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Apr 30, 2002

Gladden Spit and cayes declared protected area

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With the hemisphere’s longest barrier reef, three atolls and countless cayes and patch reefs, Belize’s marine resources have never been more valuable to our future. That’s why successive governments over the last two decades have taken steps to increasingly regulate activities in the country’s waters. On Monday, another large portion of Belizean sea was given protected status…but, as News 5′s Ann-Marie Williams discovered, conservation is not always a simple matter.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

“Fishermen have been fishing in this area of three cayes, Northern Silk Caye, Middle and South Silk Caye for over forty years. However, a memorandum of understanding signed on Monday between Friends of Nature and Government promises to change all that.”

Chairman of Friends of Nature, Brian Young, signed on behalf of the non-profit organisation, while Fisheries Minister Daniel Silva did the honours for G.O.B.

Daniel Silva, Min. of Fisheries

“It means that the people of this area now will have a direct input in how this area is managed. It means now that we will not be making rules from Belmopan and the people here will obey them; they will make their own rules.”

“About a year and a half ago, the three islands that are around this area were declared a marine reserve, the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve. Not too far away, we have the whale sharks who come here especially during the full moon. The fish come and spawn around that time and the whale sharks come and eat the eggs that the fish release. So it’s a beautiful area, and it’s one of the few areas in the world where you can see this.”

The residents charged with responsibility to manage the area are from five neighbouring communities, namely Hopkins, Seine Bight, Independence, Monkey River and Placencia. According to Silva, Gladden Spit and Silk Caye Marine Reserve is known as the best spawning aggregation area in Belize.

Daniel Silva

“Because the fish come and they aggregate here, so it’s just a matter of throwing in a line and you’re collecting fish. So it’s an area where you have people who are Belizeans and also we have a lot of illegal fishing. In fact, just last week we caught two boats from Honduras, and we want to continue that even more. And now that the people here are managers, we should have a better control on that.”

Young, a former fisherman himself, knows all too well that the area is plagued by illegal fishing; a problem, which depletes Belize’s stock of marine resources.

Brian Young, Chairman, Friends of Nature

“One of the biggest problems we have right now is illegal fishing, which is only done at night right now. We have the dark snapper and the cobera snapper, which is the two biggest specie of fish that spawn in this area that really attracts the whale sharks. The whale sharks feed on the eggs of those fish. Now those fish don’t take line in the daytime. They’re vulnerable at night though, so the Honduran fishermen come across and the fish at night and they catch most of those species at night.”

In order to create a balance between the fishermen’s development and the marine environment residents of the five designated communities of southern Belize must work together to come up with a sustainable plan.

Brian Young

“Right now there’s two zones in the area. there is a one-mile no take zone around the three Silk Cayes here where they can’t do no fishing, absolutely no fishing.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“Because?”

Brian Young

“That’s the preservation area for right now, and then the other zone is the general area. We need to work along with the fishermen to create some more zones in that general area right now. There are two main ones that we want to create. We want to create again, a preserve area for a conch nursery that used to be a conch nursery but the fishermen have killed it out over the years, and we also want to create a whale shark and a fishing zone, where we can make laws specifically for those areas. So we need to work along with the fishermen, use the scientific studies and research and data that we have, to show them why we need to make these new areas.”

Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

The Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute will co-operate with the Fisheries Department to hire and train rangers to patrol the protected area.

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