From Wetlands to Subdivision in North Ambergris Caye?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 17            April 27, 2000

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Many people are voicing concern lately over the future of the land formally owned by Caribbean Coves and now owned by the town of San Pedro. Local sources confirm that a survey is underway and that a subdivision is being planned by government in an area of mangroves and wetlands with further commercial development in store for the area. The Ministry of Natural Resources has signed a letter of provisional approval to subdivide 500 acres for 308 lots between the areas of Buena Vista and Punta Arena and this letter was carbon copied to the Ministry of the Environment as well. This land is a critically important area that marine and wildlife ecosystems depend on and had been designated as a site for protection in a wildlife sanctuary proposal by the local marine conservation group. Environmentalists and neighbors alike are spouting their concerns over surveying taking place without mangrove removal permits and whether there will be an Environmental Impact Assessment; regulations every developer must comply with.

    Issues concerning infrastructure include: water and sewer, landfill, roads and bridges. Others deal with dredging, cutting of mangrove and whether proper measures will be taken to protect the environment. The main question has been, "Why start another development when they haven't fixed the rest of the mistakes in developing, such as San Pedrito and other poorly planned areas of Ambergris Caye?" After contacting the San Pedro Town Council, the San Pedro Sun learned that only the surveying had been ordered and they had contacted Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute. No other plans will be discussed until the results of the survey are studied. It was stated that it was not known whether plans would be presented to the people in an open forum meeting or not.

    Following are some of the letters received by the San Pedro Sun this week in response to the planned subdivision. Anyone who has concerns or questions about this proposal should contact Area Representative Patty Arceo's office for further information.

Stewart Cruz
Coastal Planner
Coastal Zone Management Authority

cc: San Pedro Sun

Dear Mr. Cruz,

    As President of Green Reef, the environmental education, conservation and advocacy organization of San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, I would like to express my grave concern relating to the current proposed residential development located north of San Pedro. When I met with you last week, we discussed some of these matters, but I feel it is imperative to further outline them in detail.

    The proposed area of development (approximately 500 acres) is primarily composed of wetlands, littoral forest and lagoons and is located approximately one mile north of the San Pedro Town cut. This is an environmentally valuable area due to the presence of the wetlands, which act as a giant sponge absorbing large amounts of water during rains and are capable of trapping sediments and toxins from terrestrial run-off that would otherwise damage this fragile habitat. Moreover, mangroves and littoral forest are present in this area and are an essential component of the wetland ecosystem. In addition, they naturally create a physical barrier to inland areas and provide protection from storm surges.

    For the past two years, we at Green Reef have become very familiar with this area and have even included these wetlands for protection in our Proposed Wildlife Sanctuary Management Plan (submitted to the Department of Natural Resources). Many migratory and resident bird species depend on these wetlands, littoral forest and lagoons as a critical feeding habitat. Likewise, other animals, such as crocodiles, depend on this area for

breeding and foraging grounds. It is our fear that if these wetlands do not remain intact or are inappropriately developed these animals will ultimately be forced to look elsewhere for habitat. Habitat destruction is a principal reason species become threatened or endangered.

    Moreover, this wetland area is comprised mainly of open water and lagoons; it offers a unique recreational area, providing kayakers and bird-watchers alike an unspoiled natural habitat to explore. Developing this area will no doubt diminish its attraction as a recreational area, thus hindering the livelihood of many tour guides who frequently use the area.

    It is our understanding that as of yet, little or no environmental impact studies have taken place in the proposed development area. As with all wetlands, this area is highly saturated and is currently unsuitable for development, thus dredging and filling will inevitably be used, a method that is notoriously damaging to this fragile ecosystem. Furthermore, the proposed development is outside of town and across the river, thus there are questions as to how sub-divisions will be connected to water and sewage, actions that, done without proper management, could potentially degrade the environment. These are only a few reasons for our insistence that studies take place before any development occurs.

    The aforementioned concerns result from a history of developments that have not been properly planned in San Pedro. Residential developments in the San Pedrito and Boca Del Rio areas are perfect examples of what can occur in the absence of proper environmental studies and planning. To make the land more suitable for development, both areas needed to be dredged and filled, and mangroves were removed. These efforts alone did not guarantee that residents would be provided proper living condition, and as a result, many San Pedranos live in what are considered little more than slums. Furthermore, sewage from these residents is currently leaking into the creeks. Waterways that were once considered pristine are now lined with debris. Is this what the future holds for the proposed residential development?

    Green Reef is requesting that Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute investigate this issue further and take time to consider alternatives to this proposed development. Thus far, Green Reef has made appeals to the San Pedro Town Council and Area Representative, but we are asking for your additional support and assistance in this matter. Ambergris Caye simply cannot afford to lose one more area of environmental significance to yet another development of slums.

/s/ Mito Paz
President, Green Reef

Dear San Pedro Sun,

    Please allow me space in your newspaper to voice my concern over a proposed sub-division in the wetlands behind the Punta Arena Area of Ambergris Caye. The wetlands of Ambergris Caye, primarily consisting of mangroves and lagoon, are the backbone of our environment. This is the area that combats global warming by removing carbon from the air as well as being the nursery for our Marine, Reptile and Bird life. This environment is critical to maintaining our Island's beauty and reputation as an eco-tourism destination.

    The proposed sub-division is on 590 acres of pristine mangroves and lagoon.

    Our Area Representative, the Honorable Patty Arceo, graciously agreed to meet with local businessmen, Logan Gentry, San Pedrano Dive Master, Alonzo Flota and me. She took time out of her busy schedule to outline the proposed sub-division. She explained that 590 acres were defaulted back to the Town Council for non-payment of taxes. The Town Council wishes to implement San Mateo Phase I on this acreage. It would consist of 308 residential lots, a number of commercial lots and numerous Government lots for purposes such as a football field, police station and fire department. While I whole heartily agree that this sub-division is a wonderful idea to provide much needed land, I adamantly believe that the lagoon is not a good place to implement this new Town.

    I believe that everyone on Ambergris Caye should feel blessed to live on our beautiful island. We all make our living in or around the environment, whether it is fishing, diving, eco-tours, lagoon kayaks, hotels, restaurants, tour offices, gift shops, water taxis, airlines, or any other business. If we destroy our environment we will have destroyed our livelihood along with the trust that Mother Nature put in us to protect Her Island.

    These wetlands are also the very ones that Green Reef has been trying to designate as a Wildlife Sanctuary. The status of Wildlife Sanctuary would allow these magnificent lands to remain intact for future generations. I would like to propose to the San Pedro Town Council that El Pescador would commit to raising US$100,000 in order to have the Town Council donate the lands to Green Reef. Green Reef will in turn protect our wetlands for all that live and visit the island to enjoy.

    Please help us protect La Isla Bonita! Voice your concerns in this forum, to the Minister of Natural Resources, The Forestry Department, the Fisheries Department and Our Honorable Patty Arceo.

Yours Respectfully,
/s/ Ali Gentry
El Pescador
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