Hol Chan boundaries to get expanded

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

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Members of the public gathered to discuss the extension of Zones B and C of the Hol Chan Reserve.

A large crowd of fishermen, tour guides, mooring masters and the general public made it out for a very important consultation that took place on Wednesday, May 14th at the Lions Den. Facilitated by the crew at the Hol Chan Marine office but spearheaded by the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the extension of Zones B and C of the Hol Chan Reserve. The proposed expansion is set to include Cangrejo Shoals and place it within the protective boundaries of the world famous reserve. The subject in question brought out fishermen, tour guides and the interested community members to participate in the discussion and listen to the proposal.

    The Hol Chan Marine 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. The entire reserve currently covers approximately 6.3 square miles and is divided into four zones: Zone A - The Reef (1 sq. mi..); Zone B - The Sea Grass Beds (2.3 sq. mi..); Zone C - The Mangroves (.98 sq. mi..) and Zone D - Shark Ray Alley (2 sq. mi..).

    During the meeting, Zone B and C were the center of discussion since the proposal aims at extending Zone B from 2.3 square miles to 8.4 square miles. While the proposal for Zone C, aims at extending the current 0.98 square miles area to 9.9 square miles and this will contain the inclusion of Cangrejo Shoals, an area that is rich with healthy mangrove forests and has been recognized by environmentalists as vital for the fishing industry. The total proposed expansion for both Zone B and C will be a combined 15.02 square miles. This in turn, would increase the reserve from 6.3 square miles to 21.3 square miles, a little over three times its current size.

    According to President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, Billy Leslie, the proposed expansion has been a request submitted by the association and other various entities to the past People’s United Party administration. “We had requested for this area to be a protected site way back when the past administration was in power. The proposed expansion at that time conflicted with the area used by commercial fishermen, who would have vehemently opposed. As it is, Hol Chan reserve covers a tiny patch area of mangroves and we are continuously seeing the pressure from various developers eager to build. Private development of these mangrove wetlands now threatens the ecological integrity of the area. The urgency is now to provide legal protection to these valuable coastal resources. We want to encourage no development whatsoever in this area,” ended Leslie.

    According to Reserve Manager, Miguel Alamilla the sole purpose of the request was to sensitize the public and get feedback in regards to the proposal. “We (Hol Chan) held this meeting as a request from the San Pedro Tour Guide Association and fishermen who use the area. What we are doing is management intervention where, in the end, tourism and fishing will thrive. We are proposing to discontinue damaging fishing practices and these include the practices of using nets and spear fishing. For many years, fishermen have depended on these islands and neighbouring sea grass beds as their lobster fishing grounds. We want to secure the mangrove and sea grass allowing them to remain intact while protecting the coastal and marine habitats from commercial fishing will save and protect valuable species such as the queen conch and the spiny lobster,” commented Miguel.

    The Sun posed the question: The consultation was held, what are the next steps that are being taken to get approval? “We will be sending out the proposal to the Ministries including the Fisheries Department who will draft up the legislature. From there, it will be moved to the Solicitor General’s office where it will be reviewed and then taken to Cabinet for approval. It could take as much as a month to get a response,” commented Miguel.

    According to Leslie, the same consultation was held in Caye Caulker Village and although the attendance was not as bright as it was in San Pedro Town, the majority of the attendees were fishermen who were concerned that the expansion would discontinue any fishing practices in that area. “That was the reason the fishermen were concerned, but we made it clear that that is not what we intend on doing. For the area we are proposing the elimination of casting nets to fish and/or spear fishing, this as you know is an illegal practice from way before,” ended Leslie.

    Although the proposal has just been sent for review, the reception from residents in both Caye Caulker and San Pedro were excellent during both meetings. Leslie ended by encouraging residents to take the initiative of supporting conservation efforts of marine reserves and Coral Reefs.

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