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Jun 8, 2017

Celebrating World Oceans Day in Toledo

Today across the world was observed World Oceans Day. It is a day set aside to highlight the importance of oceans and the need to protect and preserve the natural resource. On Wednesday, OCEANA Belize took journalists for a trip off the waters of Punta Gorda Town. Local journalists got the opportunity to visit the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and surrounding areas. The reserve contains a diverse set of eco-systems from coastal to tidal wetlands, as well as coral reef and cayes – but parts of it are open for public use under managed access – so hundreds of residents from Punta Gorda and surrounding communities rely on this reserve.  Andrea Polanco was in Punta Gorda on Wednesday and has more.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Dennis Garbutt and his entire family depends on these waters – like many other Toledo families, the Garbutts make a living from the seas.

 

Dennis Garbutt

Dennis Garbutt, Part Owner & Manager, Garbutt Marine Investment Company Ltd.

“Now that we are tour guides, and dive instructor and that type of thing, fly fishing guides; we are basically doing, when I say we I mean my family in general – my brothers, my sister, cousins – quite a number of them and even uncle. We grew up in Punta Negra doing commercial fishing for a living, so we used to extract fish and take it to the market for selling. If somebody would ah tell me that later on I would own a business I would ah say yeah to that. But if they mi tell me that business would be catch and release and you would be able to make fish swim again and still make money off ah it, I would ah say no that nuh sound possible. So, now for us, it is really a truly a success to the extent we are still doing what we want.”

 

Just off the coast of Punta Gorda Town is the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Established in 2000, this reserve is made up of multi-use zones; ninety five percent of it is open to general use – where commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing are permitted within the limits of managed access.

 

Dennis Garbutt

“Fly-fishing – only a few people look for that particular sport and guess what, Port Honduras and Toledo, or Belize on whole offer this sport to people; meaning, the permit, the bonefish and the tarpon. It is so important that Belize has protected by law, the permit, bonefish and the tarpon. One of the beauty of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve that makes our business grow is the fact that it still has a healthy population of permit.  Port Honduras and Payne’s Creek National Park offer great opportunity. For example, the commercial fishing sector still strive from this marine reserve. The fish and lobster and conch that come from this place still feeds the area. So, it is a marine reserve that put aside for us today and for us to have in the long term.”

 

The Reserve is made up of over a hundred cayes – including the Snake Cayes. West Snake Caye is being considered for development. TIDE co-manages the reserve.

 

Joe Villafranco

Joe Villafranco, Programme Manager, TIDE

“Our position is that we have to, as a developer, we advise you and say listen, make sure that this is going to work for both you and the environment.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, if it is not working for the environment then?”

 

Joe Villafranco

“If it is not working for the environment, then clearly it won’t work for anybody.”

 

Reporter

“But, are you of the opinion that it will work?”

 

Joe Villafranco

“As it is, no. With the current design, it won’t work. Simply because, the area is being eroded every day. You go out deh and within a year I would say, a couple of feet – maybe ten feet or so; you have to be careful when you put a development in that area. It is going to erode.”

 

Despite the cultural, ecological and economic value of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve these areas remain vulnerable to a multitude of threats. Residents of Punta Gorda remain concerned about gill net fishing, possible oil concessions, and other threats.

 

Dennis Garbutt

“Port Honduras used to get an average of ten to fifteen gillnets – talking from the ranger stand point. We used to confiscate that amount. Sometime up to twenty – thirty gillnet we used to confiscate that certain years. By now I expected it to be zero. But that threat is always there. We pass the ranger station and you saw two gill net on the dock, for example, that those guys had confiscated either last night or two nights ago. That is the kind of threat that continues to threaten this marine reserve.   Things like building on these islands, dredging, whatever that type of thing – I don’t hear of it happening now, but whether they are prospecting for oil, those types of things concern us greatly. Because I see them, if, for example, oil was found in this particular area – it is nice to have oil and we need to drive vehicle and all of that, but at the end of the day – how will this affect us? Who is talking to us? Who is telling us what is the plan and what is going on? What are going to be getting from this resource? At the end of the day, we already have a gold mine as far as I see it.”

 

Joe Villafranco

“Sixty to seventy fishermen, commercial fishermen who depend on this area for their livelihood. If you times that by the number of people in their family, I would say roughly four, an average of four people per family – that is already an average of 240 people affected directly and that is just commercial fishers. You have tour operators, tour guides, recreational fishermen, it is a lot and you are just talking about people’s livelihood. You are not even talking about the ecological value of the area.  We are talking about a whole lotta money. Dennis could tell you the tourism industry alone, I think he estimated that at a hundred million a year and that is just one industry.”

 

And for reasons like those, it is important that the Port Honduras Marine Reserve is protected.

 

Joe Villafranco

“PG doesn’t have no other industry – there is no major industry in this area per se, so many of the residents in this area depend on the sea.”

 

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, VP, OCEANA Belize

“The people coming in damaging it whether it is with illegal or unreported fishing, whether it is with bad fishing gear, whether it’s careless developers, whether it’s oil, if that ever comes back – they can pack up and go home. This is our Belize. Where do we go after we’ve destroyed what we have? We all know that it would be killing the golden goose, if it could make a call it would sound like a goose right now. But this is ours and we really need to act like it.  You look at the decisions we are making right here in Belize, today, they have impact tomorrow; not down the road, not generations away; not out of our lifetimes. So it is really important that we participate; we insist on participation, that we know what is happening because these decisions will impact us in some way, shape or form in very short order.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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