Clearing of mangroves and garbage dumping in southern Ambergris Caye lagoon raise concerns

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Over the past several weeks' residents south of San Pedro Town have observed large areas of mangroves being cleared bit by bit, while tons of sargassum and loads of garbage are dumped into the lagoon with the apparent purpose of filling the wetland habitat into land. The area in question is west of the Mosquito Coast area, near the WASA Lagoon, where it is rumoured a sub-division is intended. Not only are residents concerned about the wildlife being dispersed in the area but are also concerned with the health hazards that come with the illegal dumping of trash that can affect the environment and people living nearby.
There are no indications that this development is sanctioned by the San Pedro Town Council or the Department of Environment (DOE). The fact that mangroves are being cut begs the question if the DOE is aware of these actions and if permits have been issued. The other question is whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is needed or has been done to perform such activities. None of these queries could be confirmed and after checking the DOE website, there was no information about an EIA or an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) or Environmental Clearance for such activity currently taking place.
The San Pedro Sun contacted DOE, who appeared unaware of what is happening. Images and information were emailed to them, and Chief Executive Officer Martin Alegria said he would look into the matter. However, follow-up emails and calls to the Department have been futile.
The area is now littered with dead mangrove trees and huge piles of rotting sargassum that is being spread into the lagoon. A road that a couple of months ago was not there, is being expanded over the lagoon, made from what appears to be dirt and sargassum. On its shoulders, it appears that lots are beginning to be shaped, filled with sargassum and garbage, including plastics and other hazardous materials. Residents in the area believe that if a subdivision is being planned, there should be proper inspection of the area and an EIA should be conducted to ensure the area is suitable for living. They believe that putting people to live in the wrong area can jeopardize their safety and more importantly health, essentially creating another community like San Mateo, which is built on garbage-filled mangrove habitat and no infrastructure.
The San Pedro Town Council abstained from commenting on the issue and Area Representative and Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr. briefly spoke on the matter some days ago. He stated that the development had been stopped for a bit before it could continue. He did not offer any more details but mentioned that the road being built will eventually connect with the main southern road of the island deterring any potential traffic congestion for the residents in this area.
A couple of days later, more mangroves were reportedly cleared. DOE was once again contacted, provided with data on the developments, but nothing has come of that. Heredia was contacted once again, but the Minister apparently was out of the country.
In Belize, the cutting of mangroves is illegal, as these plants provide a haven for fish reproduction. At the same time, mangroves prevent erosion and protect coastal areas against storm surges. Appropriate permission must be obtained from the environmental authorities in Central Government in order to cut mangroves. Meanwhile, the landfilling on water bodies (sea or lagoon) without an Environmental Clearance is considered a serious offense that can lead to legal actions and incarceration.
The San Pedro Sun will continue following this terrible issue.

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