Yesterday there was an formal announcement and party for a pretty momentous occasion. Belize’s most visited tourist site – the Hol Chan Marine Reserve off of Ambergris Caye – was officially expanded by a SUBSTANTIAL amount and approved by the Government of Belize.
And I could not be happier about this expansion. I mean, here’s the thing: Belize, as a country, has been bestowed with something amazing and unique. Oranges, or lumber or sugar or fishing are important industries, but they are not going to catapult Belize and its people, to economic prosperity – the proverbial “next level”.
The HUGE gift is the geography and our environment. Belize is blessed with the ocean, our jungles and wildlife, our barrier reef, our hundreds of untouched cayes, our fish, sharks, whales…all of it. Along with Belize’s culture and people, it’s something that we should all be guarding with our lives…with everything we have, because to Belize and its future generations, it’s what lives depend on.
SO this announcement of the Hol Chan Expansion – to include the inner lagoons as well as the back side of the island, is HUGE for Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and Belize. As Billy Leslie, the head of the San Pedro tour guide association said “we went from an island of 300 coconut farmers to 3000 fisherman to an island of 20,000 reliant on sustainable tourism”.
There are over 400 licensed tour guides and 30 dive shops on Ambergris Caye alone. RELIANT.
Short speeches and presentations were given by a few different people. Billy Leslie was the MC, Ms. Beverly Wade of the Fisheries Department, Honorable Representative Manuel Heredia, Miguel Alamilla, the administrator of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Mayor Danny Guerrero.
Here are some of the interesting facts that I picked up. With this move, Hol Chan has been expanded from 55 square kms (Zones A thru D above) to over 400 sq. kms. The well-known Mexico Rocks area, designated H above, is now a NO-TAKE area. With no fishing of any kind and monitored by daily rangers.
Manuel Heredia guaranteeing to do anything within his power to further protect the environment.
Here was one of the most interesting things I learned – when Hol Chan Marine Reserve was first suggested in the 1980s, when tourism was just a burgeoning industry in Belize, the reaction was mostly negative. In fact, the entire reef in front of San Pedro was originally proposed for the reserve and after much argument and negotiation, the smaller area at the South End of the island, around the Hol Chan cut, was designated. Only 18 square kilometers.
(View of Hol Chan from above.)
And though each expansion proposal was more widely accepted as years went on, it was never an easy process. Always a battle. Long term planning with the big picture in mind is hard.
But so necessary. Especially with all that is going on today in Belize.
From suggestions that exploratory oil drilling begin off-shore. OFF OUR GREATEST ASSET, OUR BARRIER REEF.
To the fact that we continue to turn a blind eye to gill netting or as Oceana Belize calls them “walls of death” – that are killing our tropical fish en masse as well as endangered sharks. Gill nets remain legal in Belize as long as the nets are registered.
Or to cruise ship tourism in the south (off of Placenica), looking at the possibility of bringing hundreds to see the extremely rare scarlet macaws flock to villages like Red Bank each season to feed.
Passengers that won’t even spend the night in Belize, just a few hours off a cruise ship.
Photo borrowed from that post:
This expansion of Hol Chan is the start of the process…
And I am not in ANY way saying that I have all the answers. In fact, talk is pretty easy. But I do know that we in Belize have been dealt a pretty amazing card – one that can help us all prosper if managed correctly.
So congratulations to all who got this done. Especially the ACCSD (Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development) who worked for years to make this happen.
This is so important, we can’t just leave it to government and hope for the best…we all need to protect our greatest resources with everything we’ve got.