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May 16, 2018

San Pedranos Vent on Cayo Rosario Development

On Tuesday, we told you about a developing story in San Pedro where residents and tour operators are against the Cayo Rosario development. The ten-acre mangrove caye falls within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, but it was sold to a developer who has proposed a massive resort off the island. The resort first proposed ninety over-water cabanas and the developers later amended the plan to fifty or so over-water bungalows. But regardless of the number of cabanas, these structures over the water are what the San Pedro community is against. They say it will destroy the habitat of marine species and alter the tourism experience within the reserve. But based on the final Environmental Impact Assessment done in 2017, the report says that the seabed surrounding the island isn’t productive, neither were sport fish species present and that the project’s dredging will cause minimum impact. All of these claims are being refuted by San Pedranos. Over the past year, the San Pedro community flatly rejected the proposal at the first consultation when the 2017 E.I.A. was presented. They say the second consultation was done behind their backs with a handful of people. Now residents say they have learned that the National Environmental Appraisal Committee approved the design for the development, but they do not agree with the environmentally unsound and illegal project within the reserve. We note that on the D.O.E. website, the E.I.A. for Cayo Rosario is still classified as “under review.” News Five’s Andrea Polanco has more in the following story.

 

Romel Alexander Gomez

Romel Alexander Gomez, Fly Fishing Guide

“Where will these fish go? We are supposed to protect them. They make so much money for us. Five years ago there was a study that fly-fishing brings in one hundred and thirteen million dollars into our economy. That was five years ago. Our best scenario is to protect it for generations to come and just keep making money off the goose that keeps laying golden eggs. That’s just how I see it.  Belize is that last place where we can say, you know what, we don’t want that. And we are gonna be successful. We have been. I am a third generation fly-fishing. I am the perfect example of how successful sustainable fly-fishing has been.”

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Romel Gomez is a third generation fly-fishing guide. He is just one of the fly-fishing guides who use the salt flats, commonly called “los bajos” just off the coast of San Pedro to earn a living. Of recent, it has also become the spot to kite-surf – a relatively new tourism offering in San Pedro. But pretty soon, Alex and others who use “los bajos” around Cayo Rosario may no longer be able to do so. That’s because the mangrove island called Cayo Rosario which is a part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, was sold off to a private developer John Turley. And now Turley and his partners have been taking steps to start a massive development that will see more than fifty over-the-water bungalows built smack in the middle of the reserve and will provide some three hundred jobs and generate thirteen million dollars in revenue in five years. But for construction to happen, the developers say they will have to reclaim seventy-five percent of the caye that eroded over the years – that means that los bajos which serves as grounds for bone, permit and tarpon, could all be gone when the dredging start – and to locals it is not worth it.

 

Omar Arceo

Omar Arceo, Tour Guide

“To build on the island is not a problem. But to build on the crown land, all the bajos where we do fly fishing, permit, tarpon and bone fish, all around the island is a shallow flat. That is what we are fighting for, we are fighting for that quest that they are not supposed to touch one inch of that flat where I have made my life. Where other guys from the whole town, Pescador, Go Fish, Blue-Bone fish, private users in general have been using it for more than one hundred years but the fly-fishing started in the early seventies. So, right now, we are seeing that they will kill this flat; take it to zero.”

 

But if left up to the residents of the island, this will not happen. San Pedranos say this will not only be an environmental mess, but it will also cost the tourism industry in the long run and destroy the livelihoods of thousands. It is a view shared by marine scientist Adiel Perez who has been conducting research in this area.

 

Adiel Perez

Adiel Perez, PhD Candidate, EcoSur

“Those areas are very shallow, less than two feet and you have to understand that in these that is where macro organisms live; crustaceans, shrimps, crabs, these are the food source for bone fish, tarpon, permit, so if we remove this habitat. These fish are site specific and if they are removed from their habitat, they are gonna be creating more competition with other fish population in other areas. Everyone will suffer the impacts of such large developments and if we add them one by one, we are adding a large, long term impact to the tourism industry because those resources are what is helping to make our large economy that we have. This is very important. All of those sites are connected to one another and removing those sites will create a large problem in the long run.”

 

And for this reason, more than two hundred concerned residents held a public meeting on Tuesday night in San Pedro Town to discuss the proposed development. According to the organizers, government authorities and local officials were invited for this meeting to talk about the recently approved E.I.A., but the officials were a no-show. President of the Tour Guide Association Billy Leslie led the call for “no over water structures.”

 

Billy Leslie

Billy Leslie, President, San Pedro Tour Guide Association

“We want to see development done in a sustainable way. A way that it is gonna be here for me and my kids and my kids’ kids, for many to be able to enjoy. That is the type of development we want to see. The Bajos are very important for the precious bonefish, tarpon and permit. We cannot allow that development to dredge the area to fill the island to be able to develop.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, they got clearance from NEAC to do the over-water structure?”

 

Billy Leslie

“They got clearance to go because this is a concept. Now they have to come with the right plans and get permission from all the right authorities and so forth. If you are a developer, you know that is an open ticket to continue.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“And no explanation as to why we’ve given the green light to something like this?”

 

Billy Leslie

“No explanation whatsoever. They have even failed to answer our petition o come and explain. If they are representatives from the Department of Environment and they think we are wrong, then come and publicly show that we are wrong.”

 

Other local influencers, as well as visitors to the island, support the concerns of the residents, tour-guides and fishermen.

 

Gary Greif

Gary Greif, Councilor, San Pedro Town Council

“When we get ready and start move on Belmopan, I will be there with you. Belmopan should not and will not decide what happens on this island. We are the protectors of San Pedro. I am telling Belmopan, my colleagues in Belmopan, I, Gary Greif, stand against you.”

 

Tamara Sniffin

Tamara Sniffin, President, B.T.I.A. San Pedro

“Unfortunately, our letters just like everybody else’s were not heard. This is what we have to do next. They went ahead and approved it. I do understand that they are gonna go back to the developers with a few stipulations that that they are gonna have to comply with but the bottom line is that they are still gonna be building within a marine reserve. So, our voices need to be heard and whatever the decision made by NEAC, we need to let them know that we do not support that. Our National B.T.I.A. is behind us on this effort, as well. And it is not just about all of us on the island.”

         

Jay Beebe

Jay Beebe, Sage Fly Rods

“I have been coming here for about ten years and what brought me here in the first place was permit, tarpon and bonefish. Fishing is a passion of mine. It is the industry I chose to work in. As these developments happen and as flats and mangroves are lost, the habitats are lost, the fisheries are compromised and it affects my decision to go to places. This is a place where I caught my first bonefish, I caught my first tarpon, I caught my first permit here with Abi Marin. I did that all here and I want my children and my grand-children to catch their first bonefish, first tarpon and first permit here in Belize.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Hearing about this proposed development out there, how does this make you feel as a visitor?”

 

Tim McCue

Tim McCue, Visitor

“It is actually horrifying, as a visitor.”

 

Leslie called on the Mayor of San Pedro and Minister of Tourism to intervene.

 

Billy Leslie

“I am now pleading to both of them to stop and take a look at this and look at what we are saying We are saying that this developer doesn’t need to take our land to build and sell. Let him develop his land. Let him make presentations of what he wants to develop on his land. Leave the protected area alone. There was a reason we protect it, let’s leave it there.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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1 Response for “San Pedranos Vent on Cayo Rosario Development”

  1. Concerned says:

    Watch out Belize……this same kind of development is going on in Bimini and it has destroyed north Bimini. Gone are the mangroves and habitat for the marine life, never to return. The reefs were destroyed by silt and the economic benefit only for a privileged few. I have been going to Bimini since the early 1970′s and the greed of a few has destroyed a wonderful ecosystem….don’t let this happen to you Belize!

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