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Aug 11, 2020

The Impact of COVID-19 on Protected Areas Management

How are organizations working on environmental protection handling the COVID-19 situation?  Well, across the world, conservation N.G.O.s are feeling the pressures. And it’s no different here in Belize.  These N.G.O.s are reporting loss of over a million dollars in revenues because of the collapse of the tourism industry. To find out how far and wide the work of these N.G.O.s are being affected, we turn to the Association of Protected Areas Management Organization whose network all together manages and co-manages over a million acres in protected areas. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Belize’s marine and terrestrial protected areas provide key services and goods that are critical to the livelihoods of thousands of Belizeans. And the productivity of these resources is directly tied to our economy.  And so at the heart of the sustainable management of these sites are non-governmental organizations that act as co-managers. But the work that they do is threatened by the loss of revenues as a result of the shutdown of the tourism industry. Today, protected areas co-managers find themselves in a shortfall of one point three million dollars as a result. Executive Director of APAMO Jose Perez says that the projected loss of revenues through the end of the year is double that amount.


Jose Perez

Jose Perez, Executive Director, APAMO

“Tourism, of course, visitation accounts for anywhere from ten to ninety-seven percent of revenues for protected areas. So, with the closing of the PGIA and the halting of international tourism, obviously, had a direct impact on revenues and sustenance on these protected areas. We believe that approximately sixty percent of projected revenues for this year are being lost or over two point four million dollars. So, from March to December this is what is being projected.  So, imagine how much that will affect operations; not just for the conservation work that needs to be done but also very importantly for the surveillance and enforcement.”


The Association of Protected Areas Management Organization is made up of sixteen protected areas managers. This network of non-governmental organizations manages and co-manages twenty-one terrestrial protected areas and nine marine protected areas in Belize. All together, they are responsible for the management of almost one point three million acres – which translate to forty-two percent of Belize’s protected areas.


Jose Perez

“At the Billy Barquedier National Park is a very important hydrological system. The waterfall that people like to visit and the water system there provides drinking water – direct drinking water for three of the buffering communities; Valley Community, Steadfast Village and Alta Vista. That is only one example of how important the protection and work that our co-managers do.”


APAMO’s Jose Perez says that the concern is if these NGOs are not able to recover from the losses, there may be serious consequences for these protected areas and Belizeans who depend on the resources.


Jose Perez

“If we should not recover, the situation could be dire; the many gains that have been achieved over the years when it comes to biodiversity protection and conservation and the safeguarding of our ecosystems will be very exposed. The presence on site is very key but without the financial support to do this, it will definitely will be jeopardized.”


And that is because these resources need to be managed and monitored. Over the years these resources have been under sustained threats such as deforestation and illegal fishing. And as the scale of the pandemic continues to reach all corners, there will be increased pressure on the natural resources as persons who have lost jobs return to rural areas. And not even the state of emergency was able to stop the movement into these protected areas.


Jose Perez

“When it comes to marine protected areas there were four arrests but there was quite a number of encounters within the marine protected areas. They weren’t caught doing anything illegal but the mere fact that they were out there; it means that there is threat. When it comes to terrestrial at Bocawina, they actually discovered newly cut logging trails.   If we had not maintained our surveillance out there, there would have been major incidents. I can assure you of that.”


And so to keep up the surveillance and presence at these sites, the NGOs have implemented salary cuts; terminations; scale back of programmes and other activities. Some of the NGOs are also looking for new ways to introduce other income-generating activities at these protected areas.


Jose Perez

“Definitely attracting the local tourism is very important. So, what we are currently looking at is how to enhance the tourism attributes of each park to not only cater but to attract the local tourism.  At Mayflower Bocawina, for example, we have started a nursery programme and we are creating little short term employment for women to be involved in the preparation of these nursery plant bags. So, there are a number of initiatives we are looking at to involve the local communities but to also generate revenues.”


And with the P.G.I.A. closed indefinitely, many of these N.G.O.s are in need of support to carry out their conservation work.  APAMO is now engaging with the Protected Areas Conservation Trust for some relief. Ultimately, Perez believes that some of these N.G.O.s, just like small businesses and tourism industry, will likely need a bail out from government.


Jose Perez

“Government has to be involved and I think at some point in time we will have to reach out for some kind of relief. Because the work that we do, if we put it like this, will need some seed funding and even the seed funding is become challenged to access. So, yes, we will need government support and we cannot depend on the donor community.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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