Selling San Pedro’s Wetlands: The Questions…The Problems…The Questions and The Problems
In case you haven’t heard, just feet off Ambergris Caye is the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. Our reef is a natural wonder, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a huge attraction for fishermen, divers and boaters, our protection during storm season, the very reason this island exists and the livelihood (directly or indirectly) of every single working person that lives on the Caye.
It’s also something that is insanely delicate, something that is threatened more and more each day and something that the people of Ambergris Caye and Belize need to protect.
For love of the environment and for our livelihoods.
I am not telling anyone anything new. But yesterday, I went on a trip to lagoon side of the island to see a new development that actually doesn’t appear to be new at all. (The San Pedro Sun broke this story a few days ago.)
We were in fact, seeing the last 40 acres of a 600 acre development that has been parceled out for quite a few years – called Sunset Cove. A great name for an assisted living community. (And trust me – these owners will need assistance.)
That last 40 acres is an estimated 600 lots. All mangrove and water. From about the Las Terrazas area to the road that leads out to Grand Belizean Estates.
What made this last 40 acres something interesting? Something that the news would want to go visit? The insane fact that even though this land has no fresh water, no electricity, no sewage system available, practically no way to get there unless you have a boat and a long stick – it’s not even LAND.
And…AND! these “waterfront lots” (each comes with a free crocodile!) sit right in the new proposed Hol Chan expansion (the marine reserve that currently protects much of our barrier reef here on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker). An expansion that Billy Leslie, newly elected President of the ACCSD (Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development) and head of the San Pedro Tour Guides Association and Miguel Alamilla of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, considered basically a “done deal” a few months ago when I met with them in May.
Buy now! And we help finance your very own water buffalo!
They were actually ready for Minister Heredia to proudly announce the expansion – a win/win for the government and the community – at the Dia De San Pedro celebrations in June 2014.
Well? I’m thinking now we know why that announcement was not made. Why the proposal to protect this area sat on the ministers desks for at least 2 years…
It’s being divvied up into a subdivision. Surveyed as we speak. And just in time for the 2015 election year.
Register to vote, get an option on the “land”- perfect if you are interested in raising tropical fish. Act now!
You can see the straight line cut through the mangroves and the surveying posts.
Yesterday I tagged along on the expedition. The Belize news programs – Channel 5 and Channel 7 and the San Pedro Sun newspaper were working on a story. And the TV news reported on it last night.
The only way to the subdivision is a shallow slow moving boat. In fact, during part of it, I had to sit on the floor of the boat to avoid being scratched up by the mangroves.
I watched Channel 5’s report – the mayor of our town said ““I have no comments on that. I am not involved. I have no clue what the deal is. All I know is the San Mateo from this side coming in.”
I returned from the trip a bit disheartened, a bit shocked, disgusted and with many many many questions. Don’t let my joking distract you, this is absolutely not a joke. Just seeing those submerged lots (and it’s not even the heart of rainy season yet) seemed…ridiculous. Here are some…maybe you can help me with the answers.
This one lot has already been surrounded by stone. Perhaps to keep the dog in the yard?
Please leave comments on this post down at the bottom (best to have them all in one place)! I am definitely going to follow up as I get more information.
So…what’s the problem with selling this land? It’s government owned and the government could use the cash and the people the land…right?
Right. But don’t we want people getting land that is usable – that you can actually get to? There is nothing in this area…not for a few miles…that can be used to fill these lots. It’s at or below sealevel.
And this is going to need quite a bit of fill. Here is Omar checking out a lot – one that looks pretty standard for the subdivision. Just behind him is the main road north and Las Terrazas Resort.
I was terrified for him standing in that water…we had just seen a HUGE croc slip out of the mangroves about 10 minutes before.
The local government went through a very similar situation about 15 years ago. “Land” was given out just north of the cut…in an area known as San Mateo.
People were given a plot of marshland and nothing else. Shameful.
15 years later that area still has countless problems. Outside charities – you can watch this video narrated by Morgan Freeman and made by the University of Mississippi – shows the area less than 5 years ago in HORRENDOUS shape. People living in squalor with unclean drinking water and no electricity. IN SAN PEDRO.
Is that a situation that we want to create up the back side of the island? People living in unsafe conditions? Just a few hundred feet from upscale resorts like Las Terrazas and Captain Morgans?
Who cares about a bunch of mangroves and crocodiles?
Well, fishermen and guides, who used this area for fly fishing…
Here’s Omar doing an interview with the news.
Hol Chan, the Tour Guide Association and the ACCSD thought these mangroves are very important and were attempting to protect it for many reasons.
This is a habitat for all sorts of wildlife – from birds to crocodiles to juvenile fish. Many fish are born here – it’s a hatchery for all sorts of species not just game fish. The larvae and babies attach and are protected by the roots of the mangroves. Many head out to the reef as they grow.
The area basically feeds fish to our reef.
These mangroves also IMPORTANTLY protect our narrow caye. Hurricane Keith, which caused awful destruction on Ambergris, came from the backside of the island. Without these areas and clinging trees, the tide could wash right over North Ambergris Caye.
And all my other questions…like: Does the government need to make a local announcement when it is starting a new project – isn’t it land owned by the town? Or get some sort of EPA (environmental assessment before they go ahead?) Why are the plans not available to the people and the press? Who is getting this land? Why isn’t it available to everyone?
What is actually considered land? Three feet, five feet, ten feet of water?
If it is being offered to voters only (and that may be hearsay at this point), isn’t that blatant corruption?
Is the minister reneging on his promise to ratify this expansion of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve – promised in the debates of the last election?
Most importantly to me, is there no plan in place for Ambergris Caye expansion? No master plan that is going to take into account infrastructure, health and environmental issues. We already need more schools, better roads, better policing, countless other things…
Are we going to just try to pack as many people onto this caye as possible and let them worry about it all? Unplanned, unchecked.
It’s gonna be tough going for us all when tourists stop coming.
I’m sure you have more questions like I do…but since this was a complete surprise to me, I thought you’d be interested.
Again, let me know what you think.