Over the weekend, journalists from the country gathered for a two-day training facilitated by the Earth Journalism Network, a global community of over eight thousand reporters who cover environmental topics. As part of the training, reporters were taken to Sergeant’s Caye and Goff’s Caye where topics such as climate change, the importance of the barrier reef and mangroves were discussed. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo was part of the trip.
Hipolito Novelo, Reporting
This is Sergeant’s Caye- a tiny patch of white sand surviving the monstrous sea. But Sergeant’s Caye wasn’t always this miniature. Its mass has been drastically reduced over many years.
Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director, TASA
“There is a natural way the barrier islands react towards the waves and the winds. Generally they are rolling over themselves right. So I was using it as an example how areas react that are behind mangroves or are covered with mangroves. If you noticed, Sergeant’s Caye did not have any protection and so that probably one of the reasons why it was in the state that it was.”
Sergeant’s Caye sits on the Belize Barrier Reef, which forms part of the larger reef system: the Mesoamerican Reef or the M.A.R. Also smaller in size, Sergeant’s Caye plays host to a number of sea birds. But this dwarf island was once a “barrier island”.
“Those barrier islands basically protect Belize city which is one of our highest population center. It not only protects normally but in natural disasters, hurricanes or any other natural phenomenon. It breaks the waves fetch and it also breaks the winds from slamming straight to Belize City. In many instances what you want to do is maintain your mangrove protected barrier islands especially in the cases that we are seeing here.”
The possibility of Sergeant’s Caye returning to anything close to its original state is very minimal. Meanwhile, at Goff’s Caye another barrier island sitting on the reef, effective management policies have been in place for many years.
“With any environmental concern or any natural area, what you want to do is manage. So the challenges here would be you have to look at limits of acceptable change. How much of a change will you actually accept as a manager? So you have to be monitoring water quality, the reef health, fish population. For example they said that they get three hundred people per day. They turn them in the water one hundred at a time. So perhaps they have a management regime that says that’s the acceptable amount of people that they would want to put in the water at any one time. They had areas where you could swim and areas where you cannot swim.”
The effective preservation of Goff’s Caye is important. The one point five-acre caye is a thirty-minute boat ride southeast of Belize City. The pearly white sand and the leaning palm trees make the caye an ideal destination for rest and relaxation. But people like Park Ranger Jason Ferguson have been entrusted to enforce that visitors respect the island.
Jason Ferguson, Park Ranger, Goff’s Caye
“Out here you face a lot of challenges with visitors because they come here and they feel like this is just an island where you can come and have fun and then they do not want to pay. We have things that we have to take care of on the clean. We have to clean the island. We have to make sure ready for anybody else. But mostly people just feel like you just come and enjoy and go. You got people who want to do their own thing. So we have to be out here to make them know what they can and cannot do.”
About two hundred persons are allowed on the island per day. In a given year, Goff’s Caye is visited by thousands of visitors.
“Right now the island is small. By December the island would get bigger because the island is a shifting island. Right now we are going into September and the island will wash away a lot because the tide gets higher. So the island intends to wash away but by December the sand comes back. But what happens now, it is filling up back but it is not coming back to the correct size where it is usually at. Too much people come and touch whatever. People use it and they don’t take care of it. When they think about taking care of it, it is too late. They have to start from early, fix what we could fix. Maybe by the next ten years you might find ruins because the island will wash away. You won’t have the island again.”