"Lamanai Room Declaration" issued by BTIA, Audubon and others

The Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) and the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) held an extraordinary meeting of the boards of directors of both organizations to discuss recent environmental issues occurring in Belize and licences and concessions recently awarded by Government. The four issues on the agenda were: 1. Dolphin Park at Cangrejo Caye; 2. Cruise ship damage to the reef; 3. Live rock exportation; 4. Lobster ranching - Turneffe Reef. A fifth issue, logging in the Toledo District, was added. In addition to the boards of directors, representatives from Belize's NGOs, the fishing cooperatives and concerned individuals were present. The attendance was close to one hundred.

Reynaldo Guerrero, the Managing Director of the Belize Institute of Management (BIM) was the moderator of the meeting. Guerrero carefully explained that the meeting was a joint meeting of the BTIA and BAS - not a public meeting. "Those who are not on the boards are here as observers. If time allows there may be intervention allowed by observers. The issues to be discussed are extremely emotional and volatile. I will chair this meeting and try to determine and separate facts and emotions. I will intervene if it becomes too emotional." The observers were cautioned that there were to be no private meetings on the sidelines - if conversation between observers became necessary, they were to step outside.

Continuing with the guidelines, Guerrero stated that most of the topics to be addressed had been discussed by the media and press and that new facts and information were needed. He said it was hoped that consultation with government would be the outcome of the meeting. A time frame for discussion and formulating a policy was voted on. The directors voted 10 to 9 to conclude the meeting at 6 p.m. As the vote was close, it was decided at 6 p.m. to vote again to continue or call another session.

Jose (Pepe) Garcia, president of BAS in his opening statement said that the mission statement of BAS provided the key words to guide the meeting - 'A balance between mankind and the environment.' "Today sustainable development is a buzz word. There are three considerations for sustainable development - 1. the economic aspect; 2 the social aspect; and 3. the environmental aspect. The question is to benefit or not to benefit. When we see only economic benefits, no social or environmental, then there must be something wrong." Garcia introduced Fisheries Officer George Myvett and Greg Smith "Tortuga Man" as invited specialists who would be called upon for scientific and technical information. He concluded his remarks saying, "After we sign our declaration, it is our hope that government will come to the consultation process with us as none was done for any of the projects we are here to discuss."

The Dolphin Park at Cangrejo Caye was the first item on the agenda. The facts known about the project came from a verbal presentation casually done in San Pedro by the proponents of the business; from the media and from sketches of the proposed facility which appear in a two page color advertisement in the Destination Belize magazine that offers swimming with the dolphins at Cayo Cangrejo. (The BTIA board stated at this point that it had no knowledge that the advertisement was to be included in the magazine and that they have no editorial control over advertisers.) Board members also stated that they had requested information but had not been able to get copies of any plans that have been submitted to government despite the fact that an application for a development concession and tax holiday had been published. The floor was opened for comment. Daniel Guerrero , president of the San Pedro Tour Guides said that the guides agreed with the concept, but not the location. Patty Arceo presented a petition with signatures of persons from San Pedro objecting to the facility. Einer Gomez, BTIA president in San Pedro said that the San Pedro board had several concerns - first for the fishermen as the proposed area is a fishing grounds and for the dive operators. Gomez said his board felt it would be an extra treat to see the dolphins, but Belize as an eco-tourism destination, is this what we should be intending to market. "Is this what we should be doing? Taking a child (dolphin) from its parents - this is not freeing Willy." He went on to say that constructing buildings over the water and mangroves may have ill effects on the small caye and that to his knowledge the community had not been approached for consultation by either the "dolphin people" or the government.

Opinions and information regarding dolphins in captivity was solicited. Sharon Matola of the Belize Zoo recounted her experience swimming with dolphins in Honduras and reported them to be aggressive and the experience disturbing. She expressed concern that capturing dolphins may be a violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. Others then stated that it appears that government is not following its own laws and cited the Environmental Protection Regulations. George Myvett said he had been offered some informal feedback from Oceanic Expeditions that keeping dolphins in captivity for recreational purposes is a no-no. "It is a moral dilemma for humans to keep intelligent beings in captivity. There are past records of abuse and neglect of dolphins in captivity." Myvett said research shows that dolphins in captivity are prone to diseases both viral and bacterial. Greg Smith reminded the boards that the capture of dolphins came up twice in the past and both times government refused. He presented an article in a newspaper from England encouraging people not to patronize dolphins in captivity. Other evidence was given by James Powell of Glover's Reef who was once associated with the Sea Mammal Evolution Institute and trained dolphins in the Florida Keys. Powell said that dolphins do display aggressive behavior toward some women. Key Largo had captive dolphins and had incidents/attacks. He also said that dolphins in captivity suffer from stress and their life span is reduced due to stress. At this time a group of six persons were asked to begin outlining a position on the dolphin project so that other issues could be addressed.

Norris Hall of BAS opened the discussion on cruise ship damage and asked if it was possible to address items 2, 3 and 4 together as they all dealt with the sea and the reef. "The United Nations declared 1997 as the Year of the Reef. In Belize it is the year for the destruction of the reef. So far we have been ill-equipped to deal with the proclamation from UNESCO that Belize is a World Heritage Site. We do however have a government that says they will not tolerate any activity that imperils the reef or its ecosystems." Hall said the fines set out by government for the reef damage were nominal. "If we must put a price on the reef we must move more judiciously to amend the Environment Laws to put an extreme monetary value - to impound ships. We must call on government to amend the laws and then enforce them." Jack Nightengale responded that BTIA had called for a revision and it never took place. "Every ship must provide a mooring - it is already unlawful to anchor. The law is in place." A discussion ensued; opinions were expressed that the minister is in a difficult position, "he turns his head one way to save the environment and then turns the other way to create money for the tourism industry. At this point tourism and the environment should be separated; they do not go hand in hand. The same is true for Fisheries and Natural Resources." "We need an intersectoral multi-disciplinary agency. We need government to ratify the Coastal Zone Management Act."

Members of the fishing cooperatives testified that the large sailing ships cannot maneuver inside the reef. They also cited local ships and boats (from San Pedro) and Belize City destroying the sea beds. "It is not uncommon to see the big boats resting on the sea bed waiting for the tide to move them. We need a national mooring committee, all over Belize, not just for cruise ships."

The issue of exporting "live rock" which is bleached or dead coral was explained. The material (live rock) is used in aquariums. Small pieces sell for $25.00US. The Florida reef was exploited for several years until studies showed the removal to be detrimental to the living reef. The dead coral is alive with micro-organisms, plankton, provides homes for lobster and marine life and creates coral sand. It is a vital part of the living reef ecosystem. The licence supposedly given will allow 100 tons per annum to be removed in the first year. The quota then increases to 500 tons per annum. Following Florida's action to prohibit removal of the dead coral, the licensee approached the Government of Mexico to mine the dead coral. They were refused. The Government of Belize allegedly granted the licence.

The issue of lobster farming and Government's alleged lack of consultation with the fishing industry and the manner in which logging licences are awarded was discussed. After hours of discussion it was decided that a common thread is running through all the problems. "Don't these people care? We have a situation where some people are making decisions over our head. A few people at the top are making decisions without regard for us." And hence the Lamanai Room Declaration was made:

"Whereas, in a joint meeting of the BTIA and the BAS, with the support of numerous non-governmental organizations after due deliberations, have concluded in preliminary analysis, that actions taken by the Government of Belize on the following issues:
1. Dolphin Park at Cangrejo Caye;
2. Cruise ship damage to the reef;
3. Live rock exportation;
4. Lobster ranching;
5. Logging in the Toledo District
are indicating disregard for principals for sustainable development, community consultation, conservation and environment and are indicating a possible violation of Belizean environmental legislation; in regards to:
The 1990 Environmental Protection Law; The 1994 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations; The Wildlife Protection Law; The Freedom of Information Act; The Fisheries Act; The Constitutional Rights of Belizeans and terms of international agreements and other Conventions relating to the environment: Agenda 21, UNCED, 1992; Cartegena Convention; Declaration of Tulum, June 1997; UN Law of the Sea; International Year of the Reef 1997.
Therefore BTIA & BAS and the undersigned urge that the Government of the day in its decision making process to:
1. immediately suspend the licences of 1, 3, 4 and 5 and revisit #2.
2. respect the technical expertise afforded them during their period of office and respect the wishes of the Belizean people for full participation, disclosure, transparency and consultation in this process and in current and future development proposals such as the Northern Ambergris Caye Development.
3. establish a national agency to coordinate coastal and marine affairs by immediately presenting the proposed CZMA bill to the House of Representatives.
BE IT RESOLVED that we the undersigned shall: 1. jointly retain legal counsel to represent the multi-sectoral interest, and the interest of all Belizeans. 2. support the position of the Fishing Cooperatives of Belize on the Lobster Ranching and other reef related issues. 3. advise the International Environmental Community in respect of the above. 4. not discount the possibility of dialogue with International Funding agency.

Signed this 13 day of August, 1997: Belize Tourism Industry Association, Belize Hotel Association, Belize National Tour Operator Association, Belize Eco-Tourism Association, BTIA San Pedro, BTIA Corozal, BTIA Placencia, BTIA Caye Caulker, BTIA Punta Gorda, Belize Audubon Society, Northern Fishermen Cooperative, Green Reef, Wildlife Conservation Society, Hertz, Belize Conservancy Ltd., Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belize National Fishermen Cooperatives, SIWA-BAN, Nicolas Sanchez, Linda Trejo, ANDA, Belize Institute of Management, Ambergris Historical Society, Mayacan Development, Laughing Bird Caye, Neon Plastics, North East Marine Environmental Institution, San Pedro Tour Guide Association, University College of Belize, Melvin Hulse Sr., BACONGO, SPEAR.

In response to the Lamanai Room Declaration, the BIS issued a press release from the Office of the Prime Minister stating that a meeting was held between representatives of Government and the Fishing Cooperatives on matters relating to research and development of spiny lobster by the Dangriga Taiwan Initiative Ltd., and the A & J Company in the coastal waters of Belize. A working group comprising representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries, Home Affairs, Housing and Cooperatives, Tourism and the Environment along with two representatives from each of the Cooperatives and the Technical Adviser of the Cooperative be set up immediately to re-assess the status of the two existing operations in the southern coastal waters. During the assessment period and until a final decision is made, operations at the two sites should be put on hold. The group was to have been to the sites this past week. A meeting of the Government and Cooperatives is scheduled to take place on August 21.

On Friday, August 15, the Honourable Henry Young, Minister of Tourism and the Environment held a press conference with reference to the Lamanai Room Declaration. Young expressed surprise regarding the accusations made that there were no consultations held regarding the dolphin project. He said the project had the support of the previous San Pedro Town Board and the current town board and that public sector representatives had been invited to the dolphin project's Xcaret park to get a first hand view of the proposed project. Young concluded that if BTIA and BAS feel strongly that the dolphin project should have an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) he would set up a meeting with Dr. Victor Gonzalez to review the project.

In a telephone conversation with Minister Young, he reiterated the sentiments he expressed at the press conference and said that after reading about the BTIA and BAS meeting planned to discuss environmental issues and take a position, he contacted BTIA Executive Director Linda Muñoz, President Susan Fuller and BAS President Pepe Garcia and offered to send professional people from the Ministry to give information. His offer was not accepted. The Minister concluded his remarks saying, "We have a well developed zoo which is educating our people on land animals. What is wrong with developing a similar facility for our children to be able to view our marine life? Unfortunately, most Belizean children will never be able to travel to Sea World."

On Monday, August 18 the Ministry of Natural Resources responded to "The Lamanai Room Declaration" issue #5 Logging in the Toledo District. In the press release issued through the BIS, the Ministry states that the declarants urged the Government to immediately suspend licences for logging in the Toledo District but failed to give any reasons whatsoever to support requested suspension. The lengthy release details the logging operations and conditions currently in effect and advises that a committee to review and recommend applicants for Forest Licences is being formed and will be in place for the current logging season. They also invited the Lamanai Room Declarants to present their sound and scientific reasons why Licences for logging in the Toledo District should be suspended.

Mr. Norris Hall, a member of the Board of Directors of BAS remarked that "BAS and BTIA and other declarants of the Lamanai Room Declaration note with satisfaction that their declaration has elicited substantial response from the Ministries concerned. This is a clear indication that matters relating to the environment are of national concern. In this regard the Lamanai Room Declarants reiterate their call for consultation on the issues in the declaration and invite the relevant Ministries to sit down with us to arrive at a common position on these important matters at their earliest convenience." In conclusion Hall said, "we will not rush to out these little fires - to deal in crisis management. National consultation is the issue."

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