Editorial - And the dredging continues

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 18            June 6, 2002

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Last week, a Belize City newspaper featured an advertisement requesting public consultation on Belize's National Report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The ad seeks public feedback on the draft document being submitted by government in the following main areas: "1) An analysis of the National Planning Process for Sustainable Development and Its Implementation, and 2) Identification of National Critical Issues as well as New and Emerging Critical Issues."

    Is this just so much more propaganda or does the Government of Belize really care what the public thinks? Below is one specific "National Critical Issue" that was analyzed and identified for this consultation.

    More than ten years ago, the Proposed Ambergris Caye Master Plan was drafted at great expense. Much planning and forethought went into this multi-page document - a dedicated tribute to the "sustainable development" of our island. Part three on dredging reads Dredging will be defined in general terms, as the movement of soil. Whenever this is done, whether by a Dredger, an excavating machine or manually, it must be done in a manner so as not to adversely affect the stability of the beach and the coastline. In the context of San Pedro, no such works will be permitted on the eastern side of the island except temporary works (when properly justified) provided such works adhere to the principles of maintaining the equilibrium of the beach profile and its ecology, is designed and supervised by competent professionals, and a guarantee in the form of a bond or otherwise is made by the executing agency to allow the authority to undertake corrective works in the event of default by the executing agency. As a rule of thumb, this amount will be three times the cost/value (whichever is greater) of the works to be done.

    Following the destruction of Hurricane Keith, dredging was permitted for the sole purpose of reclaiming beach on public lands - for the sake of the community and the tourism industry. This permission was corrupted and abused by some, resulting in illegal dredging. The high retail value of this pearly white commodity (sand from the front of the island) and the beautification of private property (purchased or for sale) were the elements driving this illegal activity.

    In July and August of 2001, The San Pedro Sun dedicated a front page spot for five weeks to address island concerns regarding dredging (or land reclamation as it is referred). Much effort was put into these articles in an attempt to inform readers of the dangers of, and damage to the reef and coastal areas that is caused by this extraction process. Most of the dredging that was happening then was illegal but there was no monitoring of these operations by government agencies. And the dredging continued.       

    On July 4, 2001, all the proper authorities visited the island at the request and expense of the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) and the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee (ACPC) to investigate this illegal dredging. Councilors, and members of the ACPC, Departments of Environment (DOE), Geology and Petroleum, and Lands and Survey, as well as Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute (CZMA/I) were joined by non-governmental organizations including Green Reef and the San Pedro Tourist Guide Association (SPTGA) to view the damage done to the coastal waters and terrain of Ambergris Caye. All agencies involved agreed that dredging permits were issued to all the sites for the purpose of "reclamation of lands lost due to the devastation of Hurricane Keith." It was further reported that almost none of the dredging operations complied with the terms specified on the permit. Reportedly, budget cuts in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment had led to a lack of manpower and the resources needed to monitor these situations. As a result of this meeting, the general consensus was that until more resources were made available, the SPTC, with help from Green Reef and the San Pedro Tourist Guides Association would aid in the monitoring so badly needed. Collectively, it was agreed that dredging should no longer take place on the windward side of the island. The dredging that was taking place at that time was, according to the developer, to be finished by August 10, 2001.

    That was the plan, so what about the implementation?

    Here we are almost a year later facing the same situation, or maybe worse. A young man died after crashing into a dredge. The dredging continues. More and more complaints are voiced. The dredging continues. Silt is beginning to cover our most important natural resource - the barrier reef. The dredging continues. Fish, turtles, rays and other important marine creatures are losing their habitats. The dredging continues. Popular dive sites where tourists once explored our beautiful waters are disappearing. Still, the dredging continues on the front (eastern) side of Ambergris Caye, but it would appear there is nothing anyone can or will do about it.

    The tour guides have held up their end of the bargain. Reportedly, they have monitored and met twice with the Department of Geology and Petroleum Department and twice with CZMA/I in the recent past. Green Reef and Coastal Zone have also reportedly been in contact with other monitoring agencies. And the dredging continues.

    Most of the departments in the Ministry of Natural Resources have been contacted and are aware of this dredging. Nearly all of these hardworking, educated men and women truly care about "sustainable development" and try to do the jobs they are paid to perform. Only Geology and Petroleum has the authority to sign permits for dredging. The others are paid to monitor and uphold the laws, and attempt to "sustain" our natural resources during "development".  Why pay all of these people to do a job they obviously, in the end, have absolutely no control over? It seems the only concern when it comes to granting permission to dredge is the almighty dollar. Money and greed win out 90% of the time. And the dredging continues.

    Approval from the town for the current dredging operation is a result of a land deal (for a recreational park) and road-building agreement made between the developer and the town. "Better to get something out of it; government will allow it to happen anyway," stated the Mayor when this was questioned. In defense of the Mayor, this is true, since another dredging operation has just been completed without town approval and without any benefit whatsoever to the town. But, is this the way things should happen? Should the dredging continue?

    The terms "government accountability," and "sustainable development" should not be oxymorons. "Developers must develop for the sake of development." "We must support our growing tourism industry." These are statements heard over and over. What will developers do when there is nothing more to dredge? What will everyone do when there are no more natural resources to sustain our tourism industry? Ambergris Caye residents will need another industry to "sustain" them when the fishing and tourism industries are destroyed. And the dredging continues.

    The time is at hand. It is apparent that many local individuals and organizations are aware and outraged over the "raping" of Ambergris Caye (and now Caye Caulker) and are "fed up" with the irresponsible destruction of our natural resources for private as well as government gain. The aforementioned advertisement regarding public input on Belize's National Report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development instructs the participant to download documents from the "What's New" page on the ministry's website: http://www.mnrei.gov.bz and complete the feedback form. Or, you can post your comments on the ministry's web-board which can be accessed from the On-Line Conferences page of the website. The closing date for public comments is June 30, 2002.   

    And the dredging continues.

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