Last week (Vol. 20,Issue #18), The San Pedro Sun ran a story on a new venture by businessman David Gegg, of Discovery Expeditions called Sea-Trek in the Mexico Rocks area. The topic has been getting a lot of attention, as citizens have many questions regarding the plans, in particular the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP). As Mr. Gegg explained in the initial interview, Sea-Trek is available in over 40 countries throughout the world, and has not been proved environmentally unstable. He also adamantly emphasized his cooperation with the Department of Environment (DOE), explaining that he is doing everything required of him in the ECP.
With images of concrete walkways and a floating barge containing a portable toilet in an area where most people enjoy snorkeling and sightseeing, there is high concern from residents and environmental advocates on the island. Mr. Gegg once again granted an interview to The San Pedro Sun, where he explained his plan. “I know I am doing the right thing,” he stated. He emphasized that he is being guided by what people want, and that includes DOE, the experts, and the general public. And that includes striking the notion of concrete walkways underwater at Mexico Rocks. And the “barge” in question, is actually a two-level platform, The Sea Symphony that measures 42feet by 16feet.
Ultimately, Gegg believes that what will be put in place at the designated tour area will be a mix of Fibergrate (fiberglass reinforced plastic) walkways, and hand rails to keep visitors contained to a specific path. While there are areas that are completely sandy, and may only need hand rails, there are other areas that will require a walkway that will leave turtle/sea grass untouched. The Fibergrate walkways are designed in such a way that they allow 70% of sunlight to come through, and would have a much smaller impact on the seabed. As for sedimentation, Gegg believes the very nature of the design of the Sea-Trek helmets will prevent that, being that when one is underwater wearing the helmet, one is buoyant (hardly touching the seabed).
As for a public forum to present his project, Gegg did acknowledge that he was prepared to answer people’s questions, and he began with a visit to The Reef Radio’s morning show on Wednesday, May 12. During the show, he spoke of his plans and fielded calls. At the top of the agenda for most callers was the issue of waste management. He explained that the toilet is hooked to a holding tank of 100-gallon capacity. That holding tank will be emptied in the sewer lagoon as it should, and will not be flushed into the ocean. He was quick to point out that many vessels that dock on the shorelines of Ambergris Caye are not being held to such standards, and he believes that many of those very vessels empty their raw waste into the ocean. He hopes that if he is used as an example, DOE should ensure that all other vessels are held to the same stringent standards.
As part of the information exercise, and publicity campaign, Gegg invited the staff of The San Pedro Sun to experience the Sea-Trek walk firsthand. After prepping gear and ensuring that all cords were in place and lined up to the helmets, it was time to hit the water. The 27Kg helmet certainly packs a punch in weight, but when it is placed on ones head while in shoulder-deep water the weight is hardly felt. Guide, Juan Carlos Rosado leads the explorers around the corals that teem with an abundance of fish. There are even a few stingrays swimming around. The buoyancy factor is certainly there, and over the mostly sandy walk, there were some areas that would more than likely require the elevated pathway, just as Gegg believes will happen. Ultimately, Sea-Trek is a different experience, one that means a new marketing incentive for visitors to the island, and as David Gegg says, it is a way to fill the hotel rooms. At the very least, it provides something for people of all ages over 8, and requires little effort, and just may entice explorers to look into more of the underwater experiences that Belize has to offer.
The ECP is valid for one year after signing, and Gegg is working hard to meet the guidelines set in place by the plan. There are still a few factors that are being worked on, but he believes that this is a way forward in the tourism industry.