Hol Chan Marine Reserve loses PACT Grant for proposed reserve expansion: GOB subdivides part of the proposed reserve area
Friday, September 12th, 2014
The San Pedro Sun can confirm that a grant awarded to Hol Chan Marine Reserve by the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) has been cancelled and is considered null and void. The grant of $199,500 was awarded to Hol Chan on October 7, 2013 for the management of the proposed expansion of the current marine reserve. The proposed ‘Ambergris Caye Wetlands Project’ expansion document has been before the Cabinet for the past three years but has yet to be signed into law. On the wake of the cancellation of the grant and delay of the signing of the proposed reserve, the Government of Belize (GOB) is surveying a part of the swamp and wetland to distribute housing lots within the proposed reserve.
The proposed expansion of Hol Chan would include Mexico Rocks, the wetland/swampland areas near Mata and Cayo Frances Lagoons (Conservation Area) and the shoal on the leeward side of Ambergris Caye. Combined, the three areas have an area of 370 square kilometers and the management zone of Hol Chan would expand to over 400 square kilometers when added to the existing Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The proposed expansion of Hol Chan would strengthen Belize’s conservation efforts since when signed into law, it would be a part of a larger corridor of protected areas which would border the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
The PACT grant was slated to be used for the initial stage of the management of the proposed expansion of Hol Chan. The money was to be used for the purchase of additional patrol vessels and salary for the additional personnel for the first year. Now that proposed expansion has been shelved, and after an additional three months’ grace period was extended, PACT decided to cancel the grant.
Manager of Hol Chan Marine Reserve Miguel Alamilla did confirm that the grant was lost. He explained that the documents for the proposed reserve expansion were submitted to the Fisheries Department under the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, headed by Honorable Lisel Alamilla. He said that the Minister is responsible for taking the document to Cabinet, then to the House of Representative for it to be signed into law.
A letter dated July 28th leaked to The San Pedro Sun and addressed to Beverly Wade, Fisheries Officer indicated that PACT was cancelling the grant. “The Board considered that the project commencement is currently delayed by nine months and the reason for the delay is the legal expansion process which is outside your Department’s control…. Therefore, the Board has decided to withdraw the grant awarded for the execution of this project. Consequently, please be advised that the grant agreement entered into on the 7th of October 2013, is considered null and void,” stated the letter which was signed by Natalie Rosado, the Acting Director of PACT.
“We got the grant and were given the assurance by the Government of Belize that the proposed reserve expansion would have been approved and the Statutory Instrument (SI) would be signed into law,” stated Miguel Alamilla. He said that when the project initially went before Cabinet for consideration, some Ministers, including the Area Representative Manuel Heredia had some “concerns,” and as such the proposed reserve saw some “setbacks.” He indicated that those concerns were clarified, but over the past three years “dates after dates” have been set and changed for the proposed reserve to be signed into law.
The San Pedro Sun was also reliably confirmed that the Government of Belize, through the Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., is working in collaboration with Council Severo “Severito” Guerrero in surveying over 40 acres of wetland/swampland within part of the propose reserve. The area, in which survey work has been carried out, is the southern portion of Area F, which is the proposed protected area along Mata and Cayo Frances Lagoons (Conservation Area).
The wetland/swampland is being subdivided with the intention to distribute residential lots. The concern was raised since the proposed subdivision, which is believed to be five times larger than San Mateo, would create yet another inadequate housing development for the island if the lots are distributed for future residential expansion. According to the source, by giving out the pieces of “swamp,” it would encourage people to build in yet another unplanned area without any form of infrastructure, thus creating a similar problem like San Mateo, but on a much larger scale.
The San Pedro Sun contacted Mayor Daniel Guerrero, who confirmed that a subdivision is being planned but said that the project is not a San Pedro Town Council project and is being conducted through Heredia Jr. The Sun also contacted Lisel Alamilla for comments. Alamilla responded by text message indicating that she is not aware of the subdivision since it falls under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture. When asked for further comments as to why the proposed reserve expansion has not been signed into law, she did not respond. The San Pedro Sun will be following up on this developing story.
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