Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia wins James A. Waight Conservation Award

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 7            February 27, 2003

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Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia

Mr. Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia was recently presented with the James Waight Conservation Award, an award named in honor of the Belize Audubon Society's first president. At a ceremony held February 16th (James Waight's birthday), "Chocolate" happily accepted this honor on behalf of his lifetime efforts to conserve all things dear to his heart.

    At the ceremony, Executive Director Valdemar Andrade of the Belize Audubon Society read the following tribute to "Chocolate." 

    Mr. Heredia was  born in 1929 in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. He grew up as an "island boy" in a time when life in San Pedro was still tranquil. He displayed a natural talent in negotiation from a very young age as he negotiated the trade of his mother's sweet bread, intended for sale, with chocolate candies earning the name "Chocolate".

    Chocolate had very little in terms of formal education, but whatever was missed in the confines of the classroom was made up for amply in life experiences.

    Chocolate has always had a love for the sea and its inhabitants, and it was this love that spurred his first actions as a conservationist, a protector of this environ that he so loved. Those close to Chocolate remember him keeping vigilant watch over hatchling turtles and him scaring predatory birds away from the hatchlings by bombarding them with tiny coconuts.

    As a teenager, Chocolate began his career in commercial fisheries. This direct interaction with the sea fostered respect for this environment. These years were the most formative in his development as a local environmental enthusiast, as he came to the realization of how deeply his livelihood was entwined with the continued health of the sea.

    In the late sixties, Chocolate started his thirty-five-year career in sport fishing, using this as a platform for advocacy, advocating for the protection of Belize's marine species, especially his beloved manatees of Swallow Caye.

    Mr. Heredia has immersed himself into various conservation efforts, which range from attempting to stop hunters from shooting egrets at Bird Caye to trying to convince his fellow tour operators to shut off their motors at various manatee sites. The efforts of this remarkable man have not gone unnoticed as Mr. James A. Waight himself appointed Mr. Heredia, Honorary Warden at Bird Caye, Northern Lagoon and in 2002 the Government of Belize declared Swallow Caye a protected area.

    Mr. Heredia exemplifies what it means to be a conservationist. He has proven that it is not formal education that makes you an effective conservationist, but one's love for his environment and his dedication to its protection.

    The James Waight Conservation Award has evolved to become the most prestigious Belizean award for conservation. The James A. Waight Conservation Award is a testimony to the greatness of this man whose entire life was dedicated to the service of his country and his people.

    How fitting this award should be bestowed upon a seemingly ageless  Caye Caulker man named for sweetness, "Chocolate."
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