Letters — 31 May 2013 — by Melanie McField, PhD

May 28, 2013

Dear Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Barrow,

I write to formally express our strong concern over the proposed NCL cruise terminal on Crawl Caye and our hope that Cabinet will conclude the entertaining of this idea with a firm rejection. Our fundamental question to the government is: How could this development possibly be worth it? We acknowledge that cruise passengers would have an improved experience and NCL would make massive additional profits by exercising complete control over their island base, but at what cost to Belize and Belizeans?

The costs are substantial, unavoidable, and irreversible; and include:

1) Environmental costs: Crawl Caye is a fragile mangrove island surrounded by fringing coral reefs. These inshore coral reefs have recently been shown to harbor more robust and resilient corals than the outer barrier reef, and could help our reef system adapt to the changing global climate if they remain free from localized stress and injury. Construction of the cruise terminal would involve massive mangrove
clearing and marine dredging, which would severely damage or destroy the fringing reef, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest – all critical marine ecosystems supporting fisheries, tourism and biodiversity. In addition to the unavoidable direct impacts of construction are the chronic impacts from having thousands of people daily visiting this and nearby fragile areas. Finally, there is the additional risk of having a ship grounding, possibly including an oil spill, as these massive ships would be traversing the entire southern lagoon and out by Sapodilla Cayes. Given our lack of a functional oil spill response plan, it would be irresponsible to allow this additional risk into the heart of our marine ecosystem.

2) Probable loss of our World Heritage Site. In 2009 our Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was inscribed on the list World Heritage Sites in Danger, due to “the sale and lease of public lands for the purposes of development within the property leading to the destruction of mangrove and marine ecosystems.”

The main incident provoking this danger listing was the dredging and filling of Pelican Cayes, a biodiversity hotspot located a mere 5 miles away from Crawl Caye, with both cayes being inside the South Water Caye Marine Reserve.

The World Heritage Commission further requested that Belize:

a)”Implement the necessary legal measures to guarantee the permanent cessation of the sale and lease of lands throughout the property, and the cessation of mangrove cutting, coral dredging and other associated real estate development activities; and b) Ensure that development rights on existing private or leased lands within the property are clearly defined and strictly controlled with a view to conserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the property”.

Clearly a mass cruise ship terminal is in direct contravention of this request and would likely result in our permanent de-listing as a World Heritage Site.

3) Degradation of the value of two of the main tourism destinations: Placencia and Hopkins. As one of many participants in many public consultations about cruise-tourism and coastal development, including the Seatone Report, the Sustainable Tourism Project and Master Planning Process, and the recent Coastal Zone Planning Process, we stand by their conclusions that Southern Belize remain
free from mass cruise tourism, which is known to cheapen the tourism product and accelerate natural resource degradation. The South should remain solidly grounded in overnight high-end or small-scale eco-tourism, which contributes much more revenue to the local population and provides better livelihood options for the people.

4) Increased economic hardship in Belize City. Many city residents are extremely concerned about the socio-economic repercussions of large-scale cruise ship abandonment of Belize City. This proposed change to the cruise policy is insensitive to the thousands Belizeans who have invested, large or small, in the cruise industry. Their investments were founded on a clear governmental policy that only allowed
mass cruise tourism in Belize City. This large Belize City cruise-constituency would take the brunt of the economic blow from the cruise industry’s abandonment of Belize City. Belize City Council would also feel the loss of probably 2/3 the cruise tax and other cruise-based revenues (estimated at about $14million/yr). All this just as Mayor Bradley’s city refurbishment is well underway, including the Fort George tourism zone, which would likely fail to achieve the needed numbers to support the vendors.

Given that neither NCL nor GOB have provided the public with even a rough draft of a comprehensive national cost-benefit analysis of this project, nor the proposed conditions or fiscal incentives of any draft MOU, civil society is thus unable to make more specific comments at this time. We hereby request a seat at the discussion table.

Together we could better fully examine the fundamental question of total cost and benefits to Belize of this proposal, given the high environmental, social, and economic costs to the people and resources of Belize? The burden of such proof should be on the shoulders of NCL, since they are essentially asking Belize to abandon all of our existing tourism policies and plans, and likely to give up our Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site in order for their private company to enjoy expanded profits.

Melanie McField, PhD
Director, Healthy Reefs Initiative
Cc: Cabinet Ministers and Belize media

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