Audubon Asks DOE to Revoke Environmental Clearance for North Drowned Caye

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And while that's one battle that lies ahead for Stake Bank, another is the one being put up by the Belize Audubon Society. On September 28, the Audubon wrote to the Chief Environmental Officer suggesting that there may be grounds to revoke the environmental clearance for North Drowned Caye. We went with the Audubon representative to North Drowned Caye yesterday to see what the beef is about.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
This is North Drowned Caye - an area of 515 acres - sitting just a few miles off the coast of Belize City. It used to be all mangrove and - and it's being actively dredged, just the initial stages of what will lead to the sprawling Ocean Bay Grand Development

This canal was trenched right through the island some time ago and it got fullenvironmental clearance but now Audubon is saying this new canal that's been branched from the first one has no approval.

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Tanya Thompson, Belize Audubon Society
"From what we have ascertained there is no permit for this activity that is taking place."

The Audubon's Tanya Williams Thompson has written to the Chief Environment Officer Ismael Fabro complaining that relevant permits have not been obtained. But developer Mike Feinstein says he doesn't need a permit for this. He says he's already gotten a permit to dredge the periphery of the island - which is the more environmentally sensitive area - and so he doesn't need one for the inside and besides, it's his island.

Jules Vasquez,
It can be argued that the man owns the island. It is his island and he has already gotten a clearance to dredge the other canal over there.

Tanya Thompson,
"When somebody goes about and do activities such as dredging without ensuring that the proper mitigation measures are being adhered to, then that causes a problem not only for that development but for other developments and other activities alongside that development. So if proper mitigation measures are not taken, then it causes an adverse effect on other people's livelihood and also on the tourism also and wildlife etc."

And that brings us back to manatees.

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Nicole Auil,
"Three years ago there was a marine mammal discussion and actually manatees were ranked as the number one marine mammal in the wider Caribbean to pay special attention to. Manatees and Belize happens to be the country that has the largest number of this Antillean subspecies in the world."

According to Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia, 150 live in this 9,000 acres Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. And the developer says they'll be just fine - and that's why his project has gotten overall clearance - even if it hasn't gotten a specific dredging permit for this canal.

Tanya Thompson,
"For Belize Audubon Society we are not anti-development. We believe that development must take place in Belize but it has to be done alongside our environment laws. So for me the concern is/was the activities that took place here: did the developer ensure that proper mitigation measures were put into place. Let's ensure that at least the conditions under which the environmental clearance was granted, that these conditions are adhere to. If they are not, then perhaps they need to take a second look at this development and decide whether or not the development should continue seriously."

As we said that letter was to the Chief Environmental Officer Ismael Fabro. On October the second, Fabro wrote back to the Audubon stating that indeed the absence of a mining license can be seen as a breach of the environmental compliance plan but is not sufficient grounds to revoke environmental clearance. But it warns if the developer does not comply with mitigation measures that are required for dredging, the doe could revoke the environmental clearance.

Additionally, Fabro today told us that the doe and the Geology Department will go to North Drowned Caye this week to conduct compliance monitoring and specifically to investigate the claims made by the Belize Audubon Society.

Live and let live