The analysis of Environmental and Economic Effects of Improperly regulated Development at the Turneffe Atoll
The Turneffe Atoll Trust today launched the “Risking the Atoll” report. It looks at the unsustainable activities, particularly unregulated development, at the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve that continues to threaten that ecosystem, highlighting past failures to protect the reserve and the damages it has sustained. The report also shows how it contributes to economic and social development of the country.
Valentino Shal – Consultant: “We are dependent on the the Atoll, the Atoll is not dependent on us and we use it for fishing, for Tourism and Sport Fishing but in addition to those things that we draw from the Atoll it also provides us with storm mitigation value especially for Belize City and of course it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides us with fresh air and of course these are very hard to quantify but we have made an effort to put a value on it and in total the Atoll in our estimate provides Belize with about $540,000,000 worth of services every year in economic value. This is in economic terms and so its a very important resource and we benefit immensely from it. Just from fishing alone, from Tourism and the taxes we pay to the Government is over $150,000,000 a year and this is in real money and so it is a valuable resource and we must continue to take care of it.”
Dalilah Ical: “And that is just what the Turneffe Atoll Trust has set out to do with the “Risking the Atoll Report”. It is a case study that sought to analyze the environmental and economic effects of improperly regulated development in the reserve. It is located some 25 miles East of Belize City and it is described as the most biologically diverse atoll in the entire Caribbean. It was designated a marine reserve in 2012. But fast-forward six years and the atoll is facing continued damage and degradation. The situation is not only being documented by environmental groups, but by the very fishermen who live off the reserve’s resources. Hopeton George Westby Senior has been on the Atoll for over forty years and says the negative impact have been significant.”
Hopeton George Westby Sr: “The resources have dwindled down to about quarter of what it used to be. A large part of the problem is that we are over fishing and we have way too much fishermen for the size of the Atoll. We are up to 950 from about 150 back a few years ago, ten years ago we were about 250 and today it is 950 for 15 sq miles of reef. The stock is getting smaller, the lobster is smaller, the conch is getting smaller and even the fish is smaller so that’s the thing and more damage to the reef due to more dorey impact in the reef, you know the dorey bounce up on the corals and break the corals and at times we found rocks where humans actually take bars and break the rock to get a few lobster out and that is a fact. I can take you to a few rocks that I know I used to go and catch lobster and now they are busted up because if one is in there these guys think that they need to get it to make a buck so they condemn the rock. For a fisherman right now it is pretty challenging and this is what is stirring up the product because when guys go out there and they can’t get the big they take the small and so the stock is going down and it’s going down real fast.”
Dalilah Ical: “But overfishing is just one of the problems. Valentino Shal, a consultant, worked on the case study of the area. He says improperly regulated development in the reserve is causing much of the degradation.”
Valentino Shal – Consultant: I think one of the biggest impacts have been dredging, well the most damaging activity has been dredging. There is a dredging of some of the islands but also dredging of what we call back reef flats. These are a special type of reef that you find at Turneffe so breaking them up and removing them in the scale that we saw is definitely damaging and I think the other one is the removal of mangroves. Mangroves are very critical and important habitats and so just removing them without permit is also very damaging to the area and we know that a lot of fishers depend on the Turneffe and so mangroves play a very important role in the fishing sector by providing a nursery for fishes so simply removing them is going to not just destroy the mangroves but have a downstream effect on the fishing sector.”
Dalilah Ical: “The Turneffe Atoll Trust is looking to collaborate with stakeholders to curb the destruction on the Atoll.”
Valentino Shal – Consultant: “We are asking that developers educate themselves about the rules and make sure you follow the rules. Any responsible developer should be concerned and interested in protecting the environment because their investment will also depend on that very same environment so no developer should have to be forced to follow the law but making sure that they are familiar with it and comply with it because it is in the interest of the environment but it is also in their own self interest to do so. We are also asking the Government agencies to strengthen their monitoring of the area because they are the only ones that have the legal mandate to enforce the rules. Turneffe Atoll does the research, we don’t do any enforcement, that is left up to the Government agencies and of course the people who manage the area need to make sure they are more strict with the enforcement of the rules of the area.”
Dalilah Ical: “Copies of the report have been provided to interested parties. Dalilah Ical Love News.”
The report indicates that approximately two-hundred fishers regularly work at Turneffe and 950 are registered to fish there. These fishermen are mainly from Belize City, Sarteneja, Chunox and Copper Bank, and they produce a substantial amount of the marine products for Belize. The eco-tourism resorts at Turneffe employ approximately 100 individuals.
The Turneffe Atoll is Under Threat
The Turneffe Atoll Trust today released the findings of a report it conducted on the Turneffe Atoll. That report shows that the marine reserve has sustained multiple damages and is threatened by harmful and improperly, unregulated development activities. Those include dredging, deforestation of mangroves and among other threats. The Turneffe Atoll Trust launched the report to share just how economically and environmentally important this site is to Belize and Belizeans – and how those benefits are being put at risk. Despite the fact that there are number of regulations and laws in place to protect this site, the report shows that there are projects that have not met requirements and there is a lack of oversight on the activities happening within the atoll. Andrea Polanco was at today’s launch and tells us more.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Thirty-miles long and ten miles wide – the Turneffe Atoll is located thirty-miles east of Belize City. This atoll is the biggest and has some of the most diverse species in all of the Caribbean. Back in 2012, it was designated a marine reserve.
Alex Anderson, Executive Director, Turneffe Atoll Trust
“Turneffe is considered the gem of the meso-American reef. It has been highlighted as the largest and the most biologically diverse atoll in the western hemisphere. It is roughly thirty-miles long and ten miles wide at the highest point. It has roughly over two hundred and sixty species of fish, seventy-seven different vegetation types, coral reefs, beautiful lush back reef flats and sea grass beds.”
And so this atoll’s environmental value is significant to Belize and it helps to sustain the livelihoods of many Belizeans. This coastal marine ecosystem contributes than five hundred million dollars to Belize’s economy through fishing, tourism, coast-line protection and climate change mitigation contribution. The value of turneffe’s shoreline protection is estimated at over three hundred and eighty-two million Belize dollars; tourism benefits stand at over one hundred and fifty million dollars; and the sea grass ecosystem which acts as a major blue carbon sink and helps to reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet –is valued at six point eight million dollars.
Valentino Shal, Consultant, Turneffe Atoll Trust
“The atoll provides us with a lot of environmental goods and services. So, we are dependent on the atoll; the atoll is not dependent on us. We use it for fishing, for tourism, for sport fishing. In addition to those things we draw from the atoll, it also provides us with storm mitigation value especially for Belize City and of course it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides us with fresh air. These are very hard to quantify but we have made an effort to put a value on it. In total, the atoll, in our estimate, provides Belize with about five hundred and forty-million dollars worth of services every year in economic value.”
But this atoll is at risk – from unregulated developments; massive mangrove cutting; dredging and other pressures that have escalated in the last ten years. Since 2004, a tourism development project of almost one hundred rooms has been under construction on Rope Walk Caye which lies within the Turneffe Atoll – and researchers have not been able to find an EIA for this development. So, today member of the conservation community, led by the Turneffe Atoll Trust, gathered to release the findings of a study that was conducted called ‘Risking the Atoll’. Conservationists are pointing out the impacts of these unsustainable activities on the atoll – and how those irresponsible activities have direct consequences on the economic and environmental value of this site.
“One of the biggest impacts have been dredging– the most damaging activity has been dredging. There is dredging of some of the islands, but also dredging of back reef flats we call them. This is a special type of reef you find at Turneffe, so breaking them up and removing them in the scale that we saw, is definitely damaging. The other one that we saw is the removal of mangroves. Mangroves are very critical and important habitats, so removing them without permits is also very damaging to the area. We know that a lot of fishers also depend on the Turneffe and so mangroves play a very important role in the fishing sector by providing nursery for fish; so simply removing them is not just going to destroy the mangroves but have a downstream effect on the fishing sector.”
So, stewards of this atoll are calling on Government provide better oversight of Turneffe Atoll. They also want to see users be more responsible when using or developing within the atoll.
“We are asking that developers educate themselves about the rules and make sure they follow the rules. Any responsible developer should be concerned and interested in protecting the environment because their investment will also depend on that very same environment. No developer should be forced to follow the law but should be making sure that they are familiar with it and comply with it because it is in the interest of the environment but also in their own self interest to do so. We are also asking the government agencies to strengthen the monitoring of the area because they are the only ones that have the legal mandate to enforce the rules. Turneffe Atoll Trust does research; we don’t do any enforcement; that is left up to the government agencies. And, of course, the people who manage the area need to make sure that they are stricter with the enforcement of the rules of the area.”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.
Earlier today, we reached out to Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria about the developments out in the Turneffe Atoll, but we didn’t get a response.