Chocolate Heredia’s Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary faces management problems
The recent decline of visitors to Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as the absence of a signed co-management agreement are two main challenges hurting the management of the manatee sanctuary. Located a few miles off the coast of Belize City, the sanctuary has been a protected marine reserve since July of 2002, and serves as a critical habitat for the declining population of West Indies Manatees. But for the past two years, the wildlife sanctuary has been operating for very long periods without the supervision of park rangers.
The sanctuary has been managed by Friends of Swallow Caye (FOSC) along with the Government of Belize through the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development via a com-management agreement. The co-management agreement expired in 2012, and since then the two parties have not signed another agreement to operate the manatee wildlife sanctuary. Because there is no legal document signed, FOSC has been unable to access funds to help manage the reserve.
The San Pedro Sun became aware of the situation after a tour operator on Ambergris Caye saw the observation outpost vandalized and the notable absence of rangers. According to FOSC Project Manager Maria Vega, over the past two years, they have experienced a decline of visitors to the park. “An entrance fee of $10 is charged for each visitor but we [FOSC] have seen a decline of visitors, which affects our budget,” said Vega. She explained that the FOSC depends on the park fee and other funds obtained through grant applications, however even obtaining funds has been a challenge.
Because FOSC have refused to sign the co-management agreement, Vega said that the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development has been using its power to refuse support to FOSC, which has crippled the organization’s operation. “Without a letter of support it makes it difficult to raise funds to manage the area. GOB has never given anything directly to the management of the sanctuary. Their level of contribution to Swallow Caye has been the granting of the park fees collected by FOSC. However the responsibility of paying for the park rangers should be the responsibility of the Government,” outline Vega.
Without being able to pay for park rangers to conduct daily patrols, FOSC has been forced to cut down their budget by placing rangers inside the area during the high season only. Swallow Caye Wildlife authorities hope that by mid-December, they will have the temporary rangers working.
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