Shark Ray Alley to generate additional funds for HCMR

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 48            December 6, 2001

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Two popular marine creatures who thrive inside the protected area of Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) may soon be able to give back a little something for their care. Personnel at Hol Chan recently announced that, as of December 27, 2001, an additional $3BZ visitor's fee will be charged for the Shark Ray Alley attraction which allows visitors the opportunity to swim with rays and nurse sharks.

    Much research has gone into ways of generating income for marine protected areas in an effort to sustain them financially. The Fisheries Department and Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute have both studied alternative methods on how this may be accomplished. Most recently Programme for Belize, with assistance from the International Ecotourism Society, hosted a conference to deal with this. Conference participants from Belize and Central America held discussions regarding revenue generation, fee structures and the results of a survey on visitor's willingness to pay the fees that support the management of marine protected areas.

    In 1999, Statutory Instrument No. 101 divided HCMR into four zones. At that time Zone D was designated as a multi-purpose zone with additional rules that restricted commercial fishing in "exclusive recreational areas" which included Shark Ray Alley. Regulation 11 dealing with individual zone fees was amended and replaced. The revision stated that as of August 31, 1999 the fees to be collected by park rangers were as follows: Zones A-B-C (including the snorkeling area of Hol Chan) - $5BZ per visitor per day and  Zone D (Shark Ray Alley) - $7BZ per visitor per day. Even though the SI was signed, additional fees for Shark Ray Alley were never implemented. As well, fees established for Belizean visitors ($2 and $1 for the respective zones) were never enforced, but these fees will not be charged in an effort to increase the relatively low amount (5%) of visitation by the country's residents.

    Just this year, a World Conservation Union survey found that visitors would be willing to pay as much as $10US per day. Based on this and other factors, such as the facts of a recent survey conducted by Programme for Belize which showed HCMR to be the most frequented marine area by tourists, Hol Chan decided to revise their fee structure. Also taken into account in this decision was the amount of time collecting fees took away from the other duties of the park rangers. In a letter sent to dive shops and tour operators they quoted the SI and then stated the following regarding ticket sales: Upon December 27, 2001, tickets will be sold at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Office and Visitor Center by bulk. No Park Ranger will be authorized to sell any ticket at the reserve. The only two persons authorized to sell Zone A and/or Zone D tickets will be the Manager and the Administrative Assistant of the Reserve. The Park Ranger on duty will verify that all visitors have a ticket. Visitors without a valid ticket will not be allowed to enter Zone A and/or Zone D of the Marine Reserve.

    Due to the fact that there will be tourists visiting both zones, management has decided that a ticket (Visitor's fee) will be sold for Zone A and D respectively as stated in the Statutory Instrument No. 101 of 1999, clause 4 to 7. For those tourists visiting both zones on a "day trip" another ticket will be made with a different color and be sold at the price of $10.00.

     In essence, the $10 fee will be a $2 savings for those visiting both, in comparison to the fee structure designated in the SI which, Zones A and D combined, would be $12. Although it is a small increase, it will go a long way towards the expenses incurred by the reserve in protecting this marine area. Data collected from the amount of visitors per month through the purchase of these tickets is used to determine the amount of park rangers needed, equipment needs, sustainable visitation numbers, amount of money to budget for, etc. Fees collected aid with basic operating costs, including purchasing an increasing amount of necessary equipment and hiring additional personnel to facilitate the growing number of visitors.

    Hol Chan Marine Reserve is located approximately four miles southeast of Ambergris Caye and covers approximately 311 hectares of reef ecosystem including coastal seagrass beds and mangrove. Anyone needing additional information on HCMR should visit their office on Caribeña Street in San Pedro Town, A.C., e-mail or phone 026-2247.
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