Year-End Destruction at San Pedro’s Very Popular Green Iguana Eco-Park

On the last working days of 2023, a crew hired by Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) chain-sawed the majority of the mangroves in and around the San Pedro Eco-Iguana Park.

Calvin, the owner/proprietor of the sanctuary sent me a message when the chopping began and I was torn at first…here’s why.

The “land” where the park is located is adjacent to Calvin’s property but owned by Belize Electricity Ltd (or BEL) – in fact, they own the highly traffic road that runs by the iguana park. BEL is majority-owned by the Govt of Belize and Belize’s Social Security.

They had asked Calvin to vacate the land over a year ago but through negotiation (much of it spurred on by YOU – and your support after I posted this: The Future of Calvin’s Green Iguana Eco-Corner Sanctuary in Peril) – they came to an agreement. Calvin had been tending to this area (with BEL’s knowledge) for years. Calvin would receive a long-term lease for some of the property that his sanctuary

Incredible. Amazing. HOORAY! They get it! But then, this sign went up, and a permit and…

Yes, I noted the irony of that little yellow sign

The San Pedro town council stepped in for a few hours but the permit was proper and official. And BEL, later, issued a statement about the project (see below for memo from BEL)

Let’s just say – there is NOTHING selective about what happened next.

The mangroves cut on the way into the park
As you enter, all the large trees are downed

But this is not just a “proper permitting issue” – this is an island issue, an economic issue and an issue about tourism. In a town, where more and more wooden homes are being replaced by huge, multi-story cement boxes that take up 100% of their lot size (leaving no room for any greenery). A town that’s becoming more and more congested with traffic and giant trucks.

Iguanas still sitting on trees
Here’s the view as you park now

And a town where it is starting to feel like bars, gift shops and a new 24-hour casino are the only attractions.

A look down the path now de-mangroved
Tourists are still visiting but now they see destruction

Whether you like iguanas or not, whether you consider them an invasive species or not, this is a TOP attraction on Ambergris Caye. Featured on websites, Top 10 Lists, YouTube videos, guide books (you can see a list of TripAdvisor reviews already up about its destruction). The park is featured in the new Lonely Planet Belize. It is one of a very small group: a budget (no money required), kid-friendly, locally-run activity on this island. One that draws folks to town – perhaps for lunch afterwards…or a run through the artisan market beforehand.

Calvin still smiling
Calvin still can smile

This is also not an issue of electricity. More infrastructure to grow of power grid is MUCH NEEDED on this island. And I understand that this area has been slated for a battery to make that happen but…is this really the only area? And if so, did every single tree on this property need to be razed to make it happen?

Why didn’t the San Pedro Town Council step in – or the Belize Tourism Board – to monitor this situation?

Iguanas still eating

Is marketing Belize’s diversity, eco-tourism, and small, local experiences just talk?

Here’s some video that shows more of the destruction, you need to stop by to get a good sense of it.

Whether you are an iguana-phile or not, whether you think wild reptiles should be fed or not, this destruction seems incredibly myopic. Let me know what you think.

What can you do to help? You can stop by and see the…mess. And support Calvin – I know he will need to re-think this entire area – maybe you can help. You can share this post. You can comment below about how you feel.

Memo from BEL about use of land

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  1. Mike on January 2nd, 2024 at 10:12 am

    Just drove by the site. What a tragedy and mess. San Pedro is getting so crowded.

    • Carl on January 2nd, 2024 at 12:05 pm

      I first went to Belize 91 it was better then. Why tear down ruin this place. Just like America that’s being destroyed by evil . God don’t need America. AMERICA needs God

  2. Laura Jones on January 2nd, 2024 at 10:25 am

    This is heat breaking. We were at this beautiful sanctuary with our kids just last week. Calvin is such a kind soul and we loved the experience. I would be happy to share all our wonderful “before” photos for comparison of what this place was just days ago.

  3. Sharon Travis on January 2nd, 2024 at 10:25 am

    Sickening. Absolutely sickening. I’m horrified, appalled, and at a loss for words.

  4. Julia on January 2nd, 2024 at 10:58 am

    Why here? Why everything? Where is the consideration for wildlife?

  5. Rob Douglas on January 2nd, 2024 at 11:09 am

    Could Calvin re-create the sanctuary up north, past Secret Beach to pull some tourism up into that area and for Calvin and his reptiles be less annoyed?

    • Richard Wright on January 2nd, 2024 at 5:50 pm

      Do you have a plan for moving the Iguanas up to Secret Beach and taking care of them while the new site is developed??

    • San Pedro Scoop on January 3rd, 2024 at 8:17 am

      His home is right there…and allows him to maintain and protect the area where it is. It’s a tough move and an expensive one!

  6. Tacy on January 2nd, 2024 at 11:16 am

    I was in San Pedro on a ” girls trip” in December. We came from New Orleans. I visited the sanctuary and thought it was such a wonderful space! Certainly there were other available spaces for the project! How sad!!!

    • Joni Rhodes on January 2nd, 2024 at 9:10 pm

      My heart is broken! I’ve cried over this. We love this place. Is there a way to protest or beg the electric company to please stop. What can we do????

      • Joni Rhodes on January 2nd, 2024 at 9:14 pm

        How can we help???? Surely as a group coming together we could help in some way

        • San Pedro Scoop on January 3rd, 2024 at 8:15 am

          I know that Calvin is going to try to make due with the smaller situation…if you are on island, stop by and chat with him.

  7. Mary Alice on January 2nd, 2024 at 11:20 am

    Oh my gosh this crushed my heart this morning. I feel sick to my stomach.

  8. Jax on January 2nd, 2024 at 11:40 am

    This is horrendous.
    Ambergris is quickly becoming a place I do not recognize and I don’t support the unsustainable growth and development that’s happening. The charm is nearly all gone.

    This will likely be my last visit to San Pedro this year. I love Belize but as a whole the focus desperately needs to shift to sustainable practices and preserving the precious eco systems that used to thrive here. That’s why ppl came in the first place. I don’t come for giant hotels, casinos or shopping. I’m so sad!

    Thank you for updating on this. I will go support him when I’m in town on April.

  9. Linda Monschein on January 2nd, 2024 at 11:57 am

    Devastated to read this! One of the very BEST things about San Pedro was Calvin’s iguana sanctuary. Shame on them for destroying such a treasure. I’m about to take my third trip to Ambergris Caye and I’m heartbroken to think it’s gone.

  10. David Martin on January 2nd, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    This is so sickening. I thought BEL and Calvin had worked a deal, at the very least, to give the Iguana Sanctuary a chance to transition to a new location. BEL literally cut down the mangroves with the Iguanas still in them. That was heartless. Iguanas are sentient beings and one of our most intelligent reptiles. I would love to hog-tie BEL Chairman E. Andrew Marshalleck and hang him from a butchered mangrove…

    • San Pedro Scoop on January 3rd, 2024 at 8:16 am

      Yikes! That’s going too far but it is verrry sad and very shortsighted in my opinion.

    • Mike M on January 4th, 2024 at 8:08 am

      I’ll help you!

  11. Selina on January 2nd, 2024 at 6:31 pm

    No progressive think at all.. let’s just destroy it and worry about repricutions later… at this rate there is and will be nothing for the Belizian ppl to be proud of here.. The one attration that everyone enjoyed is now gone forever… I hope there is a solution for those iguanas, there are now open to all modern dangers..

  12. Gita Varma on January 2nd, 2024 at 10:01 pm

    San Pedro is ugly. It’s noisy and crowded with construction debris and garbage piled up on every single street. There is nothing pleasant and Ambergis Caye any more. The mangroves are being destroyed to make way for badly maintained roads and ugly buildings. No thought is going into city planning whatsoever and city council is more interested in money than the welfare of its town and surrounding areas. Developers are easily able to bribe their way around any eco sensitive areas and “ manage “ the mangroves to fill them in with white marl and build even more ugly buildings.
    This island is no longer pleasant to visit or to live in with constant noise of trucks carrying white marl full of white marl to fill in even more mangroves. The trucks run almost 24 hrs a day, completely ignoring any reasonable hours that people need to sleep. Anyone thinking of investing into this island should think twice. There are so many more pleasant places to be … don’t waste your time and money on this island

    • Arch. Juan Chan on January 3rd, 2024 at 3:19 am

      This is not the answer to mitigate a problem, these iguanas had a home!
      It’s so sad, all I would ask is for them to be transported to somewhere they can’t be in danger, because if they stay there (which they will do, they might die) all their natural environment is being destroyed. Sometimes people don’t think 💬 about the repricutions until it’s already late.
      It’s not fair!

  13. Rene on January 3rd, 2024 at 1:17 am

    Iguanas taste like chicken.

    Not really.

    I agree. Sanctuary means exactly that. It should be exempt from gentrification.

    Shame on land lords, overlords, short sighted money grabbers.

  14. Buckodore on January 3rd, 2024 at 10:45 am

    SO very sad, I am bringing my Mother in Law to San Pedro next week and the sanctuary is top on our list, it has made such an impact on us with the visits we have had. I just cannot wrap my head around why they would do this to such a wonderful spot on the island, not only as a sanctuary but a tourist destination as well. Matter of fact, its quite educational as well – for example it gave my children perspective on the ecosystem of Belize- there they actually paid attention to the mangroves and other flora as well as the Iguanas. I am so glad Calvin can still smile because it is hard for me to.

  15. Linda Merrill on January 3rd, 2024 at 11:28 am

    After coming here for decades, I am sickened to see what used to be the absolute jewel of the Caribbean now becoming an environmental wasteland to the rich and powerful.

  16. M. Ball on January 3rd, 2024 at 11:33 am

    Important question indeed for the Belizean Government, who are elected people, local and nation-wide: “Is Eco-tourism all talk?” We have travelled to Belize three times already because of the beauty of the environment first, and then the culture and people of Belize. We have seen the impact of overdevelopment change San Pedro significantly. It seems there is no comprehensive conservation plan for Belize, and as a previous comment post suggests, it’s mainly “cash and grab” development that often damages and even destroys eco-sensitive habitats, and benefits only a certain few, and not the Belizean people as a whole. In addition to writing letters to the Belizean Government, are there other ways that non-Belizeans can support the Belizean voice in advocacy?

  17. David Hilmy on January 5th, 2024 at 8:24 am

    In your article is a photo of the mandated 4′ x 4′ sign with permit attached but I don’t understand why it says “Alteration/Selective Trimming” because those are two separate activities each of which requires a different permit- if the permit was for “alteration” that allows the mangrove to be cut down completely, but if the permit was for “selective trimming” then no more than 30% of each individual tree can be pruned- in addition, the fees for each are also different (considerably less for “trimming” than for “alteration”)… the reason that the regs state that the permit be attached to the signage is so that the public can verify a permit was issued- did anyone look at it to determine who issued (should ONLY be Forest Department, and NOT DOE/Lands/CBA etc) and what the permit allowed, clearance or trimming?

    • Caitlin May on January 5th, 2024 at 10:01 am

      This is a really good question. Seems like you are informed, could you look into it or reach out to Calvin to direct him in the right direction?

  18. Caitlin May on January 5th, 2024 at 10:12 am

    Belize has committed to protecting 30% of its ocean territory. What is San Pedro doing to follow through and protect sensitive ecosystems on the island? The people should demand the government to protect this land and restore the mangrove.

    UNESCO designated the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage site in 1996. Its coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and other globally significant habitats now are list in Danger. Due to poor oversight this problem is getting worse each day. Without change, the ecosystem will become so degraded and polluted tourism will cease, creating a whole economy collapse. Time to be Eco Minded and make the change.

  19. Dave Phillips on January 7th, 2024 at 11:35 pm

    How much land does Calvin need to operate his eco business/iguana sanctuary? Perhaps we can help him find a new site.

    • San Pedro Scoop on January 8th, 2024 at 8:36 am

      I’m going to stop by today and see…what’s left 🙁 I know they did a bunch of filling over the weekend. I’ll report back.