What happened to the Reef Festival?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 18            May 1, 2008

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Last year’s Reef Festival was lots of fun, and involved great activities for the children. The sandcastle building competition was a HIT!

For the past 11 years, a big highlight of Reef Week, organized by Hol Chan, was the culmination of the weeklong conservation events with the grand Reef Festival. During the sun filled day at Mar de Tumbo Beach, many families and friends turned up by the numbers and were entertained by the various activities carefully planned for them. The fine folks at Green Reef worked for over a month, planning and throwing one of the island’s best beach parties. With a poster competition, a touch tank filled with marine life such as starfish and sea urchin, glass bottom boat rides to the reef, sand castle competitions and more, the day would be a success from beginning to end. These two events were aimed at highlighting conservation and the importance of the reef. Fun, play and learning all took place in all these events.

    Four years ago, the Lagoon Reef Eco-Challenge was welcomed at the Reef Festival at Mar de Tumbo. With the usual Reef Festival activities, the kayak race was a beautiful addition to an already glorious event. Since the race highlighted the importance, beauty and conservation of the lagoon, mangroves and reef, the three seemed to be a perfect combination of education and family fun. For the following years, the three continued to educate San Pedro children, women and men.

    This year began with its usual Reef Week events including the popular inter trivia competition which tested students’ knowledge of Hol Chan and its eco-systems and culminated on Friday with a teacher’s trip to Bacalar Chico. Because Mar de Tumbo was not the ideal place to hold the ending of the Eco-Challenge Race the venue was moved to Central Park. The San Pedro Business Association (SPBA) decided to hold its first annual Eco Challenge Block Beach Party. With many food booths available, spectators awaiting the arrival of the paddlers, enjoyed delicious bbq meals, ceviches, tacos, desserts and many other food items and drinks. In the end, Journey’s End Resort’s chef Calbert Santiago and staff took the grand prize for the grilling competition and won a sunset cruise for 10 of their staff with all drinks included, courtesy of Seaduced.

    It was a great success but what happened to the educational aspect that came along with the arrival of the kayak race? Mito Paz, Director of Green Reef explained that in 2006 the Reef Festival celebrated 10 years of existence. That festival would have marked the end of that much anticipated event. In 2007, in an effort to continue the educational and fun tradition, Tamara Sniffin of The San Pedro Sun joined forces with other community member who decided to organize the Reef Festival. “We all felt that it was such a great tradition and that it was sad to just let it die. We worked together and achieved what turned out to be a fun filled educational day that all families enjoyed.” In an interview Sniffin commented that after information from the business association was released about the block party it seemed, in essence, it was replacing the Reef Festival. “Based on what seemed to be the same idea (just by another name) I did not become involved in organizing one,” she explained. “It is sad that this year the educational aspect of the festival was not apparent. However, I have spoken with one past organizer who has committed himself to assisting me once more and bringing back the tradition of the Reef Festival, bigger and better next year.”

    Rebecca Arceo of SPBA stated that during the planning process of the Eco-Challenge and the Block Party, she was never informed that the educational Reef Festival would fall under SPBA’s command either. In fact, the Block Party had been organized as a means of raising funds for the organization’s upcoming Lobsterfest. “The money garnered from the booths and sale of drinks, will be used to pay for security personnel, garbage collection, entertainment, t-shirts and more for the night of Lobsterfest. We didn’t make much of a profit but it is the beginning of our fundraising activities. With part of the proceeds we are also planning to assist the Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce with their Trash Bin Project,” she explained. Both Sniffin and Arceo have committed their efforts to bringing back the great tradition that was the Reef Festival. Next year, 2009, San Pedro residents and visitors can surely enjoy a newly rejuvenated and 12th Annual Reef Festival, the Fifth Annual Lagoon-Reef Eco Challenge, and the Second Annual Eco-Challenge Block Party.

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