The San Pedro Sun

Proposed Ambergris Caye Wetlands project to include dredging areas

In 2011 an environmental advocacy group was formed called the Ambergris Caye Wetlands Committee (ACWC). ACWS was composed of members of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) Executive Committee, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, San Pedro Tour Guide Association, Belize Tourism Industry Association, San Pedro Business Association and Green Reef. The group developed a proposal for three areas in north Ambergris Caye to become protected areas: Mexico Rock’s Marine Reserve, Bajos Proposed Marine Reserve and Cayo Frances/ Mata Frances Lagoons. The proposal is part of the Ambergris Caye Conservation Initiative of 2011.

The proposal outlines the use for all three areas. Mexico Rock’s Marine Reserve would be used exclusively as a recreational area that will include a “NO Take Zone” and a “General Use Zone”. The Bajos Proposed Marine Reserve would be designed as a marine reserve with a zone for catch and release sport fishing. The Bajos area includes nine small islands and five shoals which are vital habitats for the island’s fisheries for schooling tarpon, permit and bonefish. Finally the Cayo Frances/Mata Frances Lagoon was proposed to be a National Park which will include catch and release sport fishing. The proposal would have been managed as a National Park and would be established under the National Park System Act of the laws of Belize. This would mean that nothing would be allowed to be extracted from the area.

ACWC initially stated that the concept paper was presented to Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. on December 15, 2011 and he gave his full support to the project. Two public consultations were also held on January 5th and August 21, 2012. The local government seemed to be onboard with the project.

However, it has been over a year now since the project commenced and there has not yet been official approval. According to Elito Arceo, President of ACCSD and Miguel Alamilla, Manager of Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the proposal has passed the Cabinet and is currently in the Solicitor General’s Office. “The set back is technical issues involved with completing the draft before it is taken to the minister to be signed. Over the past few weeks we have been working along with the Solicitor General making changes and ensuring that the amendments are in proper legal format,” stated Alamilla. The changes that are being worked on are to enlarge the proposal that was made two years ago. Other portions of the proposal are also being reviewed to ensure its legitimacy.

It appears that the primary concern for the proposal is the private land owned within the proposed protected reserve, and the regulations that need to be outlined on what can and cannot be done on that land. “We are not including or excluding anything that was mentioned in the consultation. The boundaries remain the same. The concerns with dredging are that people who own property within the parameters may need to fill their land. The Bajos area is a general use zone therefore dredging will be allowed but with a proper permit. Monitoring of dredging from the local authorities will also be increased,” said Alamilla.

According to Minister Heredia, the proposed protected reserve should be handled in sections with a primary focus on Mexico Rock’s Marine Reserve. “We need to have as much space reserved to benefit the tourism industry but certain factors need to be addressed. These factors include the allocation of dredging areas,” said Heredia. “Mexico Rocks is ready and we need to move ahead with that, then we can move with the less controversial Cayo Frances/ Mata Frances Lagoons and finally we can tackle the Bajos area which is the most problematic because of dredging. The community has to remember that once this is legalized this will be the largest Marine Reserve in the country,” continue Heredia, “Once the proposal allocates areas for dredging for persons that own property within the area, the project has my full support.”

Alamilla and Arceo emphasize the revision of a proposed protected reserve is a lengthy process that must be scrutinized meticulously. To learn more about the north Ambergris Caye proposed Reserve visit https://sites.google.com/site/accsdbze/proposed-marine-protected-areas or the ACCSD at https://sites.google.com/site/accsdbze/.