Friday, June 21, 2024

Hol Chan Marine Reserve management discusses 2019-2024 management plan with tourism stakeholders


On Tuesday, August 20th, the management of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) held a consultation with tourism stakeholders and presented a management plan for the reserve intended to start this year and run through 2024. Held at the San Pedro Lions Den, the consultation discussed policies, protection strategies for the reserve, and saw many attendees voicing their opinions and concerns over some of the aspects of the new management proposal.
The presentations delivered by board members of Hol Chan pointed out that the reserve is now 25 times bigger than its original size when it was established in 1987. The HCMR now covers an area of 103,058 acres. The expansion includes zones such as Shark Ray Alley, snorkel and dive sites, mangrove wetland areas on the lagoonside, along with shoals that include flats or bajos.
The proposed management plan’s overall goal aims to maintain the integrity, functionality and genetic diversity of the HCMR. According to the presenters, they hope to achieve this by proactive and adaptive management. The plan calls for enhancement in organizational framework. Some of the aspects of the draft includes enhancing enforcement capabilities that will include nocturnal patrolling. There is also a plan to enhance administrative policies and best practices and work on specific rules and regulations for the different zones of the HCMR. This could see an enforcement of no-wake zones from the westward shore of the reserve. Every vessel visiting the reserve would be required to have a tour operator’s license and pay the same fees every tour operator does. Meanwhile, in order to provide appropriate funding for management activities, a user fee for all visitors, including Belizeans is planned to be instituted. “It is assessed following certain guidelines,” said Javier Paredes, HCMR’s General Manager. “These are some of the guidelines that we want to develop in consultancy with the stakeholders.” Paredes added that when the plan is finalized, it will be put out for consultation before it is enacted.
The management draft suggests that the area known as ‘Coral Gardens,’ be considered for inclusion in the reserve in an effort to avoid crowding. The plan also introduces a ‘Green Policy,’ which will advocate and promote the use of 4-stroke engine, electric engines, and use reusable containers for food and drinks. HCMR is also advocating for the use of only biodegradable sunscreen lotions at the reserve.
The draft also includes the fisherfolks who fish around the reserve. The plan hopes to implement a policy to limit ‘traditional fishing rights’ within HCMR to the generation currently fishing. There will be no possibility of inter-generational transfer of fishing rights. The management of HCMR will establish landing sites and all permit holders will be required to report catch data for each fishing area. This reporting of data will also be required from all sport fishing guides. The HCMR will also monitor and report the health and performance of the reserve at least once a year.
After the presentations, many of the attendees voiced their concerns and urged HCMR that more needs to be done when it comes to monitoring the traffic at the reserve. Some brought up the corals being damaged on a daily basis and the fact that more enforcement and monitoring should be done to detect inexperienced and irresponsible persons using the reserve. The addition of Coral Gardens to the reserve was challenged, and tour guides at the meeting suggested that it should be left out of the reserve for the time being. However, they agreed it should marked via buoys so boats do not anchor in those areas. Others pledged to continue working with the reserve management and invited them to join efforts in future environmental projects that will not only protect the surrounding marine eco-systems that are the bread and butter of Ambergris Caye.
HCMR’s board members said they will take into consideration everyone’s concerns and suggestions and work on the final draft of the management plan. Paredes ended by emphasizing that they have a mandate to properly manage the marine reserve and put in place a management plan that will guide them to achieve that goal. Additional consultations are expected to take place in the near future as the management package approaches its completion.

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