New environmental group formed; Ambergris Caye Wetland Committee

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

A new environmental advocacy group was formed on Ambergris Caye called the Ambergris Caye Wetland Committee. The ACWC was formed with the coming together of members from the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Tour Guide Association, Belize Tourism Industry Association, San Pedro Business Association, Green Reef, and the Ambergris Caye Local Building Authority. In a press release issued by ACWC, it outlines that their main purpose of forming the group is for the establishment of a protected areas network in Ambergris Caye, something that is in a concept stage.

The release states that ACWC’s “goal is to facilitate the process that will result in the creation of a protected areas network in Ambergris Caye that will guarantee sustainable management of our coastal resources for future generation and for the betterment of our island.” Following a long consultation period with marine experts, members of the business community and other relevant authorities, ACWC has completed a concept document which entails three areas. The three areas proposed in the concept document are Mexico Rock’s Marine Reserve, Bajos Proposed Marine Reserve and Cayo Frances/Mata Frances Lagoons.

Mexico Rock’s Marine Reserve – Total proposed area 8.75sq miles
This new area will be an exclusive recreational area. This area includes a “No Take Zone” and a “General Use Zone.” Access will be given to the traditional users for them to continue their usual activities. This is to benefit both fishermen and tourist guides. The size of the NO TAKE ZONE is proposed to be 1.5 sq. miles (1 mile running along the reef and 1.5 miles running east to west from the outer fore – reef).

Bajos Proposed Marine Reserve – Total proposed area 135 sq miles.
The Bajos proposed area is designated as a marine reserve with zoning for catch and release fishing The proposed site encompasses a total area of 135 sq. miles of shallow semi contained marine shoals called the Corozal Bay. This area includes nine small islands and five shoals which are vital habitats for the islands fisheries for schooling tarpon, permit and bonefish, which are key target species for sport fishermen.

Cayo Frances/Mata Frances Lagoon
This proposed area will be a National Park and will encompass the Cayo Frances and Mata Lagoons. This area has served as the route for the annual Reef /Lagoon Eco-challenge and recreational uses including catch and release sport fishing. This area will provide proper management actions to protect the few remaining mangrove wetlands on the island.

ACWC has indicated that the concept document was presented to the Hon. Min. Manuel Heredia Jr. on December 15th and states that “he is in full support for these projects.” As to the community input, ACWC says that amendments will be made to the document as they move along the consultative process. The release goes on to say that “The Hon. Minister (Manuel Heredia) is in the process of submitting the copies of the concept paper to the relevant Ministries for consultation.”

The new proposed protected area is being done under the Ambergris Caye Conservation Initiative 2011. According to the full concept available on the ACCSD website, the plan is to have the proposed protected area managed as a National Park to be established under the National Park System Act of Belize.

ACWC is inviting all those stakeholders, community members and the public at large for the first consultation to be held on January 5th, 2012 at the Lion’s Den starting at 6PM. During the meeting the concept paper will be presented to the local community for their input.

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