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Caye Caulker has survived several Category 5 hurricanes but will it survive the current building boom?

By: Wendy Auxillou

This morning beginning at 8:00 a.m., my concrete home which has survived a category 4 hurricane and countless tropical storms began vibrating crazily from strong ground tremors. Concrete walls were shaking like rag dolls while picture frames on the walls rattled. The vibrations were so strong I feared the foundations of my home would soon begin to crack and crumble. This didnít just happen once, it happened again and again and again every minute or two for an entire day. In fact, it is still happening now as I post this. The cause of the shocks and tremors? A construction site down the road driving piles into the ground.

How many more five-story concrete boxes that are so out of character on this tiny, laid-back island does Caye Caulker really need? Caye Caulker is gentrifying at an alarming rate so much so that locals will no longer be able to afford to live here.

But my issue today is not even that, itís with the driving of piles on what is a geologically-sensitive limestone island which sits atop one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. To be clearer, the village itself sits on the roof of a very large underwater cave system. The cave system is a geological wonder. It is a national treasure. It should be protected at all costs. Instead, the Central Building Authority is handing out permits for 5-story buildings like candy at Halloween. Every single one requires the driving of piles into the cave roof of a geological wonder that should be a nationally-preserved heritage site.

How is this environmentally sound?

As one of my more ecologically-minded friends exclaimed in astonishment: ďThatís like driving piles above Rio Frio cave or any other cave on dry land. No one in their right mind would allow this to continue. Another aspect to consider is the additional collective weight of these new structures being supported by the roof of the cave.

One of the features of limestone is the stratification that sometimes also has vertical fissures or cracks. The mere fact that there is a cave below indicates fissures and cracks in the limestone. Pounding this platform with a piledriver is a disaster waiting to happen.

Wake up Caye Caulker!Ē

Another one of my alarmed friends lamented sadly: "One day in the future Caye Caulker will be a dive site like the Blue Hole and tour guides will be telling tourists that an entire city is below us with giant hotels, schools, an airport, and grocery stores, Please donít pick up anything from the ocean floor out of our respect for the people that used to live here.

I get goosebumps just typing this. I love Caye Caulker!"

Itís not even like the Central Building Authority is ignorant of the fact that a cave system exists underneath Caye Caulker island. I called there to inquire whether a permit had been issued for this particular project that's been crazily vibrating my home and was alarmed to hear the inspector nonchalantly state that they frequently get calls complaining about pile driving on top of the cave system. This isnít the only project driving piles into the ground, apparently, thereís more elsewhere on the island as well. And Iím sure there are applications for others currently in the pipeline.

In order for anyone of these projects to get permit approval, the Department of the Environment must first give environmental clearance. Is the DoE sleeping at the wheel? Are we waiting for an environmental catastrophe and the collapse of our island before those that are in the position to do something actually do something?

Caye Caulker has survived countless Category 5 hurricanes, but it is debatable whether it will survive the current building boom.

(The photo accompanying this essay is a photoshop of an actual photo taken by Mark Long inside the cave system underneath Caye Caulker. It was created to illustrate the likely effect of these piles.)