Friday, April 19, 2024

Stop order issued against development at Cayo Rosario

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A formal stop order has reportedly been issued to halt development activities at Cayo Rosario, following a site inspection by members of the Physical Planning Unit at the Ministry of Natural Resources on Friday, March 6th. Island residents, particularly those in the fly fishing industry, welcome this latest update, which is seen as a protection of the sensitive marine environment near the tiny island that sits within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the north-west coast of Ambergris Caye.
No information has been forthcoming from the Physical Planning Unit, although attempts were made to reach out to them. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, however, shared that the stop order remains in effect until a further decision is made regarding the proposed tourism development at Cayo Rosario. Islanders were outraged after a live feed on social media on March 4th depicted heavy machinery and construction material being barged to the island. The purpose was to allegedly build a temporary bulkhead for which the developer reportedly received a permit. However, Hol Chan found out that the bulkhead was being constructed at the wrong location as per the permit, triggering a halt on the project.

On Thursday, March 5th, several stakeholders, including some tourists, made it to Cayo Rosario, where they held a short peaceful protest. One strong advocate against development on the small island, fly fishing tour guide/instructor Omar Arceo, denounced the massive proposed construction of over the water structures that threatens the livelihood of many fishermen and fly fishing tour guides. Protruding from the island was a stretch of stones piled on the sea bed, believed to be used for the construction of the bulkhead. The area within Cayo Rosario is considered a productive fish nursery, and its flats are a world-renowned catch and release sportfishing zone. It is a natural habitat for Permit Fish and Bonefish, both a strong driver of sport fishing. The area also serves as an important migration corridor for different marine species. This protected area provides millions of dollars annually to the national economy via its popular sports and fly fishing industry. The concern is that unsustainable development could destroy the flats within the marine reserve that supports the said industry.
The management of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve has been showing its support to the island residents, and on Friday, March 6th they issued a press release. They stated that since the project was initially proposed, the organization has not been in agreement with the development which calls for a resort with over-the-water structures. Hol Chan clarified its position by indicating that it strongly opposes dredging within the area considered as conservation zones. They are aware that with 2015 Zone E expansion, dredging may be considered within limited and suitably identified areas. The concern is the potential damages to the ecosystem and disruptions to the livelihood of traditional users. The official note also notes the Environmental Impact Assessment approved for the project as inadequate, with discrepancies as it relates to potential in the area. Furthermore, there is no adequate plan for a waste management system and the development proposals have evolved to the point that it is unclear what the final design will be. Hol Chan emphasized that these are the issues of the Fisheries Department as well.

While activities remain halted at Cayo Rosario, stakeholders and environmentalists will continue to monitor the area. They plan to further advocate with the rest of the island community hoping to raise awareness and protect the western ‘Bajos,’ flats that support the livelihood of many islanders.

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