Trash on North Ambergris Caye – When Do We Say Enough Is Enough?

As some of you might know, after 9 years of living south of San Pedro town, I now live on North Ambergris Caye.  Over 7 miles north of town.  And every single day, with the rare exception, we drive to town – for work, for shopping, for meetings…we drive to and from town.

Since the paving of the road up to about Mile 4 in 2014/2015 and the widening and grading of the road up to about Mile 10, this is now the main way people get to homes, resorts and beaches on the north part of Ambergris Caye.  Over the bridge from town and up the road.

Until 2014/2015, almost everyone who traveled north – especially farther than a mile or two – went by boat.  The road was in AWFUL…little more than a mud pit in parts…and most tourists and guests saw their resorts and rental homes for the first time when they arrived at the dock.

But now (and for the last 2 years), the point of entry – the front entrance to northern Ambergris Caye resorts is the road.  What used to be out back…the “back yard”…”the bush” is now where new guests form their first impressions.  Whether they are arriving in the resort van or in a golf cart rental of their own – the very first impressions of our gorgeous island are gained while driving on the road.

AND, I don’t know the nice way to say this so I will just say it:  The road north looks like a giant garbage dump.

The garbage and litter up north is GETTING WORSE.

Here is a wildlife experience I had yesterday while in my golfcart.  On the road.  Just next to a gorgeous resort’s entrance.  What a pretty ibis 🙁

We all know about the fight against trash, particularly plastics, in our oceans.  It’s an epic battle being waged worldwide, a struggle by millions – it is being fought here, daily, on our beautiful beaches in Belize.  Cruise ships, waste from mainland rivers, from our own garbage, it’s a problem that needs to be attacked from so many different angles.

But driving up and down the road this last week, I want to focus on a trash problem that I am hard pressed to understand.  One that needs to be attacked from ONE angle.  An issue that seems hard to explain and one that seems to be perpetrated by some of the key stake holders in the industry that is the common thread between every one of us on this island:  tourism.

Now let’s picture this – it will be easier for some of you than others – but picture it.  You own a condo at a large very well appointed resort on North Ambergris Caye – or you own a gorgeous multi-million dollar beach front home.  You poured lots of money into it – and it’s your oasis away from “real life”.

You want your beach and your landscaping to be beautiful – maybe you rent your place out on VRBO or AIRBnb – you have a caretaker, a team, or the resort has an entire maintenance staff to keep things looking perfect.

You have an interest…a huge interest…in this island, in keeping it beautiful, a desirable place to visit, a place where real estate values continue to climb and where people continue to visit.

So each day…your team collects the beach trash and you load up a wheelbarrow or 10 and you…you…you…throw it on the road side behind your house?!?

Maybe 5 years ago, this was back in the bush where no one saw it…but now this is your FRONT ENTRANCE.  Plowing trash – boxes, yard waste, plastics – not just across the road but into one of the most fragile eco-systems on our island – the lagoon?

Here is a photo of the lagoon just across from a huge resort – where tourists are sometimes invited by the staff to interact with the wild life (ILLEGAL).

Charming.

This is NOT trash from people that don’t have the time or resources to deal with it – these properties have STAFF – paid staff – that work for them.  Do what they need done.  And as you, the guest, exits the parking lot to head to town, you look RIGHT AT THIS.

Now before anyone gets mad at me for “spreading this on social media” or for showing the island in a negative light, please look at some of my other posts.  I don’t want to see any part of the island this way.  If you think I am exposing a secret then here is what I have to say…THIS IS NOT A SECRET!  EVERYONE can see it.  Tourists may have their rose-colored vacation glasses on but they are not blind.

We talk about others tossing trash.  But how can we possibly expect kids or adults or anyone not to litter on our beautiful island when the very resorts and land owners, are laying down what looks like a garbage dump on their own properties.  It almost seems correct to throw just one more bottle here…or why not a whole garbage bag?

It is, after all, a dump.  Right?

Or here?

The entire ride is an embarrassment to a town this great – to an island that CARES about the environment and definitely cares about the industry that employs all of us.

So…I’ll ask:  Those who are charging $200 or $500 or $1000US per night can not properly dispose of their garbage?

And leave it at that.  Or…wait…not yet.  It’s THAT insane!

I challenge these owners (NO, I am not talking to everyone – some spots look great.  But the majority do not) to change the way that they are “cleaning up” their properties.  To properly dispose of waste – rather than tossing it on the other side of the street or plowing it into our lagoon.

Use the garbage boat that picks up trash north – hire a pick-up truck to take the trash to the dump.  Ask the town council what they suggest.

What used to be your “out of sight, out of mind” is now the first thing our visitors see when they come to my favorite island in the world.

***One quick note:  The garbage is particularly pronounced right now – a crew from the electricity company came forth with machetes and “cleaned” the roadside.  They hacked every living plant and tree within a few feet of the road and the utility poles.

Down came the plants and man…all you can see is trash.  But on a 1/2 mile stretch of land – the portion of the road that runs by Mata Grand Grocery – one man cleaned up all the trash in less than one day.  Hired by a local resort owner,  he got down and dirty and bagged up at least 8 huge trash bags filled with litter.  One day – paid less than $100bzd.

Makes you think.

***All photos taken between my house and the bridge.

 

 

 






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  • Diane Campbell

    Time for BTB to step up the pressure. They can and should inspect properties from front to back. Piles of rotting garbage should result in denial of hotel licenses. Town Board could and should participate in the cleanup by providing trash and dump trucks to cart away the offending materials. I’d bet good money that the dump sites would be cleaned up in a week.

    • I think they absolutely should – this seem like a “no-brainer” – a huge eye sore, blight on tourism. But I am also at the point (after being here for 10 years?) where I can’t see waiting for the government to do anything. I am not sure that they have a great handle on tourism.

      I’m just trying to think about how we can make something happen without them.

      • Roddie Mazzuchi MacSwain

        My two cents: having resided in different parts of the world, I have noticed a trait common to all nations: the law is nothing without punishment. And when everyone offends, you end up either leaving or joining the crowd. I have seen NorthAm natives acring very clean at home and littering in SouthAm upon noticing that most locals do it and there is no real punishment. When cleanup efforts are organized by those who make a difference, offenders are encouraged to continue with their action, while the government is encouraged to continue doing nothing about the problem. What if all the efforts are focused on pressuring the authorities to devote some resources to control and impose heavy fines on offenders? People all over the world tend to obbey the law when there is no impunity. With time, their attitude becomes ingrained, natural, and they start doing it because that is the way they have been doing it for a long time. Nothing seems to hurt more than a blow to your wallet.

        • I love the idea – but (and I hate to say this) but if we wait on the authorities…we could very well be waiting FOREVER. I’m trying to think of ways to nudge without them. We have so many great groups cleaning up on a weekly and monthly basis…I’d love some of the corporate offenders to clean up their acts!

  • erictomlin

    Thank you for bringing this up, and not simply sweeping it under the rug…or into the lagoon. Littering has always been a pet peeve of mine. It is lazy and disrespectful – to the owners of the land you litter on as well as to yourself. What you talk about here takes it to an entirely different level. You are so right that the resorts that are making money hand over fist – charging huge dollars per night – should absolutely be required to properly dispose of their trash. In my two visits to AC, it is the one thing that I noticed that turned me off about the island. I understand that some people may consider Belize still a 3rd world country, but if Belize ever wants to rid itself of that label, they have to act like a civilized society and deal with their trash appropriately. I have heard that littering, in general here, is a cultural thing and that it is not uncommon for San Pedroans to toss their litter wherever. That has to change. Kudos to the man who took the initiative to clean up a half mile of road on his own. He is setting a wonderful example for others to follow.

    • I remember, as a kid, the huge campaign in the US to clean up. As a small child, I remember throwing gum wrappers on the ground. There were commercials…signs…there was action. Things take time but man! I’m sick of just nothing happening. Thanks for the comment.

      I GET that litter was never a concern – you didn’t think twice about throwing it on the ground. But we need to do SOMETHING.

  • rjhawkins

    I share your frustration — with the added frustration of cajoling, begging, asking our friends and neighbors to come out every first friday of the month to clean up from the bridge to Marbucks — two hours of cleanup. We’ve been doing this for well more than a year now and the response has always been tremendously graftifying. People show up — some have been coming every month since we started, some for the first time. Others have donated trash sticks, gloves and trashbags to the cause. Some have donated funds so we can buy these things locally.
    Grand Caribe is the only resort to step up and join us. Every First Friday as many as 30 staffers head out along the beach and road at the same time. We all meet up at Marbucks where Marline has laid out iced coffee and fresh-baked cookies since we first started our efforts!
    All are saddened and frustrated by the volume of toss-off trash on the sides of the road and from the volume of plastic along the shoreline. All are equally disheartened when one or two days later the road is as trashy as ever.
    The First Friday effort started — naively — as a demonstration project. We thought a clean road would inspire good habits. Sue Blair, who spearheaded the cleanup, worked with the San Pedro Town Council to get distinctly marked trash barrels placed along the concrete road. They always seemed to fill up immediately, be it household or restaurant trash, at least they were used.
    Now they are mostly gone.
    High season tourism, Easter holiday, construction sites labor, and the popularity of Secret Beach have brought an explosion of trash north of the bridge. One day a month can not keep up with it.
    Some of our most dedicate “pickers” are meeting to discuss the future of this effort and how to expand and improve the cleanup. Anyone interested in joining the committee can leave a message on the First Friday Tres Cocos Trash Pickup page on Facebook — or contact Ed and Shirley Schroeder Butterick or Mike and Laura Taylor. (You can rach me through Facebook messaging at Robert J. Hawkins). All ideas are welcome!
    Otherwise, come join us May 5 in front of the especially trashy Paradise Theater at 8 a.m. for a couple of hours of roadside and beach beautification.
    Thanks for this posting, Rebecca. You have expressed the sadness and frustration that we all feel, and indeed, the inexplicable indifference of resorts about what has become their front door. So many beautiful resorts up north but you would never know it from the road.

    • Thanks Bob and I will DEFINITELY make it on May 5th. Do you think it’s getting 1/2 mile stretches sponsored by resorts? I can’t wait to talk about it 🙂

      • rjhawkins

        Even overlapping b resorts on different days would make a huge difference. Grand Caribe covers a mile on both the beach and the road in a little over an hour. They are very thorough and organized. Other resorts could do the same — each take a different week and stretch out a mile in both directions on the road. Hitting vacant lots on the shore is key. Maybe real estate agencies with for sale signs could be held accountable for cleaning their lots!

  • FJL

    I try to visit San Pedro every year from San Diego, absolutely my favorite destination. I also walk everywhere, including at least one trip over the bridge daily. I have walked past the mini lagoon just north of Tres Cocos quite a bit and know how disgusting that was. I had no idea that it is so bad up north, I’ve only been there by boat and spent the day along the beach. Rebecca’s question about ‘Those who are charging $200 or $500 or $1000US…’ makes me ponder about room taxes in my hometown. Anyhow, at those price points, will a $1/night tax ( we all hate the word) or even less applied to trash collecting/clean up break the bank of these beautiful places? is it that hard to legislate? I tend to stay at places under the $100/night price point… Would $101/night make a difference-NO. We have a hotline here for water wasters… Perhaps something along those lines for polluters there? Best of luck with this and see you next year. Great minds like the bloggers posting here will prevail!

  • BluenoseDuo

    So, so true: sadly, this was one of the main reasons that my wife and I decided not to return to AC after 3 years. I’m sure many others have come to the same conclusion and I simply can’t understand why nothing substantial has been done about it in a destination that is totally reliant on tourism. So much potential – so little effort. Good luck; maybe some day we’ll return to a cleaner island?

  • Guy Veldman

    Ya was there this last january. Soured my experience. Was just lovely snorkling at sike keys with trash floating around. And the seagassum grass which is supposed to be a nursery for young fish & turtles was loaded with floating plastics. Locals blame cruise ships . Maybe but government could step in and address.

  • Excellent post, Rebecca. Thanks for being part of the solution. It really is a serious problem and does require a multi-pronged approach. Trash was one of the things that really bothered me when we lived there, and although we picked up bags worth a bit north of our building a few times, it was just a drop in the bucket and so depressing to see our efforts negated in just a few short days.