The doors were officially opened Friday night, December 18th at the headquarters of GreenReef, San Pedro. The facility, located next to Manelly' Ice Cream on Barrier Reef Drive houses educational displays, the first environmental gift shop and the executive offices of GreenReef. Local artwork was displayed in lieu of a few pieces of environmental educational material that will soon take its place. President and founder, Mito Paz welcomed the crowd and briefly explained the beginnings of his dream. GreenReef, a non-profit conservation organization was funded in 1996 by a group of local citizens concerned about development and its impact on the island. Their goal was and is to help maintain a balance that allows humans to enjoy their natural resources, while minimizing the impact to the environment. Projects undertaken to achieve this are: 1) education/public awareness, 2) reef mooring buoys and maintenance of them, 3) monitoring - with the aid of ReefKeeper International, and 4) managing protected areas, such as bird sanctuaries. He praised the help of locals, Norman Eiley and Dr. Ken Mattes for their help in the education program.
Mito then turned the ceremony over to Dr. Brian Matayoshi, Executive Director of GreenReef. He introduced Ann Hayden, Project Director, and thanked all the artists, businesses, and attendees for their support. He explained the next step was applying for additional grants. He explained that GreenReef can be used as a reliable source of information, and facilitator for communication with government, community and contributors. He explained that many objectives can be achieved through cooperation and education involving other agencies such as Belize Audubon and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. They are requesting community involvement to aid them in their plans.
A ribbon cutting ceremony was performed by Area Representative, Hon. Patty Arceo who expressed her pride in Mito and his initiative. She recognized his efforts in pursuing his dreams to the point of reality and pledged government allegiance and support to the project.
A reception followed with refreshments and hors d'oeuvres. Guests were also invited to attend the Holiday Arts Festival at Friendship Park which was taking place at the same time. This exhibit, sponsored by GreenReef will last until January 3rd, 1998 with exhibits being displayed from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from this will benefit GreenReef.
Guillermo "Mito" Paz is a name synonymous with conservation. Green Reef, the only marine conservation organization in San Pedro, and second only in the country, was Mito' brainchild. Not only is his work in protecting the environment in and around Ambergris Caye well worth noting, this native of San Pedro is active in all things that go on in the community.
Born in San Pedro Town on the 28th of December, 1959 to Mrs. Adela and Seferino Paz Sr., Mito grew up among five sisters and one brother. He attended San Pedro Roman Catholic School and graduated from the first graduating class of the San Pedro High School in 1976. At Belize Technical College, Mito honed in on his interest of science and nature and studied biology, chemistry, zoology, and botany. With that preparation under his belt, Mito attended the Florida International University in Miami, graduating in 1981 with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Biology.
Upon his return to San Pedro, Mito joined the family business (SunBreeze Hotel) working as Food and Beverage Manager and assisted in the marketing of the business. In 1984, Mito married Catherine Hunter Paz and eventually had two sons, Alejandro (now 13) and Guillermo (now 2).
Mito was anxious to apply the knowledge and skills he had acquired in school, and his first opportunity to do so was with the Center of Environmental Studies. There he made assessments of North Ambergris Caye, identifying and recommending critical habitats at Bacalar Chico, and additional assessments were made for a marine reserve at the Port of Honduras. After acquiring a two year contract with Coastal Zone Management as a reserve manager at Middle Caye in Glover' Reef, Mito implemented a management plan to establish grouper research. This project was significant to Mito because he had the opportunity to build one of the first environmentally friendly reserves with solar panels, a wind generator, composite toilet, etc. As Mito put it, "It was one of my finest projects."
At the completion of that project, Mito returned to San Pedro where he noticed the abundance of visitors and the stress this was causing the marine ecosystem; he recognized a need for a conservation organization. In 1996, after careful planning and research, Green Reef was founded. Mito and his team formed the Reef Festival, as well as other public awareness events to promote this new non-profit organization. Soon after, Green Reef received a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which allowed Mito to develop an Environmental Education Programme to educate the community and increase awareness. Green Reef targeted all schools, providing them with literature, slide presentations, videos, and trips to the reef. Moreover, with the help of Amigos del Mar, Green Reef was able to install reef mooring bouys along the reef for boats to anchor to, eliminating damage to the reef.
Mito was also rewarded with a Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) grant to develop a management plan for Los Salones and Little Guana Caye Bird Sanctuaries, located on the leeward side of Ambergris Caye. This plan will include ways of managing visitation, with the eventual installation of walkways around the cayes and observation towers; all to minimize disturbance to the birds. Currently, Mito is lobbying with the Government of Belize for the expansion of the Bird Sanctuaries to include adjacent islands, such as Cayo Pajaro, Cayo Rosario, and the the wetlands on the mainland of Ambergris Caye.
Green Reef aspires to become the leading marine organization of Belize. With the recent opening of its headquarters on Pescador Drive, Green Reef will be much more accessible to the community. The headquarters will house two offices for staff, a marine museum with educational displays, and the island' first environmental gift shop which will help pay operational costs. Mito Paz, Director and President of Green Reef is closely assisted by Ann Hayden, Project Director; Dr. Brian Matayoshi, Associate Professor of Physiology at St. Mathews University, and Mr. Paul du Quesnay from Dangriga.
Green Reef is sponsoring the 1st Annual San Pedro Arts Festival scheduled for December 18th through January 3rd, 1999. In addition, a benefit for Green Reef will be held on the 26th of December at Rasta Pasta Restaurant with food, music, and more. Mito hopes that the community and visitors alike will participate in these events.
"The community is an essential component of the work Green Reef has done and will continue to do in the future," Mito commented. "Our natural resources are important to the livelihood of all and it' up to every individual to make sure that it is not destroyed."
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