Mike Campbell – In the not to distant past San Pedro was a small fishing village. There were many lobster and plenty of fish of all kinds. Because of the vast amount of fish and lobster San Pedro and the reef were “discovered” and people started to come to San Pedro for the fishing. They stayed here a few nights, went fishing, met the friendly Islanders and returned home to spread the word. This helped San Pedro a lot.
Money was circulating as it had not in the past. The life of a fisherman is hard and except for the lobster it did not really pay well, but it seemed almost everyone benefited in some way from our visitors. As a community it was agreed that we should focus on tourism as the fishing industry appeared to be declining. This started the development of the Island and accelerated the hotel and tourism industry as a whole. As more and more people came the condo industry was started and bars and restaurants flourished, all of course owned by local folk who really appreciated the chance to make a better life for themselves. After all that is what development is all about. The government seeing this, designated Marine Protected Areas and Hol Chan to protect and enhance the fledgeling tourism industry which was based on the snorkelers and divers who came. This was necessary to protect certain areas from the fishermen who seemed intent on its destruction by overfishing.
In our zeal to prosper and develop we are forgetting why we are now in this position and why so many developers wish to participate. First thing we must admit is that the developers are here only to make money. They believe they can do so based on the amount of people coming here and the potential of much more tourism in the future. They are willing to ask for any environmental concessions we will grant. Of course the community does benefit in a large way from the construction and we all welcome it.
Now we are systematically dredging the coastline of San Pedro all the while admitting that it is prime habitat for baby lobster, sport fish and adult and juvenile marine animals of an incredibly diverse nature. We are doing this in the name of progress and development with part of the justification being we are not a fishing village any more, we are a tourist destination and need to allow this to happen to accommodate construction.
The most important factor in converting this construction activity into sustainable development is to understand why people come here. In a word its the FISH! Just as it always has been. People come to either see the fish, catch the fish and/or eat the fish and others come to make money from those who come to see or catch the fish. We speak of the Reef as if it were holy and it is. It is holy because it is habitat to all the fish and marine animals that attract our visitors. Were there no fish the reef would not be very interesting at all and no one would come. It is clearly the fish that make the difference but without the reef there would be no fish or San Pedro for that matter.
Another justification of the dredging along the east coast is the Town Council’s need for sand fill for the roads as they get a percentage of the dredged material. Of course we do need roads and road maintenance in the worst way and the Town Council is willing to sacrifice the environment for this purpose. This rings very hollow.
The San Pedro Town Council and the Minister of Tourism are the darlings of the UDP unquestionably. I do not understand why they do not DEMAND from central government our fair share. We all know that San Pedro pays for many of the bills of the country as a whole and we are glad we play an important role in the economy of our nation. We do however except to get our fair share of the budget. We have no Ministry of Works here, where is our share of that budget? That’s where our roads are supposed to come from, not from grinding up the very thing that has brought us the prosperity of the last twenty years.
There is a published an average of 300 police per person in Belize. That being said we should have 40 officers on the Island all the time. Why don’t our elected officials do something about it? We were all very happy when we thought that the power of the Town Council and our Rep could be finally brought to bear for the good of the Town. How wrong we were.
In years gone by what dredging that was permitted on the east coast was required to be no closer than 300 feet and usually farther from the shore. Please remember that when you dredge the shallows you not only grind up the habitat that WE require to survive but you also grind up all the baby lobster and small creatures that get in the way. Then we spread it on our roads where it washes away with the first rain. Dredging in the shallows also produces much more slit and sedimentation that when reaching the reef attaches to the living coral suffocating it damaging that environment as well.
As a Town we are more dependent on the health of our fish and marine life than ever. Without protecting these critical resources they will be destroyed by greedy developers. After the fish are gone the tourists will no longer come. San Pedro is no longer a fishing village living by killing fish. We are a growing Town that has become a major tourist destination with our attraction being the fish and diverse marine life that depend on this habitat to survive. A habitat that we should strive to protect as a nonrenewable and very fragile resource. A responsible developer would not even consider dredging the east coast and certainly not the shallows.
Nationally we have passed a Catch and Release Law aimed at developing our game fish/tourism industry while the San Pedro Town Council, with full knowledge of what they are doing, systematically destroys the habit of the species we are nationally trying to protect and develop as a renewable resource. This is done with the knowledge and agreement of the Department of Environment and I assume Fisheries as well. Ambergris Caye and its lagoons is the primary bonefish habitat in Belize and is far more valuable than a few yards of sand.
Dredging is not always bad. There are many areas that can be dredged for the benefit of all an example being the river. San Mateo could certainly use the fill and the river needs to be deeper. Using dredging on the west coast of North Ambergris Caye to enhance development of residential areas to take development pressure off San Pedro is another example of responsible use of dredging in a less sensitive area. This is opposed to allowing dredging for rich investor/developers in super sensitive areas that irreversibly destroy the environment that supports us all.
Of all our Town Councilors and Mayor, Joe Elijio alone stands as a voice for conserving our future. He is committed to our fight with the Town Council and Area Rep to restore conservation as a major factor in our development decisions. Joe believes that more public consultation would have avoided these very problems and realizes that the way of the past cannot be the way of the future. He deserves our support and thanks for his stand and we hope other Councilors will also realize that we must change and join our fight. We can all work together to find better solutions to our problems through consultation and cooperation.
Remember: NO FISH = NO TOWN