Shark Ray Alley annexed to Hol Chan

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 9, No. 37            September 16, 1999

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Honorable Daniel Silva, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Cooperatives, has officially declared the annexation of Shark Ray Alley as Zone "D" of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The declaration was made August 31st, 1999 in conjunction with Section 13 of the Fisheries Act, Chapter 174 of the laws of Belize, Revised Edition 1980-1990.

    Members of Fisheries, Hol Chan, Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute (CZMA/I), the press of Belize and friends from San Pedro and Caye Caulker gathered on Sunday, September 2, 1999 to view first-hand the areas of the reserve. The first stop was Shark Ray Alley where everyone boarded the government boat LutJanus for a brief ceremony and interview session. Administrator of Fisheries, Mr. George Myvette explained that this was basically a familiarization tour and cited the reserve as a "critical area for fishermen and now tourism". He then introduced Mayor Alberto Nuñez who welcomed the gathering to enjoy the reserve. Hon. Daniel Silva then addressed the crowd, thanking all for attending and especially the press for "playing a vital role in the education of the public" when it comes to the importance of preserving what belongs to all of us. He continued by saying this was a historic week, with the signing of the Statutory Instrument and pledged the Ministry's support in all efforts of the reserve. He then introduced Permanent Secretary, Dr. Marcelino Avila who remarked on the "excellent beauty of this resource". He added that through proper management we can conserve this resource and enhance its income potential at the same time.

    Shark Ray Alley, located five miles southeast of San Pedro Town, is a major tourist attraction featuring a chance to swim with Nurse sharks and Southern stingrays. These mainly docile creatures are attracted to the area by local tour guides who feed them during their tours. Mr. Miguel Alamilla, Hol Chan Manager quoted an estimated 30,000 people visit Hol Chan every year; ninety percent of those being foreigners. It has become a protected area after approximately five years of scientific study and community consultation. Formerly an open area for all visitors, it will now be monitored in the same fashion as Hol Chan to minimize the negative effects of human impact. It will be managed by an advisory committee composed of representatives of: the Caribeña Cooperative Society Ltd., the San Pedro chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the San Pedro Mayor's office, Hol Chan office, the San Pedro Tour Guide Association (SPTGA) and the Fisheries Department, who will be the coordinating agency. In a press release from Fisheries Dept., Zone "D" is described as "a multiple use zone comprising a general use area where fishing and other extractive uses will be allowed and two core non-extractive areas (Shark Ray Alley and Amigos del Mar Wreck)." 

    James Azueta of Fisheries gave an overview of the day's agenda which included lunch and snorkeling at both sites. A question and answer period following the speeches focused on concerns of the group. The first issue brought forth was education at the primary school level and possible outings for Special Olympics children. Mr. Myvette answered that Mr. Azueta had already initiated education in the Belize City schools and was working on establishing dates for other areas. The next question concerned damage from Caye Chapel's development, to which Dr. Vincent Gillett, Chief Executive Officer of CZMA/I explained that monitoring was taking place and would continue to be done. It was mentioned that dredging was taking place mainly on the leeward side of the island with an approved mining permit to extract 2000 cubic feet of material. Samples are also being taken from the front of the island to monitor any negative impacts of dredging. It was added that CZMA/I continues to make and implement laws and the delicate balance of development versus conservation is taken into consideration. Another awareness trip may be planned to this area. President of the SPTGA, Billy Leslie addressed the issue of preserving the mangrove, namely Cangrejo Caye and others which are important habitats for the fish of the reef. Minister Silva commented that fishermen need to be considered in this regard, to which Mr. Leslie replied that mostly sport fishermen (tarpon, bonefish, permit) use these areas for catch/release purposes. Mr. Silva then responded that if Fisheries has the support of everyone involved they would love to pursue this area. Mr. Leslie also inquired as to the results of the NOVA Shrimp infractions. It was stated that Dylan Gomez of Bacalar Chico has done the assessment of damage for Fisheries. The charges NOVA faces are 1) implementing without authorization in a reserve, and 2) destruction of reef building corals. They are proceeding in court to determine the financial damages. Fines of only $1000 for some infractions were mentioned as being outdated and that amendments to the law need to be lobbied for. Enforcement and the funding for it was a final question. The Minister answered that $100,000 is budgeted for Hol Chan and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve to use for all areas including enforcement and education. Miguel Alamilla added that Hol Chan generated about $150,000 last year and with the addition of Shark Ray Alley's monies, he expects this to double. Questioned was whether these monies stay in San Pedro for its needs and it was answered that it did remain in this area, controlled by a trust fund of the aforementioned managing committee.

    The Permanent Secretary then thanked everyone for coming and the Ministry for their "open-door" policy of information. Lunch was served and everyone enjoyed the rest of the day exploring one of our most beautiful natural resources.

    Anyone interested in the study conducted by Fisheries may contact the San Pedro Sun for their copy.
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