, 2001 at the official launching
ceremony of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) Project. Project
representatives from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico as well as friends
from Panama, El Salvador and Nicaragua gathered together in unity to support the
sustainable use of the barrier reef. Bearing this in mind the question remains,
why is government allowing unregulated, unchecked, out-of-control dredging to
occur on the island?
Anyone who has traveled Ambergris Caye's
coast in the last several months has seen one of the five dredges raping the
seabed of sand. These dredges are sometimes as close as fifteen feet from the
beach and have carved huge craters in the sea floor. One can step from the beach
and be, almost immediately, up to their neck in water. Continuing outwards, you
can eventually wade in water only ankle or knee-deep. Mangroves have disappeared
- callously chopped, their exposed roots covered over. Is this progress,
ignorance or just plain old greed?
Belize was one of the
first CARICOM countries to have specific provisions for environmental impact
assessments and perhaps the first to develop regulations to this effect. The
problem is peoples' adherence to the rules and government's enforcement of them.
Government budget cuts were blamed for the infestation of the beetle that
destroyed the Mountain Pine Ridge forest. A lack of forestry rangers to monitor
the damage being done to this "natural resource" was given as the excuse. Will
these same budget cuts now also lead to the destruction of our reef because of a
lack of manpower to monitor and enforce the law?
This activity has been allowed to go on unchecked
for months. At first, the dredging was called "beach reclamation" to combat the
effects of Hurricane Keith. It was allowed to occur only on public lands with
the intention of benefiting the community and tourism industry. It can no longer
be considered reclamation when sand is being "mined" to fill speculator's or
certain individual's land to simply increase their property
Is government aware of this?
When the launching of the MBRS Project was happening on the island, the dredges
were "relocated" while the ceremony was held. Cunning or coincidence? The Prime
Minister bragged to the visiting dignitaries at this event that Belize had
established nine marine protected areas, but are they REALLY protected?
Illegal dredging has been the subject at meetings of the
Belize Barrier Reef Committee, Coastal Zone Advisory Board, BACONGO, DOE and
BEMAMCCOR and many have sent letters to the Minister of the Environment Johnny
Briceño and other pertinent agencies. Green Reef has sent letters, the San Pedro
Tourist Guide Association has sent letters, the Town Council is aware of this
abuse but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. All government agencies who
have issued these permits and have legal authority to stop it are aware of it.
Why is it necessary then for individuals and organizations to launch a media
blitz just to shame people who can stop this into finally coming to the island
to see what is going on? And why is it up to the town council to pay the
transportation costs of these government employees to come to the island to
carry out the responsibilities of their job? Are all the fees and taxes we are
paying only for air-conditioned offices? Do fees charged for permits only allow
for the issuance of the permits, not the enforcement? If there is money in
the budget to fly to the island for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and speeches,
there should be money to come to the island to investigate matters that affect
the economic and environmental future of the island.
If government does not have the funds to monitor the
permits they issue for development, they should form a partnership with local
organizations. If two of the three local organizations such as the Tourist Guide
Association, Green Reef or Hol Chan think a situation warrants an investigation,
they should be able to make a phone call and get an inspector to come to the
island inside of a week's time. This would help alleviate infractions and save
government (the people's) money. People who live on, and have a stake in, the
future of the island can also help those behind a desk in Belmopan make informed
and educated decisions concerning future island projects.
It has been proven that the wanton destruction of the mangroves caused loss of
property, high waves and erosion during the last storm. Has it not been proven
that dredging becomes a continual process? A dredge operator digs out sand to
fill the beach creating deep water next to the shore. Strong winds or hurricanes
bring in waves from deep water to shallow water and then to deep water again,
creating high wave action that in turn allows the ocean to reclaim the sand
already dredged from it. It also unfairly places a burden on adjacent property
by making others erect sea walls to stop the erosion of their property. Don't
believe it? Ask anyone who dredged after Mitch and then ask them if they had to
dredge after Keith. Ask their neighbors if they were forced to erect sea walls
to protect their property from erosion. Or you can wait until another hurricane
or tropical storm hits and you can ask the people who once owned houses in the
new development in San Pablo.
Have we learned nothing from
the last two hurricanes? It would seem not!