Biodiversity Consultation held March 14

A consultation on Biodiversity was held on Saturday, March 14, 1998 at the Lions Den. The purpose of this meeting was to gather information and feedback from local people in an effort to preserve and maintain our natural resources, (fisheries, marine and forestry plants, agriculture, etc.) and our quality of life-present and future. By first recognizing the threats: population growth, industrial and tourism development, deforestation, poaching, introduction of exotic species, and lack of enforcement and waste management, we can then successfully attain these goals through adequate legislation, management, enforcement, assessment/analysis, and community participation.

Opening services included a prayer by Mr. Marciel Alamina; Ms. Ellen McRae of Caye Caulker was the facilitator of the event. Objectives and an overview of the consultation were presented by Mr. Anselmo CasteF1ed a of the Ministry of Natural Resources, who explained the history of the program as follows:

"The Government of Belize attended the Rio 'Earth Summit', an international convention on biodiversity, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 and signed Agenda 21. This was a blueprint or manual intended to show how society and planet earth plan to live beyond the year 2000 using sustainable lifestyles. Even though Agenda 21 is a document that encompasses many volumes of documents, we of Central America have adopted a national Agenda 21 which translates in to ALIDES (Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development). Within ALIDES we have also developed a regional convention on biodiversity. The project today is one of those products resulting from Agenda 21-Rio, and from ALIDES so that Belize as a nation puts in a written plan and strategy on how we, as a nation, are going to plan for the conservation and sustainable use of the resources of the jewel."

National consultants attending the meeting were, Mr. Noel Jacobs-Marine and Coastal Areas, Ms. Delia Tillett-Geographic Information Systems and Environmental Planning, Mr. John Briggs-Natural Resources Economist, Mr. Hugh O'Brien-Medicinal Plants, Mr. Oscar Rosado-Forestry and Wildlife Management, and Ms. Zoila Ellis-Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Biodiversity Planning.

Presentations were made by the consultants and three group workshops, those attending from Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and consultants, were formed to discuss issues, problems and solutions. The Coastal Zone and Legal group concerns were as follows:

1. EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) Re: Dredging- mandatory, not as it is now.
2. Need for policy on piers and sea wall construction.
3. Need to develop mechanism to increase private sector participation for installation of mooring buoys and identifying suitable sites, and training for proper adequate use.
4. Consideration given to the development for use in enforcement (ticketing system).
5. Appointment of special constable.
6. Legislation to protect reef from physical damage.
7. Compensation system for successful prosecution of offense.
8. Need to incorporate protection of littoral forests under forest act.
9. Public Awareness and education about fisheries regulations.
10. Total protection of all marine turtles at all stages of life and marine aquarium fish.
11. Control of importation of mainland animals and plants to the cayes.
12. Need to conserve mangroves.
The work group dealing with Medicinal Plants had this to say about what is happening with medicinal forestry and marine plants in the cayes:

What we have:
1. Bacalar Chico: 15,000 acres
2. Nesting islands: leeward of Ambergris, 14-15 acres
3. Hol Chan Marine Reserve: 5 square miles
4. Caye Caulker: "Mini Reserve": 5 square miles
5. Imminent Reserve Caye Caulker: 100+ acres
6. Siwi Ban Foundation
7. Information: New Caye Caulker Planning Authority Co-management group-community group participation.
8. Green Reef
9. Existing Bird Sanctuaries- no management.
10. Eden Isles: private reserve, Caye Chapel
1. Develop private legislation for private owners.
2. Increase acreage set aside (reserve to increase littoral forest preservation).
3. Cultivation of medicinal plants for sustainable harvest.
4. Adequate lot size.
5. Enforcement of laws on land coverage- hunting birds and crocodiles, destruction of habitat.
6. Planning for urban development (San Pedrito and other cayes).
7. Create mechanism for a portion of investment funds from industry for conservation use.
8. Identify plants in littoral forest.
9. Local organizations access PACT's money.
10. Empower local apolitical organizations (educate teachers first).
11. Funds needed for educational program.
12. Incorporate natural resources of Belize into primary school syllabus.
13. Continuing education for teachers.
14. Identify the migratory paths of the birds in the coastal area and reefs.
The Tourism and Environmental Planning group had this to report:

1. Policy: Inadequate consultation- tour guides not contacted.
2. Government resources not paying attention to tourism sector- needs policy /planning in Ministry of Tourism, not just marketing
3. Establish national council for sustainable development: civil society involvement-who should council answer to?
4. Belize Barrier Reef committee: Meso/American coral reef initiative, under coastal zone- address all issues A) institution coordination B) authority
5. Key problems: 1) Lack of national level priorities 2) external projects-
6. Coordination of Coastal Zone and Tourism policy
Environmental Planning
1. Institution with legal authority doesn't have resources to execute authority
2. Problem: Bad development approved prior to planning. Solution: Build individual will through education
3. Enforcement problems and Related developments: Permits occur outside the planning authority (piers, sea walls, liquor licenses, noise) and it is not within the financial interests of these permitting agencies to comply with plans.
1) Amend laws so that permitting agencies have to comply with all plans.
2) Dissolve a few permit agencies.
3) Put under a central body.
1. Need massive education of "benefits" of sustainable development from the primary school level.
2. Need to build community empowerment for the people to address their issues.
3. There must be strong laws and clear process for their implementation.

Information gathered from the meeting will be analyzed and added to the findings from seven other regional consultations in an effort to draft a five year action plan. Next the team will schedule three regional consultations (North, South and Central) in the months, June/July. One final workshop will be held to present to at least 120 stakeholders the Final Version of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action prior to its submission to Cabinet for approval by the Government of Belize.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Daniel Guerrero gave a vote of thanks to the people who turned out.

Biodiversity affects every one of us on a daily basis. As simple an act as buying produce and meat at market, to swimming, snorkeling, and fishing the beautiful reef. The Earth's biological resources are vital to humanity's economic and social development. As a result , there is a growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to present and future generations. At the same time, the threat to species and ecosystems has never been so great as it is today. Species extinction caused by human activities continues at an alarming rate. The convention on Biological Diversity was inspired by the world community's growing commitment to sustainable development. It represents a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Author's note: The attendance at the meeting was less than spectacular, but the few that chose to get involved produced impressive results. It makes one wonder how many changes could be put into effect if more people got involved in something that affects not only Belize, but the world as a whole.

For more information contact Mito Paz at Banyan Bay Villas 3739.

Biodiversity Consultation held March 14

Copyright 1997, San Pedro Sun. Design by Casado Internet Group

San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize News