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Apr 15, 2011

Explosions near Shipsterm Nature Reserve

At the crack of dawn on Thursday, the Belize Defence Force and media headed north for the destruction of a clandestine airstrip; in its vicinity illegal logging was also taking place. At first blush, it also appeared that the airstrip was smack in the Shipstern reserve but according to its manager, that’s not so. News Five’s Jose Sanchez joined the B.D.F. and today has a follow up on that story.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

After four hours through rough terrain with a section of soldiers, the journey was almost halted when the Ford truck bogged in mud. But built super tough, it pulled out of the jam. And that was only the first hour of the four hour ride to Shipstern.  The B.D.F. noted the illegal logging camp during the second hour of the journey and logged the coordinates.  But when we reached near our destination, trees were cut to block the entrance to field. Soldiers and members of the media left with demolition equipment, four hundred pounds, of explosives on foot.

Lieutenant Colonel Jones removes a cone shaped charge. The first attempt was a dud. After changing the charges, a loud explosion. But that was only to make the two meter funnel shaped in which Jones would then place earth shattering material.

David Jones

Lieutenant Colonel David Jones, B.D.F. Demolition Expert

“Starting with the destruction for each of these craters. We used a cratering charge, which has pilot hole and a main charge. We use the pilot hole to create a main little hole that is about two meters in the ground and about one foot wide. Then we put the main charge in. when the main charge goes in, that is about eighteen kilograms of granular explosion which goes into the earth and when we detonated that, the effect of the crater is what you see behind.”

And then we were treated to a symphony that was once reserved for the B.D.F. Eight spectacular explosions that moved earth into the air and threw debris towards us, a couple hundred yards away.

The depth, the power of the charge, is visible in the height of the plume of smoke. And the fact that seven B.D.F. soldiers could have comfortably stand inside was proof of its power. Then we inspected the area carefully we noted from material left behind from the airstrip builders including: a cigarette carton believed to be in a box bought from the Free Zone, a headlight, and plenty water.

Lieutenant Colonel David Jones

“They had water out there. It’s probably for sustenance for the guys to have water to drink when they are working here. This area is pretty hot as you can see; you can get dehydrated very quickly. So they had a drum of water that leaves us to believe there are quite a number of guys here and they were going to do some operation here shortly because the drum is full with water and it seems they would have been using this airstrip probably within two or three days.”

The pruning of the area including spraying the foliage on the edges of the airstrip with herbicides.   Although we passed several signs indicating that we entered the Shipstern Nature Reserve, the managers of the reserve indicated that it is actually built on a gap, crown land, that is nestled outside its borders.

Heron Moreno

Heron Moreno, Managing Director, Shipstern Nature Reserve

“Actually Shipstern is made up into four different areas.  One is more around the Chunox area which we call the Toblar Chupol Area and then the other is the main block of Shipstern. The lower part that you drove through which is the biological corridor, we got that through the biological corridor program back in the late 90’s. So what you did is actually drive through a very small portion of the southern part Shipstern and then went into government land. We’ve been into conservation work specifically protected areas management. It’s no secret, but Shipstern is a private protected area.  And though it’s a private protected area, we run our protected area just like any other national protected area. We work very closely with the Forest Department. We also have very strong relations and Police department and the B.D.F. in addressing some of the issues in that area. And so generally our area is strict conservation work with everything that comes with that.”

Shipstern consists of twenty thousand acres patrolled by seven men on foot.  Within the area and on the crown land are unexcavated mounds, which we found out contains Mayan history.

Jose Sanchez

“The shattered Mayan vases and pottery strewn across this field indicates that this area must have once been an important community for the Mayas. Whether or not archaeologists would be able to find anything that is not broken, is yet unknown. But it is a great loss to our culture.”

Jose Sanchez

“Yesterday when we were out there we noted that there seems to be an archeological site. We saw Mayan pottery, shards of obsidian flints. Was this something that you noted recently?”

Heron Moreno

“Yes we did actually.  But one thing I need to mention. That actual location is outside Shipstern boundaries.  It does not fall within the Shipstern boundaries. So I need to make that clear.”

Lieutenant Colonel David Jones

“Having such an operation requires detailed coordination. It requires someone with good organizational skills and it requires a lot of money because those heavy duty equipment it is expensive. It is expensive to get them here, fuel is expensive, they need to pay manpower and probably over fifty-sixty guys were employed in working on this airstrip because first they had to clear the land. And if you can see, it is a big area to clear because all this area were trees.”

Jose Sanchez

“Nonetheless, Lieutenant Colonel David Jones noted that maybe fifty to sixty persons worked the area.  Wouldn’t you have noticed lots of equipment passing through portions of the reserve, then into that unreserved section?”

Jose Sanchez

Heron Moreno

“Well I wouldn’t be able to say much about the amount of equipment. But I have to be honest and say we did note signs of movement in the area.  But it’s nothing new. One of the biggest issues in that area and anybody who works in that area can tell you is illegal logging. And so we’re constantly out there seeing signs of tractors and bulldozers. For us it is indication of illegal logging. When we do see that, what we start to then is muscle up our presence in our area. Like I said we work for Shipstern. Our jurisdiction falls within those boundaries. But I mean, what else can we say.”

What needs to be said is that in addition to the Archaeology Department, the Forest Department, the Police Department and the BDF will need to do more monitoring of Shipstern and surrounding areas. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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3 Responses for “Explosions near Shipsterm Nature Reserve”

  1. Woody says:

    So let me get this straight… our own BDF who patrol and defend our country do not even know where they were in destroying this “clandestine” airstrip, don’t they have gps systems and maps?..come on …and Moreno you say you “noticed” signs of movements bulldozers graders 50 or so men passing through the reserve and you didn’t think to inform authorities on these signs… hello!!!!!

  2. BZNinCALI says:

    Is this a case of “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil” for fear that you too will be taken out. The myopic villagers have chosen to sell their souls & peace of mind for a few bucks, their memories are either short, they are unaware of the carnage drugs have wreaked across the country or they are all stupid. Last year when 3 villagers were killed (including a 14 year old) on a “farm” in Orange Walk & the media was not allowed in & the BPD had to call in reinforcements, we were alarmed but in true Belize fashion, we let it blow over. The gangs in Belize City are deadly but we cannot take our eyes off the villagers with the same mindset.

  3. bal540@yahoo.com says:

    there are some really major internal problems only time will tell its will get really bad before it gets better…..guys just be careful down there….

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