have this development. What
were we thinking in terms of monitoring."
And without monitoring in this important watershed whose to say how these
activities are affecting the streams and tributaries that eventually lead
to the Belize river?
Ed Boles - Aquatic Ecologist
"In generality it's probably a significant sediment load, how far down
it's already traveled and where it' being deposited are questions that
we would want to ask, the Belize river is a very important river
nationally, everybody drinks from the Belize river including people
from the north and the south, if you drink Coca Cola's and Belkin's and
bottled water your drinking Belize river water."
It's a concern for Senator for NGO's Osmany Silas. He was on the expedition
and told me that ultimately he comes away from the trip with more questions
Osmany Salas - Senator for Civil Society
"A key questions is from when has this company and its principals, from
when has this company been extracting gold from their operation, from
when, because for many years all they were suppose to have was a
prospecting licence or an exploration licence, have they been
extracting gold from those times, and from when they got their first
license to operate and to extract, and how much has been taken out,
what value, what monetary value it has."
In one press release, the company says, quote, "it has for years expended
more money than it has earned," and in another it adds "In the process
ofâ€¦â€¦creating employment and generating Foreign Exchange, the use of our
Natural Resources will be temporarily impactedâ€¦impacted areas will be
rehabilitated by the placement of topsoil and re-vegetation, among other
But, the scientists on this trip aren't so sure the impacts are temporary.
"Mining takes away all the forest cover and all of that so i that area
there is going to be no wildlife. I think for me the trip raises more
questions that it gives answers, and my main questions surround the
issue of overall, when we have developments in this country, what is
the decision making process that we have in Belize to actually give
The Boiton Mining Limited press release also claims that its activities
serve as a deterrent to illegal Guatemalan gold panners saying quote:
"The illegal gold panning being done by the Guatemalans illegally
crossing our border has done considerable damage as they slash and burn
to survive and also use mercury which is dangerous. Boition Minerals
Ltd. uses no chemicals, and BML's presence decreases Guatemalan
And tonight in another Press release, this one from The Association of
Protected Area Management Organizations, APAMO. They call for G.O.B to
halt gold mining in the Chiquibul National Park saying quote:
" As a country very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and in
serious economic crisis, Belize depends on its forests to support our
climate change adaptation and migration strategies. Therefore we cannot
afford for destructive mining operations, wholly within our control to
bring further loss of forests resources."
Into the Wild, Again
Last week on the news we told you about a mining threat that had both citizens and environmentalists up in arms.
But while that operation is still purely exploratory, another mining operation is well underway.
This time the company in question is Boiton Minerals Ltd. a Belizean-owned company focused on gold mining in the Maya Mountains.
Cherisse Halsall made the long journey through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve this weekend to get to the company's camp, and tonight we bring you the first part of her story.
I'm here in the Chiquibul forest at the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Just 4.5km from Boiton Minerals Ltd.'s mining camp. That's where we're headed, and it's why we've come to find out how this company's activities, often unmonitored in this extremely remote area of Belize, will affect the headwaters of the river that bears the country's name.
But that was the mid-way point in the journey. We certainly didn't start there instead we kicked off our trip in Georgeville where we boarded three large pickup trucks to head into Mountain Pine Ridge.
Once there, we sat through a brief of the real journey upon which we were about to embark.
And our jungle limousine was this thing the Jumping Viper a name that has a particular resonance for anyone who's taken one of its 5 to 8 hour rides.
And while it's a rough ride through the Chiquibul forest.
It's also positively breathtaking and a fitting antidote for the stresses of civilized life.
And while all the humans on the journey got a good jostling
That wasn't the case for this little girl, she's called Ceibo or Millonario, depending on which station she's journeyed to. She followed the Viper all throughout the all day 5 hour journey. Nothing out of the ordinary for a dog native to Chiquibul.
And when we'd had enough of the viper, we got down for a hike, a steep climb down the hill.
To what's called the natural Arch one of the most astounding sites in the entire country.
And back at the top of the hill you couldn't escape the hum of the cicadas, a jungle drone that surrounds the traveler, simply impossible to miss.
And while the story of the journey could go on
Our final destination was here, Boiton Minerals Ltd. Mining Camp a homestead set up to support a mining operation smack dab in the middle of a national park.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you why it is a great concern for the Friends For Conservation and Development which co-manages the park."
We'll bring you Part 2 of the story tomorrow.
Back to The Chiquibul Hills
Last week we took you into Chiquibul National Park to show you the operations that Boition Minerals Ltd. has been carrying out at the top of the Maya mountains.
And in that first part of the journey we heard the questions and concerns posed by the environmentalists who went there with our team. But, tonight, as we hear even more from them, we'll also turn the tables and talk to Boiton's geologist, Jean Cornec.
He spoke via Zoom to Cherisse Halsall, and tonight she brings you the conclusion of this story.
Tonight, we're back in the Chiquibul, back to the makeshift roads, and the very bumpy ride, and that's because while we've heard the alarm bells raised against Boiton Minerals Ltd. we've yet to hear from the company itself.
But that changed this morning when I spoke, via Zoom , with Geologist Jean Cornec, Boiton's project geologist who the company directed to address the host of environmental concerns.
Jean Cornec, Project Geologist, Boiton Minerals Ltd. "We have a lot of gold in the creek and it had to be coming from somewhere in the watershed and we were lucky enough to locate some of the gold sources in 2016, 2017, 2018 and then we applied for a production license."
Cornec says that was a lengthy process, one that no one objected to when it was gazetted. And after the required consultation period, Boiton was granted its production license in early 2019.
But Cornec's words may do little to assuage the concerns of Senator for NGO's Osmany Salas. During the trip he stressed that a mining license granted for use in a national park was very strange indeed.
Osmany Salas "According to the national protected area system act extraction of resources should not take place in a national park, of course, the minister has discretionary powers, and that is the opening, that's the loophole, ha's he window ha probably was used here."
"We should not be allowed, it is very bad practice to allow an operation such as this type of mining to be self-policing, or policing themselves, for obvious reasons that doesn't make any sense. So, there's a lot that needs to be improved here."
But Cornec disagrees; he says there's no law against mining in a national park.
Jean Cornec, Project Geologist, "First of all exploration activity in the area has been taking place for probably 70 years in and out since 1955. There is no corruption involved because the legislation in Belize allows for mining, legislation in Belize allows for mining and exploration to take place including in a national park, it's like oil exploration. So there is nothing illegal for the government to provide, to give licenses in the area which is under national park status."
But legal or not, there are major concerns about the impact that Boiton's activities are having on the area's wildlife.
Elma Kay "You're looking at what we call cumulative impacts, so it's not just the impacts of the mining operation but you have to look at the picture holistically and holistically our wildlife is already under assault by the trans-boundary issues that we're facing, so yes you're destroying a localized area with the mining because obviously wildlife will not be able to persist there it is destroyed."
Jean Cornec, Project geologist, Boiton Minerals Ltd. "I must admit that there are a lot of problems with biodiversity but we are not the culprit. There are as many as maybe 300 Guatemalans roaming around, and panning for gold. As far as 12 kilometers from the border they have burned thousands of acres, demolished what by my calculations may be a combined 20 kilometers of rivers, they've stolen a lot of gold of course and killed all the wildlife, I mean those guys carry guns, they hunt. We do not carry guns, we do not hunt."
And Guatemalan activity is something that Cornec continued to harp on during our interview with the gist of his opinion being that those activities are much more widespread and more invasive than that of Boiton's, and that if nothing else Boiton's permanent presence serves as a deterrent to their illegal incursions. But NGO leaders like Oceana's Janelle Channona remain skeptical, insisting that GOB must make greater efforts at monitoring, especially in this remote wilderness.
Janelle Channona, Vice President "We can't keep doing the same thing and expect a different result it's really about looking at the system and making the changes there, whether it's marine terrestrial whatever the case is, we're seeing that they're bottlenecks and there are things that by design need to change if we want to see different outcomes for the resources, for economic development, for people and so it's really important that we just take some hard looks at what's happening and make the changes and keep making changes until we get what we want. But this kind of you know out of sight out of mind approach has never worked well and what we have back here is far too precious just to hand it over."
Elma Kay, Forest Biologist "What is it that when we made this decision to grant this licensee and have this developme what were we thinking in terms of monitoring, how do you leave a company out here."
"In terms of the forest mining is one of the most destructive activities that there is, your literally digging up the earth to get something for it. And it's very hard to see there would have to be a lot of work to remediate that."
Osmany Salas, Senator, NGO's "FCD staff, this is their life they do this everyday, they are used to even rougher conditions that what we went through yesterday, that is one of the reasons why FCD has been a successful co-manager of the Chiquibul national park for all these years, and I would suggest that government should consider engaging with them and see how they could assist with the monitoring operations."
Jean Cornec, Project geologist, Boiton Minerals Ltd. "Well we are not done anything that is irreparable actually everything we have done can be taken care of and if there is any infraction, we can take care of it but we'll be very soon in the process of re-seeding the area so what looks like a good optics will be taken care of pretty soon."
Jean Cornec "The re-seeding won't take place for a few months, but once it starts I believe that you can see the results easily within a year."
And while the trees may grow back, the other, more serious accusation is that Boiton may be diverting streams and destroying watersheds, That's aquatic ecologist Ed Boles's major concern.
Ed Boles "I'm always worried about any kind of disruption of the integrity of this watershed. Creates erosion when your removing material from this watershed and especially when you're digging into the terrain and you create erosion situation such as this. This erosion is an ongoing process naturally but when you get into a situation like this it greatly increases."
"We really have to take care of our Belize river, it gets a lot of sediment introduction from many other activities as well. So this is just yet one more, how large and how much is a question that we would want to ask."
Cornec has those numbers, but he agrees with Dr. Boles assessment that, erosion, something he calls a natural process, is happening with or without Boiton.
Jean Cornec "So, maybe our activities contribute to a couple of tons of clay being washed into the creeks, but you have to keep in mind that at least according to my calculations there is probably 100,000 metric tons of mostly clay plus some sand and gravel that are washed every year out of the Maya Mountains 100,000 metric tons. So, we may have bay accidents a couple of tons of clay,clay, which are inert non-toxic, we do not use chemicals so our impact is very very minimal."
But despite Cornec's measured and straightforward style, the environmentalists certainly wouldn't agree with the assessment that Boiton's impact is minimal.
But what can they do? According to Boition all operations being conducted in the Chiquibul Park are not only legal but also very much above board. Now, it'll be up to the constant vigilance of the FCD and the NGO's to poke holes in that assessment.
But knowing the terrain and what they journey takes we can only wish them good luck and godspeed because continuous monitoring of Chiqibul operations will be almost as challenging as the journey there.
A joint inspection by officers of the Department of the Environment, Forest Department, National Biodiversity Office, the Mining Unit and the Friends for Conservation and Development concluded that several conditions of the Environmental Compliance Plan were not being met. A release says "The Government of Belize takes this non-compliance seriously and will be applying the appropriate penalties and fines for these infractions."
The details of those penalties, inexplicably, remain secret.