International Year of the Reef 2008

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 12            March 20, 2008

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Mito Paz wins International Year of the Reef Photo Competition



Monday night, during the launching of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) – Belize 2008, the winners of the IYOR Photo Competition Winners were announced in grand style by Melanie McField, from The Healthy Reefs Initiative. The winners were announced to a sizable crowd at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts in Belize City. Mito Paz from Green Reef in San Pedro scooped the overall winner’s prize for his underwater shot of a young turtle swimming above the photographer. Paz also won in the “Human Interactions Category,” with a photo of two children in an old Dory. Paz told The San Pedro Sun that of the 10 pictures he submitted two captured prizes. Paz added that the picture that won for the Human Interaction category depicting two kids playing in an old dory was taken three years ago at Tobacco Caye. Paz explained to The Sun that in the grand winner category depicting a male turtle was taken off Ambergris Caye while on a diving expedition. He explained that, “It feels good, because I am not a professional photographer. I just take photographs for my work, you know.” Other winners, who all won $200 each, included: 1. Healthy Reefs Category – Thomas Sharp, with his close-up underwater shot of healthy brain coral 2. Threats Category – Chloe Wells, with her photo of plastic pollution along the shoreline 3. Reef Creatures Category – Jennifer Sharp, with her underwater photo of a Fire Worm 4. Artistic Category – Lisa Carnes, with a close-up underwater shot of two dolphins playing at Lark Caye. When asked what type of message he wanted to portray through the pictures, Paz explained that he wanted to show the importance of the reef and the threats posed by human activities. In conclusion he explained that, “It is part of the awareness campaign to show the beauty of the reef and threats it is facing.” Mito Paz was awarded a grand prize total of $700 for his two winning entries. Present at the ceremony was Honorable Gaspar Vega, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Chief Executive Officer from the Ministry of Tourism, Michael Singh, Non-Governmental Organizations and members of the Diplomatic Core.

International Year of the Reef celebrated

Belize’s Barrier Reef, also referred to as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Project, is considered to be one of the eight wonders of the underworld. It’s the second largest living coral reef in the world second to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and is the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Its location, as well as its very important role, make it an integral component and structure much of the life in the Caribbean Sea. Over 79% of the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Project falls within Belize’s geography. The Belize Barrier Reef is the home of a wide array of plants and animals making it one of the most diverse ecosystems in world. It is the home over 70 hard coral species including the brain coral, over 36 species of soft coral including the tube coral and home and nestling place to over 500 species of fish and the habitat to hundreds of vertebrates.

    Because of its exceptional natural beauty, its strategic and geographical location, and its significant on-going ecological and biological processes, the Belize Barrier Reef contains the most important and significant natural habitats perfect for conservation of biological diversity that the Reserve System has been designated as a World Heritage Site since 1996. A large portion of the reef is protected by the Belize Barrier Reef System through several Non-Governmental Organizations and government agencies. In fact 13.6% of our territorial waters are protected. It includes seven marine reserves, over 450 cayes and three atolls. But, despite these protective measures, the reef is under threat from oceanic pollution, uncontrolled tourism, shipping, and over fishing, hurricanes, global warming, and the resulting increase in ocean temperatures are particularly significant threat pointed out at the launching of the International Year of Reef – Belize 2008.

    This year, in line with the International Year of the Reef 2008, the Government of Belize along with several Quasi Government agencies and National Non-Government Organizations and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) are embarking on an ambitious program designed to communicate to the public, the values, importance of the Belize Barrier Reef Complex and its significance to the region and the world. Sharon Perrera, the Grants Program Director at PACT told The San Pedro Sun that the International Year of the Reef is celebrated every 10 years and, this year, Belize is playing a leading role in highlighting the significance of the reef to the region and the world. Perrera pointed out that, “since Belize is the custodian to the reef, an organizing committee comprising of all those government and none government organizations had come together to put forward a one year plan with different activities that highlights the importance of the reef.”

    In his remarks PACT Executive Director Valdemar Andrade, stated that Belize like Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and the other parts of the region have also embarked in similar projects to emphasize the importance of the reef to the world. In speaking with The San Pedro Sun, Andrade said that all Belizeans should play an active role in protecting the reef. In closing his interview with The Sun Andrade said, “I would like to appeal to the general public to be involved in the beach cleanups, participate in the Earth Day activities and all the other activities that we have planned. I want all the kids to also participate to learn to love the reef, teach them to love the reef; every one needs to participate in protecting the reef if we want it to live on. Marine sustainability is everyone’s business.”

    In an interview with this reporter, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Honorable Gaspar Vega commented that his government will remain committed and will do everything within its power to ensure that the Belize Barrier Reef is protected. Vega said that, “ This government will ensure that the Belize Barrier Reef lives on for generations to come, and like you rightly pointed out, sometimes we, the politicians, lack the political will to ensure the well being of the reef but we will do all that is possible to ensure marine sustainability and a healthier reef.”

    During the launching of the International Year of the Reef – Belize 2008, at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust also introduced the first ever PACT Challenge 2007 Documentary which highlighted the events the challengers went through. Earth Day 2008 will be celebrated on April 22nd, 2008.



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