Wednesday night I attended the Public Meeting, the FINAL public meeting, about the environmental impact of the proposed Norwegian Cruise Lines Cruise Ship port at Harvest Caye. The caye is 2 miles away from Placencia, a very small tourist village and from the larger (but seriously UNtouristy) port town of Independence/Mango Creek, Belize.
Here is the earlier proposed picture of what Harvest Caye will look like by MARCH 2015! One cruise ship of up to 4000 people pulling up to a floating dock. For perspective, the permanent population of Placencia is somewhere around 1000 people (give or take).
The building/dregding plan is going to progress at speeds unseen in Belize. The caye is basically mangroves and sand right now. No fresh water, no electricity…nothing.
Let’s start with the facts. Belize is a “hot spot” for tourists right now. All over the news, TV shows, magazines…people want to see our country. And NCL knows that the “compound” in Belize City is not the ideal way to showcase it. (Here’s my post on the Belize City cruise ship village.)
Another fact. The Ministry of Tourism of Belize commissioned a National Sustainable Master Tourism Plan, the Seatone Report a few years back as a guiding document for tourism in Belize through 2030. They consulted 100s of people, groups, town councils, associations, hotel owners, restaurant operators…Good idea, right?
The final answer for southern Belize? “Pocket Cruise Tourism is the only acceptable form of cruise tourism in Southern Eastern Coast Belize”.
So now Harvest Caye, part of the Southern Eastern Coast of Belize, surrounded by nature reserves, breeding grounds for manatees is being sold to one of the largest cruise ship companies in the world.
I visited the tiny island last August. And saw fish, a manatee and these AMAZING dolphins on our way over. More wild life than I’ve ever seen on any boat trip in Belize.
Norwegian Cruise ships is buying the caye in an AMAZING sweet heart deal with the Belizean government. Where Belize receives $7 for each passenger that arrives (the average around the Caribbean is FAR higher) and then gives NCL $4 BACK so they can RECOUP their $50MM investment. They will get their money back. Completely. Plus all of the profit from their actual business.
All of this in the name of a promised 250 PT, High Season job for Belize. TWO HUNDRED FIFTY. (A small luxe resort like Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn employs 125 people YEAR ROUND.)
Is Norwegian Cruise lines (NCL) here in Belize to help the people, to bring Belizean culture to visitors, to make sure Belizeans benefit from this project, to bring jobs to the people of the south SO in need? To nurture and sustain the wildlife? NO. Of course they are not. Even they admit that they are a corporation and they are here to make money.
SO…the meeting at Independence High School started at 7pm sharp. There were quite a few busloads of people. I’d guess about 1000 in attendance? All chairs were full and there was a pretty big group in the back standing.
Every question was answered in one of two ways. Questions ranging from The Shrimp Growers Association asking why if they employ 1200 in the area, why they hadn’t been consulted. Questions from communities like Mayan Center asking why NCL had done interviews in their community and rejected everyone for reason like having a tattoo on their hand to having poor teeth. Or where are you going to get your fresh water? To how many jobs EXACTLY are you going to provide?
Wil Maheia from the Toledo District
Stewart Krohn from the Placencia BTIA congratulating them on calling this caye development a “nature park”…what a “perversion of the English language”.
Many questions were asked about the 1.1 million cubic meters of dredging that is going to be done in the area. Silt. Spewed into the area the coral filled, manatee filled, sea grassed area.
A lovely teacher who has read the entire 300+ page EIA report and called the government to task for the errors (as did many others), old data and inconsistencies that riddle the report. You too can read the report on this site.
All COMPLETELY valid and important questions. All answered in the same way. 1. A deadpan “Your concern has been noted” or 2. It’s “our desire” to do this or do that. It is “our desire” to find ample fresh water in a green way. It is our desire to get rid of the dredged material in a safe way. We are looking at five alternatives. IT IS OUR DESIRE?
Norwegian Cruise LInes’ desire? We have sold an island in Belize and rubber stamped a HUGE development deal bringing close to half a million people to South of Belize based on an international corporations’ DESIRES?
Gorgeous Placencia is 2 miles away, magical Punta Gorda just over an hour. It’s heartbreaking.
Why is nothing in writing? Why are there still so many things to be determined when this is going ahead? Are cruise ship passengers more important than the citizens of Belize? Has Belize had a ton of luck letting major corporations come in and do whatever they want?
NCL would like to make this a “different project”…their first “open port” where the employees are all Belizean. No Diamonds International and big foreign companies. The crafts, foods, drinks will be Belizean. NCL’s “footprint” is minimal on Belize. They actually argued that THIS IS POCKET TOURISM. Most people will stay on the caye…only small groups will leave to see Belize.
WHY ARE WE LETTING BELIZE BE A TESTING GROUND FOR THIS PROJECT with 100 foot floating docks over the coral heads without real numbers and agreements in writing? Coral reef they said was very low density and practically dead anyway. Without contracts with local tour guides signed and delivered? Without consultations with local governments and companies? I think it’s an embarrassment.
The government and NCL are throwing around the word that Belizeans want to hear. JOBS. But what is promised is minimal. MINIMAL. I passed the NCL make-shift office in Independence yesterday and there was a line out the door. YES BELIZEANS NEED JOBS. We all can agree on that. The unemployment rate (particularly around here) is abysmal. But 250 promised? Good grief.
Well, NCL is sure of a few things. They WILL be getting that $4 kick-back. They will own all the tender boats – apparently NCL are the ones who know the kind of boats that will be needed for these waters – BELIZEAN WATERS. The tenders that will bring people to the NCL large land base & marina at Malacate in Independence (now an empty lots and beach on the edge of town right across the lagoon from Placencia – already purchased by NCL.)
will all be owned by NCL.
I really could go on about this for day…about what was said at the meeting…about how this corporation is being allowed to do anything they want. How we are potentially sacrificing overnight tourism in Placencia (who wants to go diving at a site that is flooded with cruise tourists?) or potentially our shrimp industry that is the first in the world to get a certain type of “green certification”…and employees 1200 Belizeans?
All based on decisions to be made later and an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) that is “skimpy and superficial” as one citizen called it.
WHY IS ALMOST NOTHING GUARANTEED? Mr. Ferguson, local representative to the House here in Southern Belize stood up and recommended that Belizeans form co-ops to get what they want in this situation. To deal with the cruise ships.
Emails and letters can be sent until January 29th. Here’s the information: