The Lamanai Room was once again the venue for a joint Belize Audubon Society(BAS)/Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) Extraordinary Meeting. The October 21st meeting was called to update the Lamanai Room Declarants (LRD) on the activities/actions taken by various government agencies with regard to the five environmental issues discussed at their initial meeting on August 13, 1997.
The first item on the agenda was an update on reef damage caused by the cruise ships Rembrandt and The Fantome. Jose Garcia, President of BAS reported that a National Buoys Committee had been established immediately following the August 13th meeting. He said basically the two boats were fined $75,000 each and the money is being spent on purchasing 30 small buoys which will accommodate small boats and 10 large buoys to accommodate the cruise ships. Equipment necessary to install the buoys - compressors and jackhammers has been ordered and Fisheries Department had rehabilitated a boat to carry out the job. The installation of the buoys will take place November 1, and all boats will be required to use the mooring buoys. Garcia commented that since BAS has acquired a boat for use at Half Moon Caye, their staff has noticed many smaller boats dropping anchor, not using mooring buoys. Garcia said BAS would report the offenders in the future. He added that the signatories to the Tulum Agreement which protects the reef will meet in San Pedro November 4 and 5 and that he expects a follow-up on anchoring regulations.
Carlos Santos questioned why the ships were not installing the buoys; why the buoys were being purchased from the fine money. Garcia said it is expected the boats will have to pay later, to reimburse the expense after the buoys are installed. A question was raised as to future monitoring - who will do it? Whose job is it? Garcia responded that it is everyone's job, Government, tour guides, fishermen. This problem will be discussed at the November Symposium. Norris Hall commented that a bill is being written to be presented in the House addressing increasing fines for environmental damage. "BAS is monitoring the passage of this bill. When it gets to the committee stage we will make proposals." (The bill was tabled in the House October 17). Questions were also raised regarding saturation studies - are there too many boats operating and are there any regulations regarding the classic sailing ships operating within the reef. The issue is whether or not the sailing vessels should be allowed to come to Belize as they do not have adequate control to prevent damage to the reef in a storm.
The second issue - Live Rock Exportation was also presented by Garcia. "Minister Henry Young said in his press conference that live rock exportation was an unfounded rumor. He again assured us two weeks ago at a meeting with the joint boards and the Ministry of Environment that no applications had been received, it is a rumor."
The Toledo Logging Issue was addressed by Mrs. Lita Krohn. Krohn cited the August 18th press release by the Ministry of Natural Resources in which the Ministry said that the Lamanai Room Declaration failed to give reason why logging should be discontinued. The release also stated that the forest is not unique and therefore requires no special protection. Krohn said that according to the newly released Maya Atlas, the forest is unique and is so documented. A lengthy discussion followed with regard to the socio-economic impact of the logging industry on the Maya and their homeland. Krohn said the Lamanai Room Declarants (LRD) did not single out the Columbia Forest Management Unit (CFMU) for censure, but logging in the Toledo forests. It was also brought to the group's attention that the problem did not lie with the Malaysians. "The Malaysians have an approved management plan. Every long term licence must have a management plan. Short term licences - 12 months or shorter require no plan - they can do whatever they want, and they are cutting and selling to the Malaysians. The Malaysians have a 20 year contract. They have built the largest sawmill in Belize. They cannot make money only logging in CFMU, they need to buy logs from Belizean loggers. How can we hold the Malaysians responsible when they hold one licence and there are 16 others with unregulated licences? Our rage should be against government and the other 16 loggers."
Suggestions were made that LRD contact the Maya and Ketchi Councils, accumulate documentation of destroyed acreage, families displaced and establish solidarity and work to achieve a common goal. It was pointed out that severe abuses at Fresh Water Creek, in the Stann Creek Valley and countrywide are taking place. It was agreed documentation of the abuses would be established and a meeting specific to logging countrywide would be called.
Mr. Allan Burns reported on the Lobster Ranching Issue. Burns said the Government responded quickly to the August 13th Declaration. "A joint meeting was held with the Ministries of Environment, Fisheries and Cooperatives to discuss two lobster ranching operations. One at Turneffe with A & J Aquaculture and the other, Dangriga Taiwan Initiative Ltd. (DTI) at Bread and Butter Caye which is south of Dangriga eight miles at sea. We were able to agitate and work within the framework of Fisheries. Progress was slow, nothing overnight and the agreement is still not complete. We were able to research the documents and proposals and see what was promised (to the lobster ranchers). We found they did not have the technology or infrastructure in place to raise lobsters from the larvae spawning stage. What they said was just propaganda they put out to impress the public about ranching. They planned to capture juvenile lobsters, put them in pens, feed them until they reach legal size and then market them.
Along with ministry officials we went to DTI and saw what was going on. The pens were not too sturdy and in a bad location. The area is subject to flood waters. The traps number 400. This is at the level of commercial fishing, not research. The design of the traps was not well thought out, they were constructed of PVC material. Nothing was seen that showed they were raising juvenile lobsters. They could not comply with the terms of the licences that were granted to them. We went through the procedures to get government to rescind the S.I. permitting the capture of juvenile lobster out of season. The licences to A & J and DTI have been revoked. At this stage of the game we are awaiting in good faith the rescinding of the licence to allow them to take lobster out of season."
Burns was questioned whether the ranchers were operating. He responded that he believed A & J had ceased operations. DTI is forming a cooperative with the fishermen of Dangriga. Bread and Butter Caye is an ideal place for lobster fishing. Dangriga is looking to the future for the youth. This cooperative will provide a good socio-economic venture for Dangriga. Burns was also asked about the importance of rescinding the S.I. He replied that it was unknown if the companies were out of business, that's why it's easier to rescind the S.I. than to try to put the company out of business.
Burns was asked about the donation of lobster traps to local people and if they were ecologically unsound why continue to use them. "The traps are being refitted with wire mesh which will rust out and free the lobster should the trap be lost in a storm."
Discussion followed on how long was "good faith' and were there any plans to regulate licensing. Burns responded that if the problem is continued or postponed the fishermen will request support. He said a draft management plan had been created for the Turneffe area but he did not know if it would be enacted.
Susan Fuller, President of BTIA reported on the proposed dolphin park at Cangrejo Caye. At the October 3rd meeting with MET, Minister Young informed that a development concession had been approved for Grupo Ritco and that a lease had been issued for Cangrejo Caye. Young said that the terms of reference for an EIS were given to the company, that a complete EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) was not needed. The Minister also felt that the implications and concept approval is a political decision and he was satisfied the dolphin park was a good political move, and if not the public had a chance to change the Government. The Ministry is waiting to hear from the company as to when the EIS will be done. MET is not pressing the group for the study. If the study is not completed to satisfy the Ministry's concern, then the project will not proceed. In the event the group proceeds, BAS/BTIA have agreed to conduct an independent study as per the terms of DOE and would include the political, social and economic implications of this project in Belize as an Eco destination. Fuller added that rumors had surfaced that the Mexican group are not prepared to continue with the project. The rumor implied that Grupo Ritco felt that the cost of the environmental study and the public opposition to the project made the project unfeasible. "With regard to San Pedro who will be most closely affected, a citizen's group has circulated a petition and they have signatures of 750 to 900 people against the project."
Norris Hall reported that he had met with a member of the Oceanic Society of the United States."Based on discussions I had with her, I asked for some support from that organization. They are doing research on dolphins and on behalf of BAS I asked for a letter to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, BAS, BTIA, the U.S. Ambassador and to circulate to environmental groups in the U.S. In addition they will approach CNN. Of importance also, I learned yesterday that Aquan Kay (sic) made an application to catch 8 to 10 dolphins out of Belizean waters to take to Mexico."
Fuller responded, "This is clearly against the law. We need to cite the portions of the law. This is not something we could even begin to entertain."
Patty Arceo asked to present the petitions she had been given by concerned citizens. The petitions contain 800 signatures from San Pedro, Maskall and Orange Walk and another 200 from Corozal in support of the Lamanai Declarants, all totally against the Cayo Cangrejo project.
Daniel Guerrero, President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association questioned the two full page advertisement for the Cangrejo Caye dolphin park that appeared in the latest edition of Destination Belize, the BTIA's promotional magazine. "Why is the ad endorsed by BTIA?" Fuller responded that the ad was not endorsed by BTIA it was placed in the magazine by the publisher. "There was, up to now, no reason to revisit all advertisers to determine if they were in business. Using hindsight we will review advertiser in the future. By no means, because an ad appears is it an endorsement."
Guerrero presented a pamphlet of conceptual drawings of the dolphin park and informed the group that phase two of the project which is a 50 room plus hotel complex would not be completed. Guerrero was asked if the "non-building" of phase two was in writing. He did not reply. Guerrero said he felt the problem with the project was the lack of transparency. "People are signing the petition without knowing what the project is. The present town board gives its approval for it." Guerrero then presented a photo copy of a carbon copy of a letter written by the town board to the Grupo Ritmo. The copy was signed by the Mayor of San Pedro. Discussion about the signature on a photo copy ensued. Jose Garcia said that the Mayor of San Pedro is not known to sign a copy of a letter, that his signature appears on the original and on the town board letterhead. Garcia translated the letter which stated that if Grupo Ritco receives all the necessary licences from Government and the approval of the people, the town board will then give their approval.
Godsman Ellis, President of BETA (Belize Eco-Tourism Association), remarked that his concern about all of this is more a fundamental one. "Unilateral decisions are being made by which we react. We are now talking about reform. I think this body can associate itself with a bigger concern that is happening." Lita Krohn replied that political candidates will agree to anything before an election, but once they get in power they will act as they want. There are no references to environmental practices or issues on either platform. The time is ripe for reform. Ellis responded, "Don't change the players, change the rules of the game. We need reform to create rules that will be applicable."
Reynaldo Guerrero observed that, "We elect government and they govern. Whatever changes we want to recommend, doesn't mean they will listen or accept. The consultation process is so loose the Minister can say he has consulted. You can only rely on the watchful eye of the citizens."
Ellis suggested that the Lamanai Room Declarants concern themselves about civic society. "We the people should be in charge. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we need to ally ourselves with political reform." Others suggested that the LRD meet quarterly, or sooner if necessary to review projects and developments of public concern. Guerrero commented that the joint relationship of BAS/BTIA was an environmental forum, not political. 'If government is breaking laws, we need to refer to them specifically, to the section of the law. Unfortunately most of the laws say...'the Minister at his discretion may....'. It needs to be determined what this group really stands for. We are concerned citizens bringing out key issues. The merging of two strong forces."
It was decided that a report of the meeting would be forwarded to the organizations that are involved.
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