There are growing concerns by boat operators who use the Haulover Creek that runs through Belize City as sedimentation build up has gone unchecked. Fisher folk and water taxi operators are sounding the alarm about the recurring issue that is almost always dredged after permits are acquired from the Department of Environment. But are the financial constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic having an effect on the response to the situation this time around? News Five's Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

For weeks now, water taxis and boat operators have been having issues crossing the mouth of the Haulover Creek. On several occasions, a small boat has had to transfer passengers from larger vessels that have become stuck in the mud.� The struggles are as a result of silt build up in the area just off the coast between the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts and the Fort Street Tourism Village in Belize City.

Noel Eiley, Board Member, National Fishermen Cooperative

"It affects us because we can’t move as we choose due to the low tide plus the building up. Especially the fishing boats and the engines, it is hard for the engines to operate in a good condition because due to the mud. It gets in the propeller and it could ruin the engine."

Major Gilbert Swaso, Port Commissioner

"It has been reported to us that siltation, the sediments have built up in the mouth of the Haulover Creek. We also know that shortly, the cruise tourism may also resume, so it becomes incumbent on us as the authority and to ensure that the mouth of the Haulover Creek is dredged."

While a recurring problem, the situation this time around is not as extreme as it was back in 2016, when the increased concentration of sediments or sand in water caused the displacement of fishes and the death of other organisms and aquatic plants in the area.� Back then, the pungent smell was unbearable for residents along the Southern Foreshore; not to mention it was an unpleasant sight for tourists and commuters.

Anthony Mai, Environmental Officer [File: March 10 th , 2016]

"What siltation basically does is block the sunlight from going to the bottom of the sea floor, in this case. And so you have fishes in the area�naturally the fish will move out of the area, but you have aquatic plants that cannot move and microorganisms that are basically attached to substrates. Basically those will not be able to move and because the sun does not go all the way down to the bottom because of the amount of silt, all of those organisms basically die. And with a build up like this again this will kill everything. There is nothing basically that could live in a condition like this; hardly anything I should say."

It is the responsibility of the Belize Port Authority to ensure that navigation through the channel is unimpeded. Port Commissioner Major Gilbert Swaso says that they will engage with stakeholders from private and public sector to chart the way forward.

Major Gilbert Swaso

"What needs to be done? We need to ascertain the amount of sediments that needs to be extracted to ensure that the channel in the Haulover creek is properly cleared so that it can facilitate the access of all those fisher folks, the water taxis for them to be able to get to their respective mooring or marina in terms of Fort Street [Tourism Village] and in the case of San Pedro Belize [Express] Water Taxi. So once the hydro-graphic survey is conducted, then dredge will be certainly, a contractor will be tendered with a view then to conduct the dredging based on the amount of sediments that needs to be removed so that we can have that easy access to and from the channel."

With cruise tourism to restart in the next few months, Major Swaso says that an urgent meeting is expected to be held next week because the dredging process is extensive and costly and will require financial commitment from all sectors. Duane Moody for News Five.

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