There is a small island on the gorgeous, practically untouched leeward side of Ambergris Caye. A few acre caye that has long been a well known rookery for all types of native and migrating birds – from cormorants to gorgeous bright pink roseate spoonbills. It has always been locally knowns as one of the “Bird Cayes” and was thought, for years, to be protected land or “Crown Reserve”.
This caye is Cayo Rosario – just behind Ambergris Caye on the leeward side. One of the cayes part of the chain of spectacular pink sandbars, one of the cayes crucial to the flyfishing guides and flyfishermen that spend millions on Ambergris Caye each year.
Watch this one minute long video showing how special this island is…mangroves and fresh water inside for the nesting birds.
Just last week, a development plan was announced for this caye.
Sure they are only drafts…but 90 over the water structures in a marine reserve?
My goal in this post? To show you how Cayo Rosario is an environmental gem, how it quite suspiciously switched from public lands to private hands, how the proposed development plan within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is absolutely OUTRAGEOUS and how the developers of this plan have a track record that we need to consider before the GOB allows them to develop anything in this country.
Map below: Cayo Rosario is Zone IV in the finalized expansion of Hol Chan Marine Reserve – Blackadore Caye is Zone V.
Stick with me. I’ll try to use bullet points as much as possible just to simplify.
Cayo Rosario IS an Environmental Gem & Should Be Public Land
In 1969 the Belize Audubon society was opened and in this Audubon document from that year, the Florida Audubon vows to give assistance to Cayo Rosario “in the preservation of bird species, such as the Roseate Spoonbill” and “towards setting aside of Cayo Rosario and
Cayos Pajaros for a breeding reserve for Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets and White Ibis”.
Since the inception of Belize as a country, environmentally minded Belizeans have been trying to ensure that Rosario Cayo stayed in the government’s hands as “Crown Reserve”. Green Reef, along with the Audubon Society, worked to have two cayes near Rosario, La Salones and Little Guana Caye, protected and petitioned for two more.
At the bottom of this post (Document One) – you can see the open letter written by Green Reef’s president imploring the incoming government to buy back the bird islands after it was found out that they moved to private hands.
How did that switch from public to private happen?
Cayo Rosario Went From Public Land to Private Land in an Underhanded Way
Here is an article by Belize newspaper The Amandala, from 2010, about how the land changed hands (in early 2008) – from the Government of Belize to Canadian developer David Mitchell. It was given as compensation when Mr. Mitchell was sold a small island behind Caye Caulker – an island that was already in private hands.
A situation very similar to the one that recently caused Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega to step down.
It is alleged that David Mitchell paid $50,000 for a small caye off of Caye Caulker and in return was given large parcels of land on Ambergris Caye – and two small islands – one, Cayo Rosario.
Here is the article from 2010:
David Mitchell is a name very familiar to those on Ambergris Caye. He has been the developer behind the following projects:
- Grand Belizean estates (the large piece of land on the leeward side of the island, well known for Secret Beach)
- Costa Del Sol – the large piece of land/project that can be seen across the lagoon from San Pedro town. An area that was home to development, an Indian restaurant for a short period of time and huge plans for a deep water marina and golf course. Now all you can see are the remnants of partially constructed condos.
- Sugar Caye – a property VERY controversially near the “sewage treatment pond” where mangroves were razed to make way for a public subdivision. 421 lots that were created to add “much needed land to a growing population”. (Another article Channel 7 Belize News) Now this land seems split – most vacant and the rest being used to construct the largest resort on the island.
At the inception of Sugar Caye, many environmentally friendly measures were promised in the face of protest – especially since the project was green lighted with no Environmental Impact Assessment.
Sugar Caye is described as what will be the largest mangrove planting and creation of new mangrove habitat in all of Belize in 2011.
Another example, you can find the developers touting the Riley method of seawall construction – named after Bob Riley of Mangrove.org.
Bob Riley later stated (on this AmbergrisCaye.com link) that he had not been consulted on the design of this seawall. In fact, they do not endorse the construction of seawalls at all…
The Cayo Rosario LLC Developers
The is one thing that all these projects have in common is the lead salesperson, John Turley.
John Turley and his partner have now obtained Cayo Rosario from David Mitchell – though Mr Turley says that he has no knowledge of the circumstances under which Mitchell obtained the land.
Cayo Rosario LLC has two partners – ones you can find on this public SEC filing: Daniel Kalenov and John Turley. The two are also partners in Global Diversified Partners. Here is a Colorado cease and desist order that lists them as managing partners.
Watch the cartoon on the site home page – “In 2 Minutes we explain why investing with us can help protect your financial future” to see an brief summary of their methodology. I would argue that pulling your retirement savings out of stocks and bonds and re-investing your IRA or 401(k) in Belize real estate isn’t the greatest idea unless you are YOUNG and can take on enormous risk.
Daniel Kalenov’s bio is quite extensive – it states “He’s raised millions of dollars for numerous real estate projects, including a top vacation rental firm in California, multiple town home developments in the Midwest, and the largest resort in Belize.”
With another look at SEC filings, Mr Kalenov is a partner in a Colorado development project with a Robert Letson. Robert Letson (Button) was arrested in June 2016 for “theft of $100,000,000USD”.
There is no evidence to link that crime to Belize or to Kalenov – but it certainly suggests a poor choice of business partners.
Additionally, when I asked Mr. Kalenov about the plan for development at Rosario Caye, his direct email reply was: “Unlike other projects in the area, this is not a resort consisting of massive overwater estates catering exclusively to the Hollywood elite. Our vision is to build modest bungalows over the water, a few bungalows/residential homes on land. The resort will be priced so as to be accessible to people of multiple socio-economic backgrounds, thus sharing the beauty of Belize with people looking for an experience which does not yet exist within her borders. ”
Alternately, when I met with John Turley, his partner, less than 24 hours later, he told me that these over the water bungalows would be run by a 5-star resort and units would be $800 to $1000US a night.
This, to me, sounds a little bit like the Sugar Caye bait and switch – from affordable subdivision for the people to the island’s largest resort.
For updates on all of these project highlighted above, please see the website for the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development.
Lastly, we don’t want to give the developer of Cayo Rosario a chance to propose 90 overwater structures in the first draft and then in a premeditated conciliatory gesture come back to the public with a new plan where they scale back to the size that they originally intended all along.
That’s not how the EIA process should work.
Cayo Rosario LLC Using the Blackadore Caye Precedent is Wrong
Last week, a public meeting was announced, a pre-Environmental Impact Assessment meeting to discuss the plans for this development. Days later, it was changed to an a invitee only “Stake Holder” meeting and then 2 days later, postponed.
The reason for cancellation was the Blackadore EIA finalization and the need to review it before going forward.
To compare this project to Blackadore Caye and Restorative Islands plan is like comparing apples to oranges.
In short, Blackadore Caye (the island made famous in Belize for the partial ownership by Leonardo Di Caprio) announced a STATE OF THE ART environmentally revolutionary self contained project for the 110 acre island. The goal is ZERO waste. It will be a very high end resort/community but one that stands to put Belize at the forefront of green construction. Because of Leonardo DiCaprio, eyes around the world will be on the project.
Despite the GOB’s okay on over-the-water structures (they proposed 3-4 acres of over-the-water buildings), the Blackadore team listened to the public and decided not to do OTW structures (For sale or rent) in the marine reserve.
Kudos to the Blackadore team.
Cayo Rosario is a totally different animal.
First and foremost in land size – Blackadore is 110 acres, Rosario is 10 acres (surveyed). Secondly, Blackadore is a sandbar with one mangrove tree and lots of scrubby grass and crabs. The team there wants to reintroduce the native flora back to the island.
Cayo Rosario is a densely packed mangrove island FILLED with nesting birds. There were some pretty horrifying reports by local fisherman and birders that when this island was initially privatized that thugs (my word) were sent to the island to hit nests out of trees and that dead baby chicks were on the ground.
You can take a look at the Department of the Environment’s Finalized Guidelines for Overwater Structures – there are quite a few that the Rosario proposed project appears to violate but let me name just a few.
14.5 To discourage proposals aimed at compensating for “land shortage”, all proponents will be required to leave as land reserve/open space, an area of land equivalent to or bigger than the area of the foot print of the overwater structures…
14.7 To lesser the visual impact on the natural landscape, a maximum of 20% of the total length of sea frontage would be permitted for overwater structures…
14.13 In order to maintain the exclusivity, and hence the uniqueness and strength of the niche market being targeted, the number of overwater structures allowed for any individual project will be kept at a minimum and properly managed by the Department of the Environment.
And some that must be kept in mind:
3.8 The overwater structure shall be limited to one story level.
14.2 No overwater structures will be allowed to be built over any section of the Belize Barrier Reef…will be severly restricted with the Marine protected areas…
I could easily go on and on.
Lastly, the drafted plan for Cayo Rosario shows a pipeline under the water for electricity and sewage — a pipeline through a marine reserve that is 2.5 kms long.
Sewage running under the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Here is the map – just north of Secret Beach to Cayo Rosario.
So now they will not only be sinking countless pilings into a marine reserve and well used flyfishing flat but they will be running a submarine pipe route through the area as well.
What We Can Do About It
- Show support in a non-partisan way – part of the negative feedback from the SAY NO TO OIL EXPLORATION protest was that it was driven by ‘naysaying expats’ and by politically minded Belizean against the current regime. It’s important that arguments against this project and against oil exploration and drilling be neither Red or Blue. But what you feel is right and wrong. Speak to your local government. As our island gets more and more crowded, each resident, each visitor is a key stakeholder.
- For tour guides and boat captains, the people whose livelihoods depend on areas and reserves like this. Please keep an eye out for changes. Survey lines and markers, dredging or building. All projects need a permit – report any suspicious activity to the ACCSD and/or the Hol Chan Marine reserve office.
- When EIA or pre-EIA meeting is announced, I encourage everyone to attend.
Lastly, I want to add an extremely intelligent and heartfelt open letter that was written in 2008 by Mito Paz, the President of Green Reef. It was a letter written to whichever political party was elected in the upcoming election. 8 years later it is as relevant today as it was then.
Note that the first request is for the government to buy back the Bird Cayes – for the fishing and because they are “important breeding area of the roseate spoonbill and the largest known nesting colony of reddish egrets in Belize and possibly the entire Caribbean”.
Subject: Is Tourism Doomed on This Island?
One last thing from me: Please put any comments/questions in the comment section of this post for all to see.