MBRS Project launching held in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 25            June 28, 2001

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"We need to maintain the ecological integrity of our beaches, sea grass beds and mangroves," exclaimed Prime Minister Musa in his address at the official launching ceremonies of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Project (MBRS Project) last Wednesday. Of significance was the venue for the meeting, as it was held on the beach in front of the Belize Yacht Club to exemplify the full beauty of the barrier reef. MBRS Project representatives from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico united as well as friends from El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua in a show of support for this project. The main objective of these four countries is the sustainable use of the barrier reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The MBRS Project is a five-year initiative that became effective June 1st, 2001 with funding of US$11 million provided by the World Bank.

    Acting as Master of Ceremonies for this very important ceremony was Mr. Noel D. Jacobs Director/Regional Coordinator for MBRS. Hon. John Briceño, Belize's Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Industry gave the welcome address stating that our Barrier Reef had always been in good hands but with the support of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico it will now be in better hands. "With the main office of the MBRS located in Belize, it means more responsibilities for us. Other reefs have been damaged by many factors and we can learn from their examples."

    Representing Mexico was Dr. Victor Lichtinger, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. Dr. Lichtinger was pleased by the warm welcome he received and stated that just by being on the beach with a spectacular view of the barrier reef it could be clearly seen what they want to protect. "This regional cooperation to preserve our natural resource - the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef project launching is a day to rejoice. This project surpasses the political borders. It means a combined effort of all the Central American countries since we have the support of the rest of the world," stated Dr. Lichtinger.

    Speaking on the importance of the MBRS Project in Honduras Mr. Antonio Fuentes stated that our Mesoamerican Barrier Reef generates a lot of resources for an economy which is shared among the rest of Central America. "This project is a big challenge for our countries. To complete it will be a great achievement and an example of what our combined countries can do together," ended Mr. Fuentes.

    Dr. Sergio Lavarreda, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources from Guatemala commented that the MBRS Project is an excellent way to show the rest of the world an example of a good, practical sustainable system. "We have the task and duty to follow up on this project and as a region, Guatemala accepts the challenge," said Minister Lavarreda.

    Also present was Hon. Roberto Stadthagen Vogl, Minister of Environment from Nicaragua. He saluted the countries involved in this project stating that it will help strengthen their political ties when it comes to conservation and protection and the sustainable use of their marine and coastal resources. During his remarks Hon. Stadthagen Vogl stated, "Like Martin Luther King we have a dream of a better world, more healthy and safe. This dream should be a reality for the benefit of all Central America. God gave us the reef for a purpose; to give us a better life and that is why we should preserve it."

    Rina Castellanos de Jarquin, Minister of Environment from El Salvador expressed that her country is grateful to be a part of this project which enhances their economy. She stated the job will not be easy but with the aid of other agencies, they can fulfill the need to preserve the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.

    Representing Panama was Hon. Bessie Vasquez who spoke of some of her country's natural resources including Boca del Toro which is recognized for its rich coral and marine life. She emphasized the beauty of the view immediately in front of them and joked at the fact that she brought a slide presentation but that the panoramic view she was admiring surpassed any of her slides. "Panama emphasizes reef conservation and practices a lot of scientific studies on marine organisms," stated Mrs. Vasquez. "The management of the coastal area is important to any government, especially if we want to benefit from it. It is important so that the future generations can enjoy this natural beauty," ended Hon. Bessie Vasquez.

    Project Task Manager for World Bank, Marea Hatziolos remarked on the World Bank's support for this project but remarked "it was up to the leaders of these countries to nurture and protect it." She congratulated the "dream team" which is made up of diverse partners and genders for undertaking this challenge.

    Next was guest speaker Prime Minister Said Musa of Belize who reaffirmed our country's commitment to the Tulum Declaration signed in 1997. "We share a common environment and a common destiny and today is proof - if ever proof was needed - that all of us inhabiting this space of earth on middle America's mainland, do possess the vision and the will to live in harmony with our environment and protect our common heritage so that future generations will also be able to enjoy its blessings," said the Prime Minister. He was proud to mention that Belize has already declared nine marine protected areas and since June 1991 has fully supported the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD). "Many stakeholders are involved in safeguarding the integrity of the MBRS Project. We are grateful to the international consultants and the countries involved. Recruiting responsible young people to be trained for this project will be the key to the success of the MBRS Project," stated Prime Minister Musa.

    Ingeñero Mauricio Castro Salazar, Executive Secretary and General Director of Environment for CCAD and System for Central America Integration (SICA), gave the closing remarks. Very eloquently he explained that many years ago a small group from Central America had a dream to work together with the rest of the countries. He continued that, unfortunately, twenty years ago this dream was interrupted because many things divided them. Ten years ago, when Central America wanted peace, some thought that one way to begin was by working together to promote the sustainable use of our natural resources. "We started talking and dreaming and in 1994 we signed an alliance to advance to sustainability. We did not really cater to marine resources but this was brought to our attention. We also managed to convince the rest of the four countries to sign the declaration of Tulum. At first they thought it was crazy, then little by little they began to realize that it would be possible, and today everyone wants to take the credit for this great achievement. The MBRS Project is a united one. One that has easily been approved. The myths and realities are due to the hard work of the past. We now ask, what are our dreams for the future? We should not lose perspective. We have to nurture this project socially and financially for it to be a success. We now start a new process of how to harmonize the eight countries. International organizations have also helped us through this dream. If we ask if these dreams can continue, we say YES. Why? Because Mexico and Central America are naturally united which makes our job easier. Being in Belize is like being in our own home - our Central American home," ended Mr. Salazar.

    Immediately after the official ceremony, the congregation was entertained with cultural dances courtesy of the San Pedro Dance Company. The following day the visiting delegation was given a glass-bottom boat tour of the Barrier Reef.

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