In 1998 the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute was established to implement a five-year project to help preserve our Barrier Reef. Funded largely from the United Nations, with smaller amounts from the European Union and Belize Government, the ten million dollar programme had ambitious goals...but with pressures on the once pristine habitat building and the world class natural resource in greater need of protection than ever, the question arises: who will pay to keep the project going?
Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
With outside funding the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute all dried up, the Belize Government is faced with the choice of ending the institution's valuable work or finding a formula for sustaining it. According to C.Z.M.A.I.'s Board chairman, Hugh O'Brien, government had to show its commitment.
Hugh O'Brien, Chairperson, C.Z.M.A.I. Board of Directors
"GEF has told us in no uncertain terms that they are not yet convinced that we are serious about our marine resource management programme. The reason for that is that they are not happy with the fact that the life of the institute is in some shape or form threatened and they take that as a direct indication that Belize is not committed to sustaining Coastal and Marine Resource Development."
Earlier this month, O'Brien and Minister of Natural Resources Johnny Briceño signed an agreement that allows C.Z.M.A.I. to take over the management of Goff's Caye. Under this agreement, the organization is permitted to implement management mechanisms involving the use of the islands' resources and the surrounding area. It also gave C.Z.M.A.I. the authority to charge an entrance fee to the marine protected area. A total of ten U.S dollars or twenty Belize dollars will be charged to all tourists who visit the Caye. Through this new system, it is estimated that authority will earn approximately one hundred and forty-four thousand Belize dollars a month in the high season and ninety-four thousand Belize dollars during the low season, largely from cruise tourists. O'Brien says the new measure not only sends a clear message to their international interests that Belize is serious about its commitments, but the funds will be able to sustain C.Z.M.A.I. and its work. The entrance fee will come into effect on August First, but today when Coastal Zone officials met with tour operators they expressed their sentiment that while they have no conceptual problems with the charge, because a number of them operate on a contract basis, it will create serious financial problems for them over the next six months.
Terry Clancy, Operator, Jaguar Adventures Tours
"We have fixed contracts with wholesalers, travel wholesalers in the United States and Europe and some of the cruise lines. We can't raise our prices because we have contracts with these people. From the First of August we will have to pay ten U.S dollars per person out of any profit margin which is minimal anyway and obviously that will negate that profit."
Kelvin Ramnarace, Operator, Cruise Solutions
"An entrance fee should not be something that represents a third to one half of what you charge or what you have the ability to collect. We have our fee structure set in place, but there are a number of other operators who work from off the tourism village. You know they try to do their thing and there are smaller people that take out, smaller businesses that take out their own boats and hire guides on the spot that kind of thing, they have to bargain and barter so they are talking yet a smaller pool of money that the same ten dollars has got to come out of."
"The decision to charge a ten U.S dollar fee has been announced since February when cabinet made that decision so it's not like it has come as a surprise, but my understanding is that the tour operators have sold their package many cases before that date and sow we are understanding of that concern. It is catch seven situation for us. Charging a lower fee would not allow us to sustain the activities of the Institute and we would send the wrong message internationally and therefore jeopardizes Belize's image on the international scene in terms of what is our level of commitment to support integrated Coastal Zone Management and in this specific case, to support the work of the Coastal Zone which has been funded by an international project and that they are actually watching us very closely to see what will be done about Goff's Caye. But because we are aware of the concern I have given the commitment that in early September I will sit with the tour operators and look at the revenues that Goff's Caye make, have a look at the expenses for managing Goff's Caye and to support the work of the Institute and then we will make some commitments in some way shape or form give back or work out some discount or if we can reduce the fee to five dollars then and there we will do that and try to work out a mechanism and where the tour operators can recover in a sense what they would have spent during this time of the year."
The money collected from the entrance fee will be used by C.Z.M.A.I. to ensure the sustainability of the island and its marine resources. The funds will also be used for short term projects that include temporary toilet facilities, renovation of the cabana and pier. The authority will also have a crew in place that will provide daily monitoring. Jacqueline Woods for News Five
On November First, similar entrance fees will be implemented at other marine protected areas that the Fisheries Department manages. These include Bacalar Chico National Park and Reserve, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Gladden Spit, Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve. The fees are necessary for the proper management of these areas.