Fish kill around Crooked Tree has residents concerned

The village of Crooked Tree in the Belize District is best known for its rich natural environment and vibrant Creole culture. But both of those assets have come under threat this week ... and the residents are trying to figure out why. News Five's Kendra Griffith has the story.

Denvor Gillett, Co-Owner, Bird's Eye View Lodge
"We have a crisis here with the fishes in the village."

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
That crisis according to villagers is that hundreds of dead fish have been washing up on the waterways surrounding Crooked Tree.

Denvor Gillett
"All the tilapias are just floating down the lagoon. In Black Creek, the banks are littered with fish. The trees that are across the creek are full with dead tilapias."

Gregory Tillett, Resident/Fisherman
"We eat fish, every Belizean. I ker fish dah Belize goh sell, I ker dah Orange Walk goh sell, I dah wah fisherman, I even sell to the prison. And if I have to ker fish weh noh good [sighs] we have to do something about this. This dah problem."

For many of the villagers, the blame for the dead tilapias lie at the door step of the Audubon Society, which co-manages the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.

James Flowers, Resident/Fisherman
"I spear the fish with my spear gun and inna last week--before Easter, we gone out deh and me and two more guys mi di strike the fish and them guys come inna a boat with a new project say that they shock the fish to test them. They shock all over the lagoon, way from front yah goh so and they dirty the water weh we mi di dive, so we couldn't see the fish them and me and them got a lee talking. And after the Easter now, all the fish they just start to dead up."

And while the N.G.O. said they were conducting a survey, the residents of Crooked Tree think something else fishy was also going on.

Denvor Gillett
"They see these people with this machine, zapping the fishes, stunning them, and just scooping them out with nets, and putting them in iceboxes."

Kendra Griffith
"Who were these people?"

Denvor Gillett
"One of them was from Audubon Society and the Audubon Society is well aware-at least the branch up here is well aware of what was going on then, because that gentleman was out, even at night in the back lagoon, and he was out in the lagoon all day just zapping fish. And to take samples, a few samples of fish you don't need to be out there all day and all night filling up iceboxes and taking them to Orange Walk to sell them before Easter for seven dollars a pound."

The young man at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary office would not speak to us, and when we contacted the main office in Belize City we were told that Executive Director Anna Hoare was out of the office.

Sr. Environmental Officer at D.O.E. Jevon Hulse told News Five that they are aware of the situation and have been to Crooked Tree twice to take samples. Hulse says so far tests show that some areas of the lagoon are normal, while other sections reveal low oxygen levels ... but the residents aren't buying the low oxygen theory.

Denvor Gillett
"There was a meeting Sunday and there were people from BAHA, Fisheries, and some other organisation, but it looks to be that everybody was covering each other. From the Audubon Society, from BAHA, from all the organisations there, they were all blaming the oxygen in the water, which is nonsense. This is four to five feet of water out here and we never had a problem like this before when the water is that deep."

James Flowers
"When you cut them open the guts just red inside and the brains like they fry or something."

Kendra Griffith
"And so you think that's what doing it, the shocking?"

Denvor Gillett
"It could be that. They say they di test the sample of the water because the water deh low with the oxygen, so we di wait back fi wah response from them."

And until they get answers ... some residents say they are staying away from the fish.

Gregory Tillett
"Right now, I noh even want to get into the water."

Kendra Griffith
"Have people still been fishing?"

Gregory Tillett
"Yes, you have a lot of people who still go fishing, but they go further. They noh stay right inna the village right yah. They go way dah back or they go round the other side of the village dah back. People noh really want to fish yah, you hardly see--usually you would see a lot of dory line off out yah di fishing. Not even one."

Verna Gillett Samuels, Co-Owner, Bird's Eye View
"You don't want when they return from seeing all these dead fishes you serve fish, because I don't think they are very comfortable with it, so we stop serving fish, we stop eating fish."

D.O.E. says it plans to return to Crooked Tree on Wednesday for more samples.