BHA/SPTGA endorse saving Wetlands

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 19            May 11, 2000

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Over 20 people representing approximately ten hotels, members of Green Reef, the San Pedro Tourist Guide Association (SPTGA) and the general public attended a meeting last Thursday evening hosted by the Belize Hotel Association (BHA) at the Town Hall. Julia Edwards and Einer Gomez of BHA conducted the meeting. The main subject of the evening was the San Mateo Subdivision proposed by the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC), 590 acres between Buena Vista and Punta Arena on the north side of Ambergris Caye. Invited were Mito Paz of Green Reef, Mayor Alberto Nuñez, (who, regretfully, could not attend the meeting), Area Representative Patty Arceo, and the S.P. Town Council to present their proposals. Unfortunately, no one from local government was present at the meeting.

    Mito Paz, President of Green Reef, seized the opportunity to present Green Reef's side of the proposal by addressing the crowd. He began by stating the subdivision land is part of Green Reef's Wildlife Sanctuary Management and Expansion Plan which was proposed last year, and endorsed by both Mayor Alberto Nuñez and Area Representative Patty Arceo. Explaining that the land is composed of mainly wetlands, mangrove and lagoons, he questioned why this land would be considered a site for development. In reply to this, one member of the crowd agreed, stating that this land was given to the town by the former owners, Caribbean Coves, for future tax credits and also because it was cost prohibitive for development. Mr. Paz further reminded those present of the eco-tourism recreation that takes place in this area, specifically kayaking and hiking tours, birdwatching and sport fishing, all of which bring much needed income to the island's economy. The Wildlife Sanctuary proposal designates spots for all types of recreation. The Advisory Council for the proposed sanctuary includes George Hanson of the Forestry Department; James Azueta of Fisheries, Stewart Cruz of Coastal Zone Management/Institute (CZMA/I); Einer Gomez of BHA; Omar Guerrero of Ambergris Caye Planning Authority and Billy Leslie of the SPTGA. Having studied this area thoroughly himself, the Green Reef President and CZMA/I have deemed these wetlands a critical feeding and nesting grounds for countless birds. He added it is also a nursery and suspected spawning area for mutton snappers, cubera, bonefish and tarpon. Lobsters are often found in this area as well, since there are a number of sink holes that tunnel out to the reef through underground waterways, yet another reason this proposed development would negatively impact the marine environment. The NGO President sympathized with the Town's need to provide land for their people, but strongly advocated NOT to adversely affect the island's natural resources and economy in the process by destroying wildlife habitats and sabotaging the eco-tourism market. Mr. Paz concluded, "In essence our natural resources bring tourism, tourism breeds employment which brings workers to the island, which brings a need for development and necessitates a need for land to build on. But if we destroy the reason that tourism is here (our natural resources), we will not have a need for any of the rest."

    One of the hoteliers attending made note of the fact that she had spoken with the Area Representative concerning the proposal. She stated mention of plans for not only 308 lots, but an entire town including police and fire stations, recreational facilities such as a football field and commercial lots for development. She questioned the crowd, "If the Town can come in and rape the environment, what does this say to other developers? This is the most environmentally dangerous thing that could be done to this island."

    A final statement disclosed that the Minister of Natural Resources has the final decision on these matters. The question then arose of what could be done to combat this proposal for a subdivision. Letters of support for the Wildlife Sanctuary were recommended to be sent to the Minister at and to lobby the Town Council to look for an alternate site for the proposed subdivision.

    In other BHA matters, concerns from the industry were addressed. The need for additional police and their inefficient response time when summoned was the first issue brought to the table. Other issues included limiting the amount of vendors on the streets after 8 p.m. and boats traveling at night without running lights. One hotelier/restaurant owner spoke on behalf of her business and two others, over the lack of shrimp available. She stated that Bowen & Bowen as well as the cooperatives are now exporting all available shrimp out of Belize and expecting local vendors to pay export prices if they hope to purchase shrimp. If this happens, local markets will be waiting until August when shrimp will be in abundance again.

    Ending the meeting, representatives of BHA and Billy Leslie of SPTGA assured those gathered they would support Green Reef's Wildlife Sanctuary proposal. BHA assured all that they will address the other issues and make a report at the next meeting. They will also re-invite the Town Council for a presentation on the proposed subdivision.
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