SPTGA holds meeting to discuss SI

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 9, No. 48            December 16, 1999

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Members of the SPTGA discuss SI

At an organized and well conducted meeting of the San Pedro Tour Guides Association (SPTGA) last Thursday evening, many recommendations for amendments to a recent Statutory Instrument (SI) were suggested. The recent signing established Shark Ray Alley as a protected zone and part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Although the SI has already been in effect since August 31st, President of the SPTGA, Billy Leslie stated, "These laws are not written in stone, they are made, but they can be amended." Miguel Alamilla, Manager of Hol Chan, explained the main objective of this workshop was to come to a collective understanding and appreciation and to voice concerns or suggestions about the newly appointed annex. Before the meeting commenced, Mr. Jose Gonzalez volunteered as facilitator in an effort to streamline discussions. A brief presentation by Hol Chan's Peace Corp Volunteer Brandon Kitigawa started the meeting. Presented were the results of a survey of 28 fishermen and tour guides of their concerns regarding Shark Ray Alley. It was found that 71% of those surveyed used the area at least once a day thus information provided was first hand. As many as 89% were satisfied with the decision to make it a protected area while the remaining 11% did not respond to the questionnaire. Conclusions of the survey produced the following: to continue management of the area; a need for additional rangers, mooring and marker buoys; and continued communication with user groups. Other concerns included damage to coral, touching/mishandling of fish, litter and speeding boats. After the presentation, people in attendance at the meeting added their comments about the depletion of sardines due to the feeding of fish. It was decided by the group that further studies were needed and a suggestion was made to use fish remains instead. Another mentioned concerns of how feeding affects the stingrays and sharks, i.e., dependency and behavior changes such as aggression when they have not been fed. One other comment involved engines running too long when moored at the site as an alternative method of attracting the fish.

    In the second part of the meeting President Leslie read a letter from SPTGA to the Departments of Fisheries and Environment in support of Zone D. Parts of this letter recommended that the conditions of Zone C include Cangrejo Caye as a multi-purpose area. It also stated that regulation 8A be amended so that "no" fishing gear should be read as, no "visible" fishing gear allowed on boats visiting the reserve. Mr. Leslie explained that the SI regulations had been decided upon by government before the survey or meetings with the user groups. Now was their chance to make recommendations to amend these laws. 

    To set this discussion into motion, Mr. Alamilla then proceeded to read the Shark Ray Alley regulations with pause for concerns from the group between each part. Results of this discussion produced some of the following recommendations or amendments: 1) that user groups combine to make recommendations on the exact measurements of the Zone D area for the placing of marker buoys, 2) that the grouper bank in front of the Amigos del Mar wreck be closed during spawning season to commercial fishermen, and in conjunction with this it was further suggested that the amount of catch be limited, 3) that periodic studies be performed regarding fish counts and research into the behavior of fish that are fed such as they are in this reserve area, 4) that Hol Chan rangers monitor tourist briefings by tour guides to ensure compliance with regulations and that rules be laminated for multiple use, 5) that fees be changed to Zones ABC - $5BZ per person per day plus an extra $5BZ per person per day for Zone D. Wrapping up this segment, Mr. Leslie reiterated the fact that "the reserve needs to be economically sustainable without damaging our resources."

    Other conversations during the reading of the regulations brought up the Divers Down flag that should be displayed at all times. The importance of this was stressed and it was revealed that the Fisheries Department will be enforcing this heavily. It was also announced that Park Rangers now carry the title of Fisheries Officer as well. On the subject of fish feeding, there was a suggestion that Hol Chan feed the fish 4 or 5 times per day to limit the interaction between people and fish or in the least, feedings be done off of the boat and not in the water. Establishing another similar recreation area was another idea as a solution to the overcrowding and waiting at both sites. On the subject of scuba diving, it was recommended that permission be given through Hol Chan and not the Belize City Fisheries Department.

    Mr. Alamilla concluded the workshop speaking of the setbacks that have kept Hol Chan from moving forward. One of their patrol boats is being repaired and an engine is needed for their smaller boat. They have a vacancy for two rangers and markers buoys are needed to define the new areas. On the up side, they do have additional mooring buoys that are ready to be installed so more people can take advantage of the sites.

    The meeting ended with the presentation of second rotation Tour Guide Training Certificates and refreshments were served. All present were thanked for their support.

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