Proposed Bird Sanctuary Expansion

On the leeward side of Ambergris Caye exists a beautiful and serene area that rivals the pristine quality of the coral reef environment of the windward side. This area is graced with translucent water and marked with small mangrove cayes that have for years been a haven for migratory and resident bird species, providing a critical nesting and feeding habitat.

Many of you have probably heard the recent buzz around town about Green Reef's project proposal to expand the current bird sanctuaries to include neighboring cayes and wetlands. The idea for this expansion came after Green Reef signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Belize Audubon Society last year for the management of two bird sanctuaries (Los Salones and Little Guana Caye).

Last fall, as we at Green Reef began to do bird and vegetation field surveys of Los Salones and Little Guana Caye, it became obvious how important the surrounding cayes are to the successful survival of birds in that area. Islands such as Cayo Rosario and Cayo Pˆjaro have for years been popular nesting and feeding grounds for birds. Tour guides have been bringing bird watchers back to the area for what is considered some of the best birding in the country. It was when we observed survey posts around a couple of these cayes, that we were led to believe that potentially damaging development in the area was imminent. Something needed to be done.

By expanding the protected area to include an additional 16 cayes, as well as wetlands on the leeward side of Ambergris Caye, the critical habitat of many important bird species, particularly the Roseate Spoonbill and Reddish Egret, would be protected. Moreover, this area is unique in that it provides habitat for the largest number of different marine and coastal species of any area nationally. Thus, one of our primary objectives in this project is to prevent inappropriate and unregulated development of low areas that could potentially have a detrimental impact on the entire area.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
Some impacts, such as the spread of pollutants, would not only affect the coastal and wetland environment of Ambergris Caye, but also the economic health of San Pedro Town, which relies both directly and indirectly on this area for fishing and tourism. The proposed expansion would support the National Biodiversity Strategy and be of cultural, economic and environmental benefit to the community by helping to preserve the health of this fragile environment for tourism and traditional uses (fishing) through the implementation of local management of the expanded area. The management plan would allow for local monitoring, evaluation, enforcement and a regulatory process that would carefully balance environmental impact with economic benefits. The recent NOVA shrimp hatchery episode has brought the issue of monitoring of environmental contingencies and a timely response by appropriate agencies to the forefront. The creation of this expanded protected area is a move in the right direction in dealing with such concerns.

This project has the support of many governmental and non-governmental agencies throughout the country, as well as many local groups in San Pedro. However, the support that is most needed is that of those who will most directly be affected by this expansion: the community of San Pedro. For this reason, Green Reef has held and will continue to hold community meetings to discuss this proposal and address any questions and concerns the community has. A workshop will be held this Friday at 2:00 p.m. at the Lions Den and we encourage everyone to attend and participate in this informative meeting.

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