Mexican attempt to rename reef draws fire

Public and private sector in Belize had similar reactions to a Mexican attempt to rename the Belize Barrier Reef to the "Great Maya Reef". Both the Ministry of the Environment and the Belize Tourism Industry Association applauded the Mexican statements that the reef must be protected. Both also said the name of the reef must not be changed.

The San Pedro Sun received the following letter from Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) President Paul Hunt:

"Dear Sir, Our Association wishes to express grave concern that authorities in Mexico are attempting to rename the Belize Barrier Reef as the "Maya Reef" or "El Gran Arrecife Maya", this being under the guise of environmental concern in what is the "Year of the Reef".

Our membership and its many constituent parts (Belize Hotel Association, Belize National Tour Operators Association, Belize Eco-Tourism Association and nine (9) regional destinations, etc.) have expressed concern in recent times at such a name being thrust upon us. By all means Belize should engage in multinational conservation acts, but the name of our natural attraction should not be changed by Mexico, or any other than our own people. Our good neighbor to the north has not respected their reef in the way Belize has; let our example stand, with its name intact.

Belize may be a small country, but its people are robust. We support all measures which are being taken by the Government of Belize to derail this cross border adventurism by our normally considerate neighbors. We applaud the work of Belize, which has led to seven reef areas being declared as World Heritage Sites. Self determination is the key, for which our great grandchildren will give thanks.

Yours sincerely,
/s/ Paul Hunt
President, Belize Tourism Industry Association"

The Ministry of the Environment, in written comments, has basically recommended support for broader objectives of the proposal such as coordinated international coral reef and marine preservation. The comments , in very strong terms, recommended against a change of name: ".... Belize should maintain a position that would not allow the erosion of its individual accomplishments and recognition it has gained in preserving the Belize Barrier reef and its supporting reef system.... It is the distinctive feature of the Belize Barrier Reef that has given us a unique tourism product that allows us to market Belize and have a competitive tourism industry in comparison to other countries..... With the Belize Barrier Reef becoming part of the Great Maya Reef, there would be a dilution of our uniqueness and Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala will gain recognition at our expense.... UNESCO, in its acceptance to declare seven (7) sites within the Belize Barrier Reef system as a World Heritage Site, manifested its recognition of the efforts Belize has made in this area. The adoption of another name than the Belize Barrier Reef and how it is recognized by the world community could lead us in a position whereby we could lose that individual identity.... The acceptance that the Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Great Maya Reef should be dismissed at all cost.... The adoption of the term "Great Maya Reef" can be interpreted within Belize as a 'sell out' of the natural patrimony of Belizeans.... The term 'Great Maya Reef' will dilute our national pride and integrity and our national spirit as an independent country."

The Ministry has proposed changes in the declaration and has also suggested signing should be delayed.

San Pedro Sun

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