The Gulf of Honduras is a unique tri-national body of water that includes portions of the exclusive economic zones of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. However, this vast expansion of water is also home to the second largest barrier reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS). Maritime transport plays a critical role in the region’s overall economy, but the unregulated expansion of this sector places highly valued environmental resources in the Gulf, like the MBRS, at risk. In 2003, the five major ports in the Gulf, including the two in Belize, accommodated nearly 4,000 ships and handled more than 12 million metric tons of cargo. This figure has steadily increased through the years and the volume of maritime traffic and goods shipped is only expected to increase. With an increase in port traffic and cargo loads comes an increase in the possibility of accidents and threats to human safety, property, and the environment. These events in turn carry the potential of negatively affect the region’s economy and natural resources.
Because of the Gulf’s importance, a project was born, the Gulf of Honduras Project which aims in uniting the three countries in the fight for the Gulf’s sustainability. The project has recognized the importance that the media plays in communicating the important information to the public. On Friday, April 25th, coordinators of the Gulf of Honduras Project hosted top reporters from Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as, key governmental and private agencies for training in Strategic Communication and Capacity Building. Organizers strongly believe that this will assist in effectively communicating the importance of the project and the region to readers, listeners or viewers.
Roberto Rivas, Environmental Specialist for the Gulf of Honduras Program, explained that there are many variables when it comes to protecting the Gulf; one such variable is maritime transportation and port operation. “What we want is to diminish the amount of pollutants that are in the water and to determine where the pollutants come from. By finding out this information, we can then make some kind of strategic plan to present to the governments in the future. Once this plan is implemented then we can better attack these problems,” he commented.
During the workshop, media, private and governmental agencies discussed the ways to make the project a success. Feedback will be taken back and implemented within the project. A big point addressed was the fact that for private sectors and residents living along the Gulf of Honduras, the Gulf of Honduras Project seems as just another environmental project; a project that seems to have little importance in the day to day lifestyle of many of the residents in the area.
Participants expressed their concerns and stated that most of the problems have to do with the abuse of power by high level politicians in the region. “Sometimes the local authorities in the various municipalities try to stop certain projects that will negatively affect the environment. But, the rich private investors go to Ministers for approval. When the local government stands up against the project, the Minister turns around and targets the local authorities. In the case of Puerto Cortes, the Mayor is in a legal dispute after she was taken to court by the government. So, if the rich can do, the local residents feels like they can do the same; it’s simply the governments following the money,” commented a News Director from one of Honduras largest radio stations.
Rivas explained that not only must people get involved in the project, it is extremely important that governments and local residents see the project’s success. “We do have cases where governments lack political will, but we have a lot of resources, such as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. It is important that we communicate to the population and the government that destroying our resources will not only have an environmental impact but it will have and economic impact in the longer run. So, the project’s success is extremely important so we can have the study and scientific data of our findings which we can present to governments and implement an action plan.”
Although the Gulf of Honduras Project may have many objectives, these have been broken down regionally and globally. The regional objective of the project is to reverse the degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems within the Gulf of Honduras. This will be carried out by enhancing the prevention and control of maritime transport–related pollution in major ports and navigation lanes, improving navigational safety to avoid groundings and spills, and reducing land-based sources of pollution draining into the Gulf. The Project’s global objective is the implementation of a regionally coordinated strategic action plan. This will result in regional, and by extension global, environmental benefits through protection of international waters, their resources, and sustainable use of resources, while simultaneously reducing threats to the globally significant Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
The Project aims to achieve these goals by focusing on demonstrations of innovative technologies in the region and, according to Rivas, with the help of the media, these goals can and will be achieved. “The radio stations the newspapers and the television stations will communicate to the people in the region so if we don’t get them involved, we will be lacking a step in the entire project. We want results at the end of the day so we will be determine a strategy of communication about the Gulf of Honduras. The firm that is preparing the strategy will send it to all you participants for vetting the strategy and you will be charge with final material so as to make changes because it will be yours.”
While Belize’s last updated record was 2003, it shows that 504 ships docked at the Belize City Port and 90 ships docked at Big Creek Port. Other records show an increase in the number of ships docking at the five different international ports in the Gulf of Honduras. (See Table 1). The five ports include: Belize City Port, Big Creek Port in the Stann Creek District in Belize, Santo Tomas de Castilla Port and Puerto Barrios in Guatemala and Puerto Cortes in Honduras.
Because the many effects can be detrimental to the region, Rivas said that the Gulf of Honduras Project is an initiative that calls for entire population in the region to be apart of. “We are working for the benefit of the governments in the region and this Gulf of Honduras Project is dedicated to help solve the problem in the area. We want to help you help yourself but we want the cooperation of all in doing this job. We want to have a better environment; we want to have better resources in order to use them for the development of the countries, so in effect, the success of the project depends on all.”
The full project consist of four components; Regional Maritime Environmental Information System, Safety of Navigation Routes, Environmental Improvement of the main Ports and Capacity Building and Regional Coordination.
Belize’s delegation consisted of four individuals, two representing government agencies and two representing private media agencies. The Belize Port Authority was represented by Thomas Valerio, Department of the Environment was represented by Jorge Franco and two journalists with experience in Environmental issues were The San Pedro Sun’s Kainie Manuel and Reef Radio’s Jorge Aldana.