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Oct 31, 2002

Bz. Audubon Society: Reef struggling to survive

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It’s a resource that perhaps many of us take for granted…the Belize Barrier Reef. We might have the tourism slogans memorized, but few people realize that recent events in nature, combined with the impact of man, have left that resource in bad shape. And while local environmental groups are trying to protect the reef, they need your help. Jacqueline Woods reports.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

In 1998 the Belize Barrier Reef took a double hit, as coral bleaching, and then Hurricane Mitch, ravaged the resource. It is not certain which of these elements contributed most to the reef’s present fragile condition, but work has been ongoing to protect and preserve the world’s second longest Barrier Reef. Melanie McField, a reef scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, has conducted studies at twelve reef sites in Belizean waters. McField says the reef is struggling to survive.

Melanie McField, Reef Scientist, W.W.F.

“Throughout the barrier reef, from the north to the south including the atolls, we went from having about twenty-four percent live coral cover to having about fourteen percent live coral cover. And that is like I said primarily in response to the two disturbances that came through in 1998. So in 2001, we did another survey of the entire Meso-America Reef, so that kind of sets our Belize reefs in the context compares them to those in Honduras and Mexico. I was hoping to be able to measure and record some recovery from the hurricane and the bleaching, but it seems as if in terms of coral cover, that is the amount of the reef that is actually covered by live coral, we haven’t seen any increase overall.”

The news brings bad tidings for tour and dive operators who use the beauty of reef sites like the Blue hole and Half Moon Caye for their livelihood.

Phillip “Billy” Leslie, Tour Operator, San Pedro

“The coral reef is not ours. It belongs to our children. It is our job to protect it and keep it in a good state for our kids to be able to use.”

Phillip “Billy” Leslie, a tour operator from San Pedro and a number of his colleagues have become Guardians of the Reef, an organisation that promises to promote environmentally responsible tourism to preserve the barrier reef.

Nimmi Herrera, Education Director, Belize Audubon Society

“These guys that are here today are people who are out there, three or four times a week. Now, they tend to be very environmentally conscious and they do pass that ethic onto their tourists as well. However, there are some problems form time to time within the atoll that may be incursions into the marine protected area boundary, poaching for example of conch and lobster, and we want them to work with us so we can make sure that there is sound management for the long term benefit of the whole country.”

At the end of the workshop, the presenters and participants will publish a book of guidelines for both the fishermen and tour operators who use the reef. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

A total of twenty-three tour and dive operators are taking part in the workshop at the Belize River Lodge. The conference ends on Saturday.

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