The future of mangroves on Ambergris Caye; what are authorities doing?

Saturday, October 7th, 2023

The constant development of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye has recently seen the decimation of large areas of mangroves. Most of these cases take place on private properties, clearing the mangroves for development projects. The San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) said they are starting to investigate some of these clearings as a permit is required before altering mangroves. These trees are considered highly important for coastal areas in Belize as they serve not only as a nursing ground for juvenile fish and fight climate change but also as a reliable natural buffer against natural disasters like hurricanes.

Some of the visible areas experiencing the clearing of mangroves are south of the San Pedrito subdivision, where a large lagoon once popular for bonefishing is being filled in with dredging material, forming what appears to be the foundation of a massive construction project. The wildlife in this area is gone and some of the mangroves near the lagoon are dead. The filling of the remainder of the lagoon continues despite reports from local authorities that such practice is not environmentally friendly.
Another area showing mangrove destruction is at the south end of the John Greif II Municipal Airport’s runway. Again, mangroves have been chopped down and a large area is being filled with material for another construction project. No signage could be identified showing that these projects have received a permit from the Forestry Department to clear mangroves.
Another area recently discovered is north of San Pedro Town, where the SPTC observed a large area of destroyed mangroves. While, in the past, local authorities have stated that they could not do much on private properties, Mayor Gualberto ‘Wally’ Nuñez said they are investigating this practice and may penalize these property owners who are violating the law. “I am not familiar with any permits issued to cut mangroves and we have our building unit investigating,” said Nuñez. “We know that there is an area that is planned to be developed as a port north of the island to barge goods. This would be good in a way to alleviate traffic in town, but any clearing done with respect to mangroves, we need to be notified, be on top of it as we can’t just be clearing the mangroves.”
Area Representative, the Honourable Andre Perez who was assigned to the Ministry of the Blue Economy has indicated that it can be a challenge when these alterations take place on private properties. He has mentioned that the development of Belize needs to be done sustainably. “When developers come in, they must take into consideration some type of preservation. They cannot just come and totally clear the mangroves,” said Perez. He added that it is an ongoing issue as it has been happening for decades as Ambergris Caye develops.
Representatives from the Forestry Department have indicated that one of their main obstacles is finding out the owners of the properties where mangroves are being cleared. They noted the challenges with other departments such as Lands when trying to identify property owners who are responsible for altering mangrove areas without a valid permit.
The importance of bringing awareness to the preservation of mangroves was even shared by the Ministry of Sustainable Development. Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Kenrick Williams said that the Cayes and coastal areas of Belize are in danger with the constant loss of mangroves. “If we lose mangroves, particularly at the rate we are losing them now, due to coastal development for example, we will lose the storm surge protection, coastal protection, the environmental benefits these trees provide to marine habitats, and contribute to a ripple effect on marine species thousands of Belizeans depend on to survive,” said Williams. He added that eco-tourism is also threatened by the continued clearance of mangroves.
Despite these concerns shared by local leaders and stakeholders, the destruction of mangroves, considered an environmental massacre, continues almost daily. While development is inevitable for economic opportunities, those concerned continue to argue that there needs to be a balance. Many environmentalists on Ambergris Caye warn that without the mangroves there will be no fishing industry or tourism as the barrier reef, which supports thousands of livelihoods on the island and the rest of the country, will disappear. They emphasize that these coastal ecosystems work hand in hand with the preservation of fragile habitats like the coral reef.

All mangrove clearings must receive a permit from the Forestry Department

To address the ongoing environmental problem, the Government of Belize has committed to support a program to protect mangroves after concluding that this ecosystem has an economic potential of more than half a million United States dollars. A new national target now has the country aiming to protect an additional 6,000 hectares of mangroves by 2025.


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