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Jul 21, 2015

Media Expedition to Port of Honduras

Media personnel were ferried out to a little known – at least to the city-centric journalists – protected area in Southern Belize called the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. The trip was organized by the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, along with OCEANA and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment which actually manages the reserve. The purpose – or at least the main purpose of the trip on Friday – was to examine the threat that offshore drilling would pose to the area and to the stakeholders who survive off it. But as we found out…there are other threats, including illegal fishing, which are high on the danger list. Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The trip to the wonders of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve started at its southern limit, about a mile off the coast of Punta Gorda Town, in an area known for its fishing which attracts tourists from all over the world. Dennis Garbutt makes his living off the sea, through catch and release, fly-fishing, sport-fishing in the marine reserve…gill nets have been banned in that particular area which allows it to thrive. The area was declared a marine reserve in 2000 which Garbutt accredits with saving that area from the threat of over-fishing.

 

Dennis Garbutt

Dennis Garbutt, Chairman, Southern Sport-fishing Association

“I used to see the area with a lot more fish, a lot more activity as it relates to going out there and getting marine product. I grew up as a fisherman and we used to come fish, go and get our fish and take it to Punta Gorda to the market and things like that to make a living. But one of the things that changed my family from doing commercial fishing is the fact that there are too much fishermen out there and fishing pressure has always been increased. I saw gill nets being introduced which caused some major devastation to the fish population, especially snook and mackerel, and that pressure was coming more from the people in Guatemala.”

 

Sandy Parchue

Sandy Parchue, Fisherman

“I think the amount of fish now is difficult more than a couple years ago, because a couple years ago yu noh have to come way out ya to ketch fish. But now, sometimes yu have to go all the way to Deep River to ketch fish.”

 

Abalone Caye is a ranger station in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve – managed by the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment. It’s southern point is one mile outside Punta Gorda Town and it goes all the way North to Monkey River, encompassing one hundred and sixty square miles, including about one hundred and thirty mangrove islands. Those habitats provide an ideal habitat for marine species, and the waters are also prime fishing grounds for fishermen. We’ve seen these gill-nets set down in Belizean waters…but not by Belizean fisherfolk – by Guatemalans.

 

Edwin Cabrera

Edwin Cabrera, Head Ranger, Port Honduras Marine Reserve

“One of the major problems we had here in Port Honduras is that we have guys coming from Guatemala. The nearest town, Puerto Barrios and Livingston…it’s like a forty-five-minute boat ride from Puerto Barrios and Livingston to here. The problem was that some of those guys obtained their fisher-folk licenses. They live in Guatemala and the problem was that they would come into Port Honduras and they would fish during the day, and in the evening they would go back. They sell the product in Guatemala and it didn’t benefit the country at all. They were just extracting. But back in 2011 TIDE piloted a program called the Managed Access program. They teamed up with Glovers Reef and what this license has done is that it screened out the guys that come from Guatemala.”

 

That, of course, gave rise to the problem of illegal fishing by Guatemalans, but since January the Rangers started doing patrols with the Belize Coast Guard. The illegal fishermen never used to respect the Rangers – so the presence of armed forces has been somewhat of a deterrent. But then there is the threat of offshore drilling – so far just a threat and not a reality.

 

Paula Jacobs-Williams

Paula Jacobs-Williams, Fisherwoman

“I always say that I wouldn’t want it to happen like what happened in Peru and Mexico…I wouldn’t want that to happen in Belize. I don’t agree with it but my community does. They want oil exploration but I don’t. I believe Belize is small and if we have an oil spill or whatever it is that would be the end of our fishing industry.”

 

Mario Muschamp

Mario Muschamp, Protected Areas Manager, TIDE

“Port Honduras Marine Reserve is an excellent nursery habitat for important commercial marine species…such as some finned fish, lobster, conch, sea cucumber and oil exploration will impact that for the fishers and the users of this area. People have been using this area for centuries now and these communities are old communities that have been here and are living off these resources, and so anything that will impact the resources here will impact these communities, and that’s key for us. They are the owners of these resources and they should have a say in terms of what goes on here. Oil exploration can definitely have some negative impacts that will threaten the livelihoods of these communities.”

 

And those stakeholders depend on this area – perhaps not as publicized as other protected zones – for their very survival – from fishing to tourism.

 

Ray Jacobs

Ray Jacobs, Village Councillor, Punta Negra

“We are blessed to be in the centre of the reserve. We are in the centre because it goes further to Monkey River and it goes further to Punta Gorda, so we are like the meat in the sandwich. There is some benefit…not what we expected or what we should have gotten but our women today they have a little kitchen where they serve food so as tourists pass by, as visitors pass by we could get them and the ladies make some money. Then I as a tour guide I would take out visitors and the other guys would take them out as well.”

 

Celia Mahung

Celia Mahung, TIDE

“We had the great opportunity to share that the Port Honduras Marine Reserve is the breadbasket for many…for fishers, commercial fishers, recreational fishers, sports-fishers, tour guides, and so it is a very valuable marine reserve for our stakeholders. That’s how they make a living, and it’s important for them to continue to make a living from the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. There was and perhaps there still is an oil concession that includes the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, the Payne’s Creek National Park and also private protected lands that are managed by TIDE, along with other protected areas within the Toledo District. I believe that…well I’m hoping that is no longer a threat.”

 

And perhaps it isn’t…since there has been no evidence of seismic testing or any of the myriad activities that preface drilling. But TIDE and the stakeholders of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve are ever vigilant and ever protective of the natural bounty of the reserve. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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