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Mar 30, 2004

Mangroves still healthy, but need watching

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A decade of environmental education has taught Belizean children that mangroves are important to the nation’s future. But that hasn’t necessarily stopped their destruction. Patrick Jones reports on a meeting in Belize City designed to assess the state of this important resource.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The two-day workshop is putting some critical attention on the need to take care of the nation’s mangroves. While some people may see them as simply a nuisance, Coastal Planner Stewart Cruz says getting rid of them can cost plenty.

Stewart Cruz, Coastal Planner

“I think the last study that was done on mangrove population in Belize in 1992 showed that about four percent of our national territory is mangroves, and since then we have observed a lot of physical development for human habitation, for tourism, for agriculture, and for a whole bunch of other reasons. Now these reasons obviously have benefits but at the same time mangrove is a critical habitat, it has many benefits such as shoreline protection, such as habitat for wildlife, for marine fisheries and it can make benefits as well.”

Those benefits are derived primarily from tourism services. Forest Officer Aaron Gongora says while Belize’s mangrove population is still fairly healthy there are worrying trends in its management.

Aaron Gongora, Forest officer

“At present we are losing mangroves, not at a high rate like some other regional or Caribbean countries, but because of the trend in the tourism industry, other development, people want to have coastline settlements and places to recreate, there is a small rise in mangrove alteration.”

Gongora says the legal alterations are negligible, but it is the uncontrolled destruction of mangroves that are putting the coastline most at risk.

Aaron Gongora

“Protection-wise, we are making ourselves vulnerable to high winds, storm surges, that sort of thing. Other than that, we are playing around with the balance of our fisheries stock which is from fish to shrimps, conch, lobster, everything. So we are playing around with the balance of these economic benefits of the country.”

According to Eden Garcia, U.B.’s Director of the Institute for Marine Studies, so far the greatest amount of mangrove destruction has occurred around Belize City and Dangriga.

Eden Garcia, Director, Institute of Marine Studies

“Certain areas that are untouched we would say they are healthy, there are several areas that I consider still to be in a good state. There are only localised areas in which a lot of removal of mangroves has occurred. In particular, those areas associated with the Belize City region because of expansion, housing projects, and the Dangriga, the southern region, presumably associated with the development of aquaculture ponds.”

Stewart Cruz

“The primary outcome of the workshop in my mind will be an awareness in terms of the importance of mangroves, and the start of a thinking process as to how we can better manage the mangroves, conserve them. And when I say conserve I mean using them today, but also ensure that they are they’re tomorrow without significantly decreasing or declining their inherent value and their economic value and their physical value towards development.”

Patrick Jones, for News Five.

The workshop ends tomorrow with a one-day field visit to the Turneffe Islands to view management techniques currently being used on the atoll.

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