Monday, July 22, 2024

Construction of pier in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve raises concerns among stakeholders on Ambergris Caye


The construction of a pier within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve in northern Ambergris Caye has raised concerns among concerned residents who maintain that no such structures should be allowed in this sensitive marine area. The responsibility to manage these marine protected areas mainly falls on the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD), which plays a role in approving structures in sensitive marine areas. They know the situation and visited the site at Robles Point over a week ago with the local authorities to issue a Stop Order. Despite the order to halt any further construction, it has reportedly continued. As a result, the Fisheries Department is now looking at other alternatives to address the problem.
On Tuesday, October 17th, it was reported that members of the San Pedro Building Authority and Area Representative Honourable Andre Perez visited the area to engage the property owner building the pier. Attempts were made to suspend the work, but the structure was close to completion by Wednesday. An official from the BFD shared that they are looking into the issue more seriously now that the proprietor of the pier has decided not to adhere to the regulations which prohibit the construction of any structure in a protected area. In most cases, a proper study must be conducted, and in cases involving marine protected areas, the BFD sanctions the approval, if any. The BFD indicated that they had not approved the construction of this pier in this marine protected area.
The erection of the structure by a property owner living near the area prompted the environmental advocates of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD). In a letter addressed to the acting administrator at the BFD, Rigoberto Quintana, the organization expressed its concern about the pier’s construction along with a cabaña on it. The note highlighted the importance of the marine area as part of the Mesoamerican Reef. The Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding marine biodiversity. The letter also explained that Bacalar Chico is a favorite tourist destination for diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, and sightseeing.
According to the letter from the ACCSD and local marine experts, the beach of this marine protected area is also known as a healthy sea turtle nesting site. From Tranquillity Bay to Robles Point, it is an important spawning site for fish species such as Bonefish and one of the best fishing areas for this fish and others like Permit. These fish are essential as they support the multi-millionaire fly-fishing industry.

The concerned islanders pointed out that BFD is the only entity allowing such developments within sensitive marine environments. “It is our intention to ensure the conservation of our marine environments, and if any development is to occur within our marine environment, it should be done in the most acceptable and sustainable manner,” the ACCSD noted. The BFD said they are considering these concerns and hope to adequately address this matter with the collaboration of the San Pedro Town Council authorities.
In an interview with the Belize Tourism Industry Association, San Pedro Chapter chairwoman Tamara Sniffin mentioned that the illegal building of piers and other unlawful activities, such as mangrove clearing and unpermitted construction, was recently discussed at a stakeholder meeting with Minister of Tourism Hon. Anthony Mahler, Hon. Andre Perez, and San Pedro Mayor Gualberto’ Wally’ Nuñez. “If fines and consequences for unlawful development were more severe, even requiring the removal of illegal structures such as unpermitted docks, developers might think twice before breaking the law,” Sniffin said.
Some residents on the island also shared the need for the fisheries authorities to be consistent when penalizing anyone breaking the law. They cited that fishermen caught with illegal fish products are fined and punished without hesitation. As such, they hope the person breaching the Stop Order is dealt with accordingly.
Ambergris Caye’s marine biologists hope these developments are not allowed. They highlighted that these areas at Bacalar Chico are the only remaining sites for sea turtle nesting. They warned that the dredging that comes with constructing piers within this marine protected area will also lead to erosion and loss of beaches.

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