Blackadore Caye, Belize: Restoration and Development, I Think I Finally Get It

Yesterday, I snagged my first invite to head over to Blackadore Caye with the Jim, who works in Environmental Protection & Restoration, Juan, a head biologist and a crew of Belizeans including a student in Biology at University of Belize to learn about Blackadore Caye.

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The caye is 2.5 miles long and lies north to south parallel to Ambergris Caye between our caye and the mainland. It is pencil thin – at no point during my trekking could I NOT see the other side.

And while buffered by the reef and Ambergris Caye, it is subject to the heavy currents coming from the north and the Bay Of Chetumal.   It’s a sandbar, that became an island with proper mangroves and littoral (or coastal) forest and now Blackadore is on her way back to sandbar status due to a few factors.  Some human and some environmental.

I will not profess to be an expert – AT ALL.  But I went to the EIA meeting a few months ago to listen, I went to the island yesterday to look around and listen and here is what I think:

  1.   The island is exceptionally beautiful – I mean CRAZY STUNNING EYE-POPPING EXHAUSTINGLY GORGEOUS.
IMG_36782.   It is in a state that we see all along the windward coast of Ambergris Caye – erosion and decay.  The very few trees on the island are falling into the water and what is behind them?  Acres and acres of shallow rooted savannah grasses that won’t keep the remaining soil on the island.  There is literally ONE mangrove tree left.  ONE.

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3.  The team is doing an amazing amount of research – from water and soil checks around the island to mammal studies to currents and tides…  This will one of the best documented, well researched areas in Belize.

Water Testing - salinity, solid matter and about 100 other readings.
Water Testing – salinity, solid matter and about 100 other readings.

4.  Yes, they want to build a resort/complex but they also want to restore the island to a healthier state.  They REALLY do.  And the scrutiny they are under because a big name is associated with it is intense.  Scrutiny, by locals who know the area is needed, wanted.  But we are allowing crazy things to happen on OUR island…mangrove removal, dredging and hideous resort construction – way too close to the quickly receding shoreline.  Maybe it’s all too common to over-scrutinize what’s happening on the other side of the fence as opposed to your own yard?  Maybe.

We arrived at about 9:30 – it’s about a 25 minute ride from town.  The day started cloudy but was turning absolutely gorgeous.

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The caretaker’s residence.
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The old dock on the leeward side of the island.  Stunning.

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Juan and I took a short walk to look at the THICK needled grasses that covered thousands and thousands of crabs – the main residents of the island.  Because of the grass, they really have no natural predators.  Land of the crabs – crabs that basically eat any seed or seedling or anything they can.

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Mangrove clay along the shores that are mostly sick, small and/or dying trees.  Mangroves were here at some point – and as far off shore as 300 to 400 feet this clay has been found.

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Step back a bit and it’s all grass…80% of the island.  Grass hiding crabs and grass that, when a storm passes through, basically just falls into the water.

And then a dead zone – soil/sand so salty that nothing grows.

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They’ve spent many nights camping on the (surprisingly pesty insect free yesterday) caye – and have a pretty nice eating set-up.

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It was time to head up north with the crew to check the wells that had been drilled.  The team is hopeful that there could be a large supply of fresh water under the island and will be working to discover it through some technology that I certainly don’t understand (yet).

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Despite the fact that it was about 100 degrees away from the breeze, the views were absolutely amazing.   The shore line is higher than the center of the island and while it is beyond stunning…let’s pause for a second to gawk…I spent about 2 hours doing it….

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The sea grass has bleached completely white, like coconut, in the salt and sun.

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And the behind us…

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And the testing areas.  We hit 6.

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And by “we” I mean everyone that was wearing long pants…this grass is MEAN!

The boat returned to pick us up on the shore line, took us back to camp where we were very well fed by the caretaker’s family…

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The look north…

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and south.

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There is a ton of work to do here to make the island more sustainable.  There will be no seawalls – they only cause erosion from underneath and erosion of areas near them.  The Blackadore team will be strategically planting mangroves,  filling and raising the entire island with organic manner,  rejuvenating the totally “dead areas” where salinity levels are so high that only algae can bloom and more.

This project will employ hundreds of Belizeans – and when it comes to the high-tech specialized jobs, they will surely need foreigners, but the team plans to open a training center as well.

A new EIA public meeting will be re-scheduled.  And they have already scratched the idea of the over the water building at the protest of the local fly fishermen protecting their flats.  These guys seem EXTREMELY willing to work with the public, share their latest scientific knowledge when it comes to conserving our beaches (WHICH WE NEED) and want to do this problem right.

I say that for a privately owned island?   This is as good as it gets.  WAY better than a half done, ponzi scheme set-ups that we’ve seen so often – especially on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye.

But then…that opinion is just me.

This is not a sponsored post – all I received was a free boat trip and a big plate of rice & beans.   Please feel free to ask questions in the comments remembering that this is the biologist/research team and not necessarily the funders or developers…

For another look at the gorgeous leeward side of Ambergris Caye, take a gander at this video recently made by Bote Boards.  Wow x 10000.

 

 





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  • SPmQQse

    1-did they tell you where all the tons of land fill materials will come from ?
    2-did they tell you that the sea walls they have already built..be removed?
    3-did they tell you, how many test holes… have been drilled for water…and what depths have they been drilled to….so far…?
    4-did they tell you….that the training for the so-called, hi-tech jobs… has already started, and will Belizeans be first inline for either the training or the actual hi-tech jobs employment ?
    5-did they tell you, that they know better than mother nature…?

    • 1. Fill from, ideally, the agricultural, forestry industries of Belize and, possibly, sargasso (if that becomes an issue again). Composting…
      2. The limestone seawalls are temporary – and are now JUST at the north end of the island after it was slammed by a storm last October. The water came up a foot to the caretakers house (a few hundred feet from the tip of the island) so they are trying to protect that end.
      3. What has been drilled isn’t very deep – they will be working with a specialized team from Spanish Lookout to do both radar (? I think) and actual drilling for fresh water. Drilling that does not contaminate – is self contained.
      4. The exact hiring was not discussed – since I was not talking to the hiring team.
      5. No, they do not know more than mother nature but they hope that by employing the most up-to-date technology that they can do the best they can to nurture the caye.

      WHEW! Those are my answers, not theirs…but I did my best.

      • Tom Vidrine

        I have been in Belize for 25 years….and to Blackadore several times. The short-sightedness of my countrymen amazes me sometimes. No problem building Reef Village…dredging, filling and cutting mangroves. Now we have an island in the middle of nowhere..that maybe 10 fishermen use to fish occasionally, we seem to have a problem with its restoration. I was there last week. The job they are doing is incredible. And giving Leonardo hell….why? Who else would spend money to re-build, create something of beauty and structure that would only provide a haven for wildlife in the middle of an almost barren bay?

  • DefendBlackadoreCaye

    1. This project is not under scrutiny because a big name is associated with it. This project is under scrutiny that all projects on Belizean land should be subject to. This project is under scrutiny because initial plans for overwater structures were clear violations of Belizean laws and of the surrounding marine reserve. This project is under scrutiny because in the Easter Sunday edition of the New York Times, on the front page of the real estate section, that “big name,” and the developers blamed local fishermen for what is actually a naturally occurring process.
    2. I am glad they are being somewhat open. This shouldn’t be something we applaud them for. This should be something that is expected of all developers, regardless of what big names or fancy words they use.
    3. Until we see the new EIA, we can’t know for sure what sort of improvements have been made or whether ALL overwater structures have been removed from the plan.
    4. No surprise that there was no mention of whether they plan to respect the marine reserve, the 66-foot Queen’s Land, and the local fishermen. It would set a dangerous precedent in Belize if we allowed developers to violate our laws and restrict the access of Belizeans “for our own good.”

    • I agree that all should be open, but they aren’t and around here, they don’t seem to be required to be. So I am pleased with that. You are right…we must wait for the EIA. The NY Times article sucked and I told them that…I wrote a post just after it was published. I am cautiously optimistic with this…if they can find research that does save coastline and they can share it with our caye and others, that is a HUGE homerun.

  • DefendBlackadoreCaye

    By the way, take a look at the Blackadore page on the Restorative Islands LLC website (Restorative Islands’ flagship project is Blackadore). “Hundreds of jobs for Belizeans will be created,” except on that developers’ page, the exact number is 150. Are 150 jobs worth the livelihoods of local fishermen, and the sanctity of our laws and marine reserves?

    • “Hundreds of jobs” is my wording. And though it was just one day that I was there, I didn’t see anyone fishing within sights distance. CLEARLY NOT THE RIGHT SAMPLE (one day) but just an observation. Also, I think that other cayes have violated the laws when it comes to Queen’s Land already. This would not be THE precedent. All that being said…I am again, cautiously optimistic and I think this sort of science based construction is a huge step forward.

  • Rob Franz

    Would it be too much for Leo “The Magnificent” to raise funds and just help restore the Caye, and not make a buck off it? As the self proclaimed Environmental Ambassador to the world, wouldn’t that be the RIGHT thing to do?

    • It’s definitely a lot to ask…don’t you think? And I have no clue what the ownership structure is…is he the sole owner? I think we save “The Magnificent” for his acting ability…and THAT is what I’m talking about when I say that he is put under tougher scrutiny than say your developer of Reef Village…or of the big properties down south…ON AMBERGRIS CAYE.

  • Susan

    Great report! Thank you.

  • Jim

    Excellent report Rebecca. Hopefully all turns out good on this project. So much bad has happened to AC and surrounding cayes on other projects especially on the lagoon side. If it does and sets a new higher standard for future projects that would be great but I don’t blame the skeptics because of the history of what has happened in the past.

    • For sure. If Belize does nothing else, it makes you a skeptic of development!

    • SPmQQse

      HAHAHAHAHAHHAAA

  • marysaunders

    Why is the present mangrove sick? I hope they will be very careful about fill. Mangrove can be poisoned by herbicides. There are people who have deliberately done this in Hawaii. Also, there are successful planting projects in some parts of the world. Also, mangrove has planted itself in parts of Texas, allegedly in response to global climate change, and huge snappers have been appearing in response. It’s possible they could do that here, but they will have to be very careful about bringing in clean biomass. With humans present, there will be compost. Bananas like compost. We need more red bananas in the world, my favorites. They are gorgeous and delicious.

    • The one mangrove isn’t sick…but it’s just one white mangrove. One that is on the very edge of the shore. All the previous mangroves are gone…and the island now isn’t environment where they can return naturally. Unless something major happens…

    • Jim

      There have been a few small projects to plant mangroves on AC. They have met some success but I think the Sargasso weed of the last several years took its toll on the young plants. At any rate it seems to take a long time to get them to establish themselves and they are very important, I believe to hold the soil in place a make home for the critters.

      • SPmQQse

        HAHAHAHAHHAAA

  • Laura Balis

    really beautiful pictures Rebecca

  • marysaunders

    Thanks for replying to my query. I am surprised the lone mangrove is white. According to my version of Plants of the Mayan Culture, red mangrove predominates in Q. Roo. Do you know what variety they might plan to plant?