Last night. 6:30pm sharp. The Lions’ Den in San Pedro. The legally necessary EIA Consultation over the development of Blackadore Caye (or “Leonardo DiCaprio’s Island”) took place with the public. Free food, beers (risky!) and sodas were served and then by about 7pm, the room was packed.
The 430 plus page EIA document – required by Belize law to assess and outline all environmental, social and economic impacts (both negative and positive) – was being summarized for the public and then open to questioning.
The press was there, many from the development team were there – including a biologist and a marine biologist, real estate agents and plenty of representation from the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Green Reef, Ambergris Citizens for Sustainable Development, the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, our town Mayor, Assistant Mayor and the Honorable Manuel Heredia, members of the town council, the national BTIA and the citizens of San Pedro.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an important part of the entire equation. Just this past year, they announced a hard won victory in the expansion of our marine reserve.
To include not only snorkel sites and mangrove “nurseries” but sand flats that are used for sport flyfishing – to catch and release permit, tarpon and bonefish. A passion for many around the world and an industry is the livelihood for many San Pedranos.
Zone V IS Blackadore Caye. Where these fishermen pole and wade for the sport fish…
How would this development (namely that over the water) change that?
I was a bit hard on the plan in my first post in April 2015 when all was announced quite loudly by the Sunday New York Times – that Leonardo DiCaprio, an strong activist for the environment and indigenous peoples, would “heal” Blackadore Caye.
And the photos, in the article, of one leaning palm tree or a few inches of receding sand did little to convince me that an island, basically uninhabited, needed much help. Especially by adding multi-million dollar dwellings and an over-the-water hotel that looked more like Google Glass than an architecture Belize has ever seen.
Last night, Jason McLennan explained what the “healing of an island” means – and I was impressed. Call me a rube, but building back the island with 20,000 mangroves to start, bringing back the littoral forest (zone closest to the sea – coconuts, seagrapes, etc), having biologists on hand to count and monitor the biodiversity and helping the caye to protect itself from erosion, is a fantastic FANTASTIC idea.
One good natured jab at Jason – caye is pronounced KEY.
But that does not get done out of the goodness of someone’s heart. That alone is a project that would take millions…
There will also be a 34 estates on the 2+ mile long strip and a 50 suite hotel over the water. 500 guests at a time and staff of up to 1068 (that’s a whole lotta jobs and a very exact number.) AND the mosquitoes and sandflies that tens of thousands of mangroves inevitably attract.
He spoke of a project that wasn’t just green…but one that would make the island better. “Not less bad but better”. “If we don’t do something about Blackadore”, he stated, “it will disappear”.
Zero carbon emissions. No fossil fuels. All solar powered (with Tesla batteries!), all water collected in cisterns or solar stilled, a helipad rather than an airstrip, waste recycled to grow food, guests that don’t kill a tarantula in their room…and even mosquitoes that are rounded up with heat and carbon dioxide to certain areas of the island.
In my opinion, and I’ve been to a few EIA meetings for other projects like (ugh) Harvest Caye and Norwegian Cruise Lines in the south of Belize, this plan IF FINISHED, is as good as it could possibly POSSIBLY get in Belize. And these guys seem real deal. Yes, they are both developers and salespeople – they want this to happen, it is a paying job for them (and I’m guessing quite well paid)…. But with the addition of scientists and their seemingly earnest desire to work with the pros on Ambergris Caye – I really liked what they had to say and felt a passion for the desire to build something new, clean and exciting.
But, we who have lived here, have seen the blight of half finished projects. So the “IF” is always a big one and a HUGELY important part of this. A half finished project would be a disaster.
They described the controversial over-the-water boardwalk/hotel as something that will employ “biomimicry”. The structure that holds it up will mimic the roots of the mangroves and attract fish.
Here’s a rendering of a villa.
But here is the major problem that was voiced last night. The waters around Blackadore Caye are now part of Hol Chan Marine Reserve – reserved because they are one of the more popular spots for sport fishing and guiding. An industry with a long history on Ambergris Caye – as well as other parts of Belize from Caye Caulker to Sarteneja.
Why is the government allowing this over-the-water structure? Yes, by mimicking mangroves, it will attract fish…but those type are not the flyfishermens’ goal. Perhaps small snapper or grunts. No one was arguing that it would not attract fish.
But if it messes with the FLATS, that is a problem. One missed permit in this tricky and skilled sport is the difference between a good day and a bad one at flyfishing. And money for the guide.
ALSO, the water and 66 feet of beach is considered “Queen’s Land” in Belize.
There is a very interesting section in the EIA that was questioned yesterday with no answer given. Here it is (page 199, EIA document): “Public access to beaches, in the form of a sixty-six foot reserve and easement for public purposes in coastal areas, is an important discussion and one that can create dissension in the relationship between native Belizeans and foreign developers who claim ownership of the waterfront.” And continues: “In the case of the development at Blackadore Caye this issue can be resolved given that the entire island has been bought by the developer and that there is no other habitable settlement on the island nor is there any any historical evidence to suggest cultural or other uses by the general public whether on a seasonal or permanent basis. The developer is working with the Belize government for an amicable solution given security issues are highly important for the demographic visiting the island.”
Will fishermen or kayakers be shooed away from the open faced villas by menacing guards and/or dogs from this uber-high end development? Omar Arceo, a well known guide on this island, said he has already been told that there are dangerous dogs on Blackadore and that he could come ashore at his own risk.
Will this be a place, like Cayo Espanto, where guides can not bring their boats anywhere near the caye? If so, that is a HUGE NEGATIVE change for those making a living in that area.
If Leo is on the island, and we are allowed no where near it, what good is the increased biodiversity if the people of Belize – who own the sea of our country – are unable to use it?
These are questions to be answered by the government of Belize and developers:
- How are you leasing the sea (owned by the people of Belize) especially ESPECIALLY when it has just been set aside as a reserved protected area? What are the details of this lease? And how is the money being used?
- The idea of restoring the island is a good one. Many are concerned that the over-the-water structure will bring more fish…but not the fish that are of the utmost concern to the flyfishermen. What will be done to maintain some of the best flats in the world for permit, tarpon, bonefish and cobia?
- And most importantly, can you assure us that Belizeans will have access to the areas we are currently using? If Beyonce flies in, and four flyfishing guides plan to fish the flats of Blackadore, are these fishermen out of luck? And out of money?
Continued development in Belize is, of course, inevitable. Belize needs to move towards choosing and guiding its partners in this process with conscience.
Whether you are a fan of Leo or not (ME = GIANT FAN), I hope that he, the developers and what was said last night was more passion than sales. And that they GENUINELY want to partner with our community…and NOT make this a really REALLY expensive gated community that we are shut out of…ESPECIALLY if they go ahead with the over-the-water buildings.
All that being said, I want to get over to Blackadore very VERY soon…and see what is happening already. This project expects to finish in 2018.
The department of the Environment is accepting questions for the next week. You can email them at [email protected]
Note added: That email address and all BTL.net addresses were shut down a while ago. Here’s a valid address to reach them: [email protected].
The entire EIA is also online here.