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Sargassum Task Force Update #536806
06/15/19 06:10 AM
06/15/19 06:10 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 73,286
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
Over the last ten months, the Sargassum Task Force (STF), a public-private committee, has worked diligently to strategize possible mitigation and adaptation measures to address the impact of Sargassum on the top four impacted tourist destinations, namely, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia.

In late 2018, Cabinet approved a set of relief support mechanisms, including a hotel tax relief for 4 months for accommodation situated on the beach front, duty exemption facility for machinery and equipment imported to support clean-up efforts and containment of the Sargassum, as well as a BZ$1.5 million to support municipalities for beach clean-up. Based on the latter, the Task Force led the development of destination-level Sargassum management plans that focus on a four-prong strategy of collection, containment, disposal and awareness.

To date, and since the reinstallation of the Sargassum Task Force, over 299 properties have benefitted from the Hotel Tax Relief, with an additional 10 properties taking advantage of the Duty Exemption program for Sargassum Management Equipment. Additionally, the four hotspot areas have been integrated within a municipal relief mechanism being administered by the Belize Tourism Board. This relief support has seen the establishment of disposal sites within each area, and the designation of a municipal beach clean-up budget within each area, amounting to approximately BZ$500,000, collectively. The STF is also in the planning stage of a Boom Installation Pilot Test in San Pedro Town, to assess the effectiveness of these systems to protect beaches from Sargassum Influx. The technical team, led by the Department of Environment, Fisheries Department, and the Belize Port Authority, has been on the ground to assess critical environmental and logistical parameters.

A campaign will be shortly launched on social media to create awareness for stakeholders and tourists to be aware of what is being done and educate on best practices of how to collect, contain and dispose of the Sargassum.

Lastly, the Task Force has worked with support from the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MTCA), National Meteorological Service, the National Emergency Management Organization, and the Department of Civil Aviation in developing a Sargassum drift projection system, with intentions to evolve this system into a full Forecasting System in 2019. These reports are issued every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday along with local weather forecasts. The team continues to improve on the accuracy of Sargassum detection and drift forecasting with support from international satellite-based tools, and with a ground truthing mechanism being developed with Maya Island Air. Belize is poised to be one of the first countries in the region with a local forecasting system for Sargassum.

As stated by John Burgos, Executive Director, Belize Tourism Industry Association, “As the influx of Sargassum continues to threaten our marine ecosystem and our tourism industry, the work of the Sargassum Task Force with the support of the Government of Belize remains paramount to the livelihood of Belizeans. The efficient removal of Sargassum is the best option available, we must continue to work hand-in-hand to find the best solutions available.”

The MTCA, as chair of the Sargassum Task Force, thanks all its members and partners for its continued support and partnership in the management of Sargassum in Belize. It also thanks the invaluable support it has received from the local municipalities, tourism stakeholders, and most importantly from the communities in the hotspot areas. The Task Force continues its work to develop a plan of action for the remainder of the 2019 season, and also on a long-term management mechanism for Sargassum, beyond the scope of tourism, as this phenomenon is projected to impact the region for the foreseeable future.

The Sargassum Task Force is comprised of the following Agencies: The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (Chair), the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Belize Hotel Association, the Department of Environment, the Belize Fisheries Department, the Ministry of Health, the National Meteorological Service of Belize, the National Emergency Management Organization, the Coastal Zone Management Authority Institute, the Belize Network of NGOs, the Belize Port of Authority, the respective Local Governments and numerous observers and partners.

Government of Belize Press Office

Re: Sargassum Task Force Update [Re: Marty] #536867
06/19/19 06:22 AM
06/19/19 06:22 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 73,286
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Sargassum Task Force Working on a National Plan

The Sargassum Task Force, which is a public-private committee charged with the responsibility to lead mitigation and adaptation measures to address the impact of Sargassum on four tourist destinations, says that to date almost three hundred properties have benefitted from hotel tax relief and ten properties took advantage of duty exemption for sargassum management equipment. The B.T.I.A. is a member of the Sargassum Task Force. Executive Director John Burgos says that while properties have gotten help, they are still working on a national plan to try and find the best solution to this growing problem and that they are hoping for even more government support.

John Burgos, Member, Sargassum Task Force

“We have been working diligently as one of the leading members of the Sargassum Task Force. What we saw in October, November, December and January, the Government awarded certain support and initiatives to the private sector. There were some tax exemptions, for the hotel tax exemptions so that those taxes could be used for the removal and clean-up of beaches. There was also the opportunity for you, if you were thinking a little bigger and you recognize it as a long term investment, if you are going to bring in any equipment that will be used specifically for sargassum removal then you were gonna be given duty exemption. This program was made available to four key destinations with coastal areas; San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia. We are still trying to develop a national plan right now and Government has said it is willing to invest some funding, once we can kind find where they can invest those funds to address the sargassum issue. What we have been finding out is that it is not a one solution fits all. So, that is where we are right now. We are going to be doing some pilot tests to see what is gonna work and what is not gonna work.   The main thing right now is that we have presented the government, the Ministry of Tourism and the Belize Tourism Board with a white paper stating some of the recommendations that we would like, We want them to expand the tax relief; we want them to expand the duty exemption and we would like for them to secure and provide more financial support for the clean-up campaigns. So, we are waiting for them to give us what that response in the very near future. I know that tomorrow we will be getting some feedback on the white paper.”

Sargassum Management Comes at a High Cost

And so, while the tourism stakeholders have been getting some relief, there is still the issue of sargassum and how it must be managed. The task force with support from the Ministry of Tourism and other partners, including the National Meteorological Service, is developing a sargassum drift projection system with the hope that it can evolve into a full forecasting system this year, with local weather forecasts. Achieving this would make Belize one of the first countries in the region with a local forecasting system for sargassum. John Burgos says that while they are still exploring the best methods to manage this problem, municipalities, along with the B.T.B. and affected properties, have been working to remove the sargassum from the tourist destinations and to dispose of it.

John Burgos, Member, Sargassum Task Force

“We continue hearing that they would want to see more support from government and we understand that. We have been pushing for it to be recognized as an emergency situation in the same manner when the hurricane comes. The difference is when the hurricane comes you are talking about human lives and right now we are not talking about human lives, we are talking about the livelihoods of the number one industry in the country, which as you know comprises over thirty percent of G.D.P., so you can’t undermine that. So, that why we are telling government you have to recognize how much revenue the industry brings so you got to invest some back so that we can so that we can protect that industry.  But as you can see right now the volumes are starting to increase a little larger. We have a monitoring system in place but we are trying to see how more efficiently we are able to manage it. So, that is the immediate action right now to ensure that we have an efficient way of cleaning and removing the sargassum. What has been the main limitation is that, remember, sargassum is seasonal. It is not all year round and so any investment which will require a huge capital investment that is where some of the individuals keep back.  We do know that locally, some individuals have been looking at using it as a fertilizer because it is very rich in nutrients and that is one of the reason it is easy to multiply because of the nutrients found in the waters due to contamination. But two key issues remain, you have to transport it and compile it and those two things are very costly ventures.”

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