South Beach or Hol Chan?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 21            May 22, 2008

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Despite a moratorium on the clearing of mangroves, there has been some activity and manrgoves have been cleared in the area in question.

The question posed in the headline has been a heated debate over the past few days between individuals, organizations and developers. Although everyone agrees that the environment is a highly valuable resource to protect, everyone is also in accordance that a developer should follow all guidelines set forth by the various governmental entities prior to proceeding with any construction plans. These guidelines have been set forth from years ago. It is nothing new and developers are well aware of all pre-requisites needed. This will allow the protection of the development in a particular area as well as its surrounding ecosystems.

    An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a study carried out in a designated area intended for development. This study analyzes the possible threats to the environment that the upcoming construction might have on the surroundings. The EIA aims at minimizing those impacts to Belize’s resources while still allowing sustainable development.

South Beach Belize

    On May 17th, 2008, an email was sent out to various possible and interested investors around the world. The email carried the headline “Exclusive pre-construction opportunity in beautiful Belize” and was sent by Director for South Beach Belize, Jeff Pierce.

    The release states that “This exciting project has earned tremendous response in the very few weeks that the web site has been up. A luxurious gated community featuring a Casino combined with a large hotel, multiple residential properties and Villas plus commercial and recreational venues. […] We have the support of the Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism, Mayoress of San Pedro, the Area Representative and other Ministers and Cabinet Members to insure the success of South Beach Belize. We are located at the southern tip of the island (South Beach) only ten minutes by boat or fifteen minutes by road from downtown or the airport. […]We are starting construction of the first Villas and Condominiums in the next 30 days. […]The newly elected government of Belize is very in tuned with growth and expanding the economy. Several of the ministers have visited the site and we have the full support of the government for South Beach.”

    Every developer advertises their upcoming projects in the manner they chose, via email or otherwise. So, why has this particular email caused so much controversy?


    South Beach Belize is a proposed development located on the southern end of the Yucatan Peninsula on Ambergris Caye, approximately four miles south of San Pedro Town.

    The diagrams above are self explanatory. The highlighted/marked areas represent Hol Chan Marine Reserve with Zone A consisting of the reef, Zone B are the Seagrass Beds, Zone C are the mangroves while Zone D is Shark Ray Alley.

    According to Manager of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Miguel Alamilla, South Beach Belize could have detrimental effects on the ecosystems surrounding the proposed site. Any development that proposes to build anything in close proximity to the reserve would need an EIA prior to proceeding. If the development is not properly monitored as per the specified regulation set by the Department of Environment (DoE) all four zones within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve are being placed in danger.

    The reserve was formed primarily as a community-based initiative due to concern over the high level of uncontrolled, often destructive fishing and diving activities in the area. Reserve status was also called for by international organizations such as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and Peace Corps, due to the unique formation of the channel, the abundant fishery resources (including conch and lobster) and the feasibility of including an interlinked system of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats in this area.

    All four zones are clearly marked on the surface by buoys. Zone A through C each represents one of the major marine habitat types in Belize. Zone D was added as a location where nurse sharks and southern sting rays congregate.

    Realizing the importance of the coral reef community off Ambergris Caye, Belize, the Government of Belize established the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on May 2nd, 1987. Shark Ray Alley was officially declared Zone “D” of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on August 31st, 1999.

    Due to its protected status, what was once a depleted fishing area has now been allowed to re-generate, providing an unparalleled diving/snorkeling experience for visitors and an important refuge for marine life along the northern section of the Belize Barrier Reef.

    According to Alamilla closer inspection of the diagrams revealed that part of the intended South Beach development, marked as HIGH END RESORT falls within the boundaries of Zone C. “This is a very big concern for us. We have been in communication with the Department of Environment to find out the status in this particular development,” ended Alamilla.

EIA, Clearance and Support

    Prior to developing, Director Jeff Pierce was required to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment with the Department of Environment (DoE) which falls within the Ministry of Natural Resources. In an interview with Martin Alegria, Chief Executive Officer for DoE, no EIA had been submitted by Pierce, as of press time. On Thursday, May 15th, 2008, Alegria, along with other government agencies paid a visit to the site and verbally told Pierce to cease any and all work being carried out on the project.

    If no EIA had been conducted, what work was being carried out by South Beach Belize? Photographs and/or a visit to the site show that already mangroves have been cleared to make way for the commencement of construction. A road has also been cleared, and plans include dredging.

    Clearing of mangroves is another issue on its own. Mid-February, Government of Belize issued a press release stating that a moratorium for the clearing of mangroves had been set for a period of nine months. Calls placed to various entities informed The San Pedro Sun that the moratorium has not been lifted. As such, no one is allowed to clear mangroves without directives from DoE. Alegria says that no such directive was given to Pierce.

    In an interview with Director Pierce, he stated that a TOR (Terms of Reference) had indeed been sent to DoE. However, a TOR is the beginning stages of an EIA. A developer is still required to send an up-to-date and accurate EIA. Once approved, development can commence. When asked why an EIA had not been submitted? Pierce commented, “Talk to Minister Heredia.” All calls placed to Minister Heredia proved futile.

    This leads us back to the press release stating, “We have the support of the Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism, Mayoress of San Pedro, the Area Representative and other Ministers and Cabinet Members to insure the success of South Beach Belize. […] Several of the ministers have visited the site and we have the full support of the government for South Beach.” Speaking with officials who the press release claimed support for South Beach, The San Pedro Sun discovered that Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, has never visited South Beach and stated that he has full and utmost confidence in his department (DoE). “If they say the project should not go through because it is not sustainable enough or if the developer has not followed its proper guidelines then it is not a project that I can fully support,” he ended. Mayor of San Pedro Town Elsa Paz told this reporter that yes, she supports South Beach Belize as well as any other development. When asked if she was aware that South Beach had not submitted an EIA but were going through with their construction she said, “Well, if they have not submitted the correct paperwork, I and the Town Council, can not support it,” she ended. Calls placed to Prime Minister Dean Barrrow on Tuesday and Wednesday also proved futile.

    So, with no EIA, no support, what will happen to South Beach Belize? Reliable sources informed this reporter that since the verbal “cease construction” stop order given to Pierce on Thursday was not followed through, a formal stop order will now be issued and Pierce may face a fine, as well. When asked if DoE had indeed issued him a verbal stop order, Pierce commented, “I don’t believe so.” He ended the telephone interview by stating that he was to meet with DoE on Thursday, as well as with Minister Heredia.

South Beach design plan.
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