A small group of citizens who are concerned with Ambergris Caye's coastal resources management, turned out recently to participate in the final consultation on the National Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) strategy for Belize. Presented by Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), this series of consultations is being held in an effort to involve communities in the decision-making process, and ensure that economic development in the coastal zone is balanced with sustainable use and fair allocation of the coastal resources.
Mrs. Imani Fairweather-Morrison, Chief Executive Officer of CZMAI, introduced her staff and welcomed the 12 participants to the meeting. Briefly, she explained that because this was the last ICZM consultation with the public, it would basically be a review of the recommendations made as a result of previous coastal zone discussions. She stressed the need for a united effort between all coastal zone users (fishermen, conservationists, researchers, tourists, etc.), the numerous government and non-governmental agencies representing them, and the general public. She stated that each of the stakeholders have individual interests when it comes to coastal areas, but the ICZM strategy would make it possible so that all of their interests would be represented in the decision-making process.
Mrs. Morrison explained that the nation's economy relied heavily on coastal zones industries as fishing alone provided 2-3,000 jobs and tourism 2-7,000 more. She relayed that in 1999, 60% of the visitors or 172,300 tourists visited coastal zone areas and that enormous growth is predicted in the next five years. Also significant was the fact that 45% of Belize's citizens and six of the ten major populated areas are located in coastal zone areas.
The body of the presentation was then turned over to CZMAI Information Specialist Tanya Williams, who gave an overview of the strategy. Ms. Williams explained the first phase of the strategy had three objectives. The first "knowledge and sustainable use" identifies areas for protection and advances needed for improvement, and examines coastal research and management. The second objective, "supporting development," identifies critical areas needing attention (pollution, dredging, mangrove destruction, etc.), reviews existing laws, regulations and guidelines for development (cruise ship policy, pier guidelines, setback, etc.) and ideas for the enhancement of these regulations. The third, "building alliances for the benefit of all Bel-izeans" focuses on educational awareness and encourages the creation of an area management plan by establishing a Coastal Advisory Committee (CAC).
Each CAC then oversees the drafting of their individual coastal management policies. Caye Caulker and Placencia have already formed their own CAC and may serve as a "demo" site for the seven other key areas. Committees are made up of members of the community who are concerned or involved in any aspect of the coastal zone. They should encompass a well-rounded group of major stakeholders - developers, community representatives, civil society, fishermen, tour guides and business owners alike. The third objective identifies investment opportunities for the community.
The second phase of the project is the implementation of the strategy. This follows continuous dialogue, public education and the agreement of all lead agencies and CACs on the appropriate management of marine areas. CZMAI will assist in implementing the actions of the strategy developed, by coordinating research and proposals. It was stated that by uniting, data could be combined and shared by all, detecting trends in coastal zone areas and management situations. It was stated that the strategy should "iron out the kinks" of what is currently happening - not change, but revise existing policies. The CAC should plan for growth and factor this into its considerations. The plan should identify future economic opportunities and satisfy both regional and local requirements. Enforcement of policy should also be included in the planning process. Eventually, by combining the ideas of the nine key coastal zone areas, an Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan is drafted and should address solutions to the critical issues and challenges facing Belize's coastal zones. The last step is to adopt and lobby for the legislation of these combined management policies.
Much dialogue followed the presentation resulting in the following. The CAC plan was likened to the Ambergris Caye Master Plan, which sets specific guidelines for development. It was suggested this could be revised and brought up to date as part of Ambergris Cayes' marine area management plan. It was stated that the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee (ACPC) would be responsible for initiating the legislation of this document. Area Representative Patty Arceo promised to bring this to the table at the next ACPC meeting. It was suggested that coastal zone education be integrated into primary school curriculum. When questioned about government overriding local decisions, CEO Morrison stated that collectively, through ICZM, more can be accomplished, as opposed to when each destination reacts on a case-by-case basis. It was suggested that fines and bonds be increased to avoid abuse and violation of the current coastal zone laws.
The Coastal Zone CEO advised that swift implementation of the strategy was key to accomplishing the goal. Meetings must be held in succession, plans adopted and followed through quickly for them to succeed. She stated that copies of the draft document would be mailed to the San Pedro Town Council and those attending when they are completed.
If a National Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan eventually becomes law, it could become a "one-stop shop" for applicants, as opposed to obtaining permission from the several different government agencies that residents, stakeholders and developers now need to visit when applying for permits, land use authorization, etc.
In closing, the Coastal Zone CEO reminded everyone that Integrated Coastal Zone Management is important because its ultimate goal is "To support the allocation, sustainable use and planned development of Belize's coastal resources through increased knowledge and building of alliances, for the benefit of all Belizeans and the global community."