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Nov 2, 2016

OCEANA Hosts Seismic Consultations in Belize City

There does not appear to be much of a debate on the issue of seismic testing in Belize’s offshore waters – at least, not if you ask the environmentalists, who firmly believe they have the full support of the electorate. But as Government continues to weigh its options, the members of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage are making the rounds to remind the Belizean people, again, of their side of the story. They hosted a meeting in Belize City Tuesday night at the Pallotti High School Auditorium. Correspondent Aaron Humes attended and has the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

They do not claim to have all the answers, but on Tuesday night in the Old Capital, members of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage faced a modest crowd to issue the latest information on the fight to keep the “black gold” from assuming the dominant position it holds elsewhere.

If you have been following along, you know that ships were in Belize a few weeks ago to begin seismic testing deep in the offshore territory, beyond the Barrier Reef. But environmentalists were not convinced that they had all the facts or the motives for this sudden appearance.

Following a review of how the two sides got to this point – including that two-minute clip where the Prime Minister is on record supporting a referendum on offshore drilling and the moratorium on exploration activities – the floor was open for questions.

One participant wondered if Government had unwittingly sold the rights to the data that would be collected from the survey like passports and visas, while another said outright he did not trust the people in charge to stick to the rules when this much was on the line economically. OCEANA’s Janelle Chanona and Roberto Pott of Healthy Reefs Initiative responded this way:

 

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, Vice-President, OCEANA Belize

“The Government has insisted, ‘Oh, we own the data,’ but we have asked pointedly, ‘Well, define ‘own,’’ because as far as we can tell, if you own something, somebody else can’t be selling it. You own a copy, you own a DVD, but you don’t own the rights to that material, and then somebody else can sell more copies of that data to other parties. So I think that’s a great point to emphasize.”

 

Roberto Pott

Roberto Pott, Healthy Reefs Initiative

“And maybe just to underscore that, and why you have to applaud the efforts of my colleagues, and people in the Coalition: because that has always been a push of the Coalition, let’s see what agreements you are signing, and if we see that something is wrong with the agreements, we may actually take them to court, because we feel that you have not acted in the best interest, in the national interest.”

 

Pott also argues that Government has not been entirely above-board in its handling of the situation.

 

Roberto Pott

“And you look, and you see that oil has brought in one-point-five million since 2005, up until now, and you are starting to see decline. How much has tourism brought in? And what are we risking for that revenue that we are not even sure? They are saying – Government’s argument has been that we need to find out if we have. That is a risk that we think is too high a risk, because we haven’t seen the agreements; you haven’t assured us that the safeguards are in place; and you haven’t been transparent and communicated this. I think a lot of this could have been avoided if they had communicated this to the people; I don’t think the people would have responded the same way they did.”

 

Valdemar Andrade was, until recently, the director of Destination Planning & Cruise Tourism at the Belize Tourism Board. He now heads the Turneffe Atolls Sustainability Association, the group which manages the famous Turneffe Atolls Marine Reserve. The committed proponent of tourism said Belizeans needed to begin counting the cost of potentially abandoning an established multi-million dollar revenue earner for one that has not begun to truly earn its keep and could still be a disaster

 

Valdemar Andrade

Valdemar Andrade, Executive Director, Turneffe Atolls Sustainability Association

“We have not made the “green accounting” clear to the public of Belize. I think, you know, I have heard it being tossed around that, you know, the protected areas specifically don’t bring money to Belize. If I look at the history of Belize Audubon specifically, one N.G.O. alone is bringing in over, I would say over the lifetime, millions and millions of dollars; tens of millions of dollars, and have been also a key implementer of getting other N.G.O.’s going, who have also brought in millions of dollars, and I think it’s time we do that accounting. It’s also not just accounting in how much money we bring in; but how much we bring in to the direct economy of the country, how much people we employ – because every ranger that is employed in these protected areas is an employed person in Belize, and it also feeds the family of those rangers, and over time that has been significant. And I think we have to have that conversation with the Government of Belize and with the public so that they understand that this is more than emotion, this is about dollars and sense. Oil is for a short period of time, at the end of the day; the natural resources is for a prolonged period of time, if we managed it properly. The quid pro quo there is managing it properly.”

 

According to Chanona, they do not discount the necessity of the data, only why a company with obvious vested interests is involved.

 

Janelle Chanona

“Recall that these surveys…the proposed area for these surveys. This was not even going to be what’s called the lagoon area, which is from the reef going in west, which is the more tropics area, shallow areas where knowing exactly where is what is very important because nobody wants find the seafloor or the boat engine—and we wouldn’t like that either. But it is also that yes—that kinda data—offshore because I think we can all agree that there is very little that is known about that area offshore. However, we could get that through an independent entity, working with other partners. This company is not the only one with this experience onboard, with this equipment onboard. This should not be seen as oh my goodness, we’ve lost this invaluable data because this company is gone. We, if it is so important, can find the resources, can find the means of finding that one point eight million and pay for somebody to do that work for us so that we actually own the data, control the data and have the benefit of that data.”

 

And in response to a question about the next step, Chanona advises the following:

 

Janelle Chanona

“If we could get everybody in this room that has heard this information to tell at least one other person what you have heard, and encourage them to find out for themselves and to inform themselves, that would be great; but then you ask them to do the same thing. Because at the end of the day, we have seen where once people have the information – and we’re not telling you how to think, we’re just telling you to inform yourselves – once people have the information, they will be able to make an informed decision. The next thing we’re asking is that you support our call for transparency moving forward with this issue. This is something we should have been talking about as a country, as a people, for years. The fact that we have been talking about it – and as we’ve been talking amongst ourselves, when we had to start these conservations again – for many members of the Coalition, this is déjà vu, because this was the same type of meetings, the same type of points raised when the first petroleum concession map was first nationally exposed. So, we really want that there is a meaningful step forward, and once and for all, we have a legislative position on offshore oil.”

 

Aaron Humes Reporting, for News Five.

 

The next leg of the consultations takes place on Thursday night, simultaneously, in Orange Walk Town at Banquitas House of Culture and in San Ignacio at Cayo Center for Employment Training. Start time is six-thirty p.m. If you can’t make it, the Coalition is live-streaming the consultations online.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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