Tempers flared and voices were raised on the evening of Wednesday June 16th, at the Lions’ Den as residents and interested parties turned out for the Public Forum being hosted by Discovery Expeditions for Sea-Trek Enterprises. Sea Trek has been at the forefront of controversy with many of the tourism stakeholders on Ambergris Caye, with the common belief that it would be detrimental to the fragile marine eco-system of the island. Slated for Mexico Rocks, Sea Trek is an underwater voyager style activity that takes people for a walk for a close-up look at the vast undersea world while fitted with helmets and tethered to a floating ‘vessel’.
Members of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD), Tour Guide Association, hoteliers, tour guides, tour operators, students and citizens at large filled the den for what turned out to be a most vocal forum. On the Sea Trek camp were David Gegg, owner, and Carlene Sanchez, Director of Sales & Reservations for Discovery Expeditions Belize Ltd. Also present were Dwight Neal, marine biologist, Jim Mayfield, Chairman and Founder of Sub Sea Systems, Alex Edelman, Regional Director of Sub Sea Systems, and facilitator Bob Utsman. Kenrick Gordon of the Department of Environment (DOE) was also at the meeting.
Sea Trek was presented as a new and exciting venture for the water sports enthusiasts, an activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, especially non-divers. The study of the area proposed for the base of Sea Trek (in the Mexico Rocks area) concluded that the area is showing signs of degradation [which] could be from multiple causes; …algae present suggests some source of enrichment nearby…installing permanent moorings to completely eliminate the use of anchors…proposed operation plans to place a permanently moored barge to provide support to the activities and will use guard rails to restrict movement near corals…”
Those in attendance were particularly vocal about their dislike for the proposed activity, especially in the proposed location. In response to the consultant’s conclusions of his study of the area, Ken Mattes, marine biologist stated, “Your own [Sea Trek’s] marine biologist describes an area in great need of further protection – it seems totally against reason that then you would try and establish an area that you are going to [tread] the coral.” A lot of the concern has been about the environmental impact that the proposed activity will have on the area. Elito Arceo, tour operator, resident and member of the ACCSD group pointed out that “The area is used by so many different types of [people] scuba divers, snorkelers, sports fishermen, commercial fishermen; why give it up to Mr. Gegg [for one operation]?”
Despite the turn of events at the forum, it seems that Sea Trek continues to explore options and is moving forward. On Sunday, June 20th, the floating vessel Sea Symphony was seen out in the waters in the area where it is expected to moor for the day when Sea Trek begins its operations. What will become of Sea Trek is left to be seen. In an email correspondence between Ms. Sanchez of Discovery Expeditions and Einer Gomez, concerned citizen and member of BTB, Ms. Sanchez states, “…there was a suggestion that Sea Trek could be the platform for implementation of regulatory monitoring of the Mexico Rocks area, with perhaps even a park warden posted on the Sea Symphony boat, the base for Sea Trek operations. It is constructive suggestions like these that shed light to the positive contributions Sea Trek will represent for Ambergris Caye.” To which Gomez states, “The most positive outcome of the forum is the fact that [concerned citizens] all left agreeing that Mexico Rocks needs to be protected since it is over visited, overfished and unsupervised... adding more stress to the area will not alleviate the problem...A pilot project, in an area not being used [was suggested].”
The question remains, “What now?” Discovery Expeditions Belize Ltd. owner, David Gegg is expected to make a formal statement regarding the forum and their future plans within the next few days. The San Pedro Sun will be bringing to you the statement as it becomes available.