Belize's Pristine Contaminated Waters
The Silk Caye Range - they're a precious chain of small islands in Belize's southern waters that constitute a marine reserve. Last night we gave you a preview of our visit to the range along with senior members of the Oceana Foundation. Tonight we take a more thorough look at the Silk Cayes and the wider threats to Belize's marine ecosystem.
Jim McFadzean Reporting,
The news is troubling, our once pristine waters are now contaminated and the Belizean reef is now in worst shape than that of our neighbours, Mexico and Honduras, and so the once Great Barrier Reef of the Western Hemisphere is now added to UNESCO'S list of endangered World Heritage sites.Keith Addis, Chairman of the Board"There are very few fish and this is a marine protected area and when I tell you there are very few fish, I mean maybe we saw 50 or 60 fish total in 45 minutes in this whole area we were diving. So we are concerned about the marine life here."
Those were the words of OCEANA's Chairman of the Board who came down to Belize to personally see and assess for himself the state of Belize's marine life. The advocacy group is fairly new to Belize, but its ties and investment in the wider Mesoamerica region is nothing new.
Keith Addis, "Oceana is focused on three principal issues: over fishing, and I think we all know that 70%, maybe more, of all the big fish that people like to eat have been fished out of the ocean for ever. Over fishing is a big issue we are focusing on. Habitat destruction, this is one of the reasons this reef is so incredibly important to all of us because it is an important part of the nursery system and the habitat for so many important forms of sea life. And the third is pollution and whether or not anyone believes in climate change, which in I do, maybe you don't, we all know that 22 million tonnes of CO2 is being absorbed into the ocean everyday. 22 million tonnes a day. It is a staggering amount."
And so as Belize increase the pace of its development, Tourism has become a double edge sword.
Keith Addis,"Ultimately tourism is such an important business, a fantastic business here, and maintaining that level of tourism is going to largely be a function of how well the Belizeans can conserve what's gorgeous and what's attracting so many people to come and see the beauty of this place."
Dr. Michael Hirschfield, Senior Marine Biologist"Belize has done a lot right with how you develop, you don't have the giant mass hotels, the giant mass tourism, but every mangrove tree that is cut down for development is not helping the reef, it is hurting the reef and so paying attention to how and where development takes place. It is not don't develop, it is develop wisely."
The head of Oceana Belize, Audrey Matura says Oceana couldn't have made its presence in Belize at a more opportune time.
Audrey Matura Sheppard, Vice President - Oceana Belize "When we look at destructive gears then we are also looking at the protection of the reef. Also when we look at the protection of habitats, the ecosystem is all interconnected and interrelated. When we look at all the different areas where gill netting takes place, where trawling takes place, where fishing takes place - we are not saying these things shouldn't happen but we are asking that they be done sustainably because when they do that then what they are doing in the long term, everything in Belize goes right back to the reef. Development on the land affects the reef. The way we fish or how much fishes we capture affects the reef, the viability of the reef.
On the issue of foreign fleets it affects the reef because the truth is we do not have an infinite amount of fish life and marine resources in Belize. So we have to be able to use some, leave some for it to replenish. So now if we allow foreigners to come and take over and bring better gears with higher capacity, it will do several things. Economically and socially it will displace our artisanal fisherman and at the same time it will destroy our resources and the amount we have."
So what will it take and how long will it take for the home of the Western Hemisphere's largest marine population to recover from man's excesses?
Dr. Michael Hirschfield,"I think it will take being more careful with development so that we don't destroy the mangroves and the fish nurseries around the edges of the ocean. It will also take being more careful about fishing, making sure that Belize doesn't let foreign fleets come in and catch the fish. Maybe we have to be a little bit more careful in where we fish so maybe some less bottom trawling, maybe some care with gill nets. Traditional fishing methods are good but you can't keep putting the pressure on the reef that it has had for the last couple of decades and expect it to be healthy."The race is on full steam ahead as both Belize and its International partners are teaming together to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef; and its pristine waters don't enjoy the same fate as Belize's once flourishing logwood forests. Reporting for Seven News, I'm Jim McFadzean.http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=16606