Little cayes dot the leeward side of Ambergris Caye, a beautiful and serene location that without a doubt rivals the pristine quality of the coral reef environment of the windward side. This area has for years been a haven for migratory and resident bird species, providing a critical nesting and feeding habitat. As tour guides visit the area, as fishermen traverse the lagoon side, much activity taking place in the cayes have for months raised questions and eyebrows as to the ownership of the cayes, in particular Los Salones.
Green Reef signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Belize Audubon Society for the management of two bird sanctuaries (Los Salones and Little Guana Caye) in April of 1998. With financial assistance from a Protected Area Conservation Trust (PACT) grant. Green Reef compiled a management plan for the sanctuary. Work soon began and Green Reef proceeded to carry out bird and vegetation field surveys of both sanctuaries and it became obvious how important the surrounding cayes were to the successful survival of birds in that area.
However, as survey pegs were established in that area as of last year, questions began arising across the community on whether the bird sanctuaries had been sold. Speculation abounds and in order to get answers, The San Pedro Sun had an interview with Area Representative of Belize Rural South Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. who made the clarification.
Indeed, Los Salones has fallen under private hands and no longer belongs to the people of Belize. The private investor received Los Salones as part of compensation given to him for previous land purchased. When the previous property was discovered to have had actual ownership, the past administration compensated said investor with portions of land spanning across Ambergris Caye. Part of the portions of land compensated included Los Salones spanning 60 acres, according to Honorable Heredia, as well as two adjoining shoals (sandbar) spanning 10 acres each.
Honorable Heredia and the investor have been in constant communication trying to remedy the situation and return Los Salones and the shoals to the Belizean people. “It has to be a trade for trade. It’s not what we can give them, it’s what we can agree mutually,” explained Honorable Heredia. “There is not much government land left to compensate him with. As an investor, he also has to look at the value of what the exchange will be.”
When asked what land was being considered for compensation, Honorable Heredia explained that the land being discussed was the only government land available across the Belize Water Services Limited pond on southern San Pedro Town. “That part of low land that lies over there, that is the area where we are trying to see if we can reach a compromise with the investor. It’s the only area that remains government land which can be handed over as compensation. If we accrue the value of the three pieces of property in question, the 20 acres in shoals and the 60 acres of Los Salones, that value would be far more than the land which we are considering in compensating him for,” stated Honorable Heredia.
The matter remains under discussion between Government and the private investor. The San Pedro Sun will continue following the story and will release more information as the deal gets finalized.