Photo: Dead fishes found floating on the banks of the New River, Orange Walk District
by Kristen Ku
ORANGE WALK, Tues, May 30, 2023
Following an agonizing 3 years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the significant environmental concern of dead fish in the New River in the Orange Walk District has resurfaced. Back in mid-2019, the New River suffered an environmental crisis – an episode of mass fish death. The nauseating odor of decaying fish affected local communities, led to the relocation of schools and businesses, and prompted an intervention by the Department of Environment (DOE).
The COVID-19 pandemic did not slow down the DOE’s efforts to restore this critical northern waterway; the department has consistently conducted water quality tests, monitored industries, and ensured urban centers’ adherence to Belize’s Environmental Laws. They have collaborated closely with local authorities and agricultural sector representatives, implementing measures to reduce runoff into the river.
The DOE reports, encouragingly, that more than half of the light industries in Orange Walk Town have enhanced their wastewater and grey water discharge systems. At the time of the mass fish death, ASR/BSI was allotted a huge portion of the blame due to their wastewater breaching Belizean law standards, but recently, progress has been reported from the actions of ASR/BSI, which improved their wastewater treatment system and initiated the construction of cooling towers. The “Integrated New River Watershed Management Plan” and advanced research have also contributed to the improvement of the New River’s ecology.
Despite all this, unfortunately, on May 30, 2023, a resident of Orange Walk Town reported another “massive fish kill” in the New River, triggering an environmental alarm and once more, an environmental impact study on that ecological area.
The DOE is actively addressing the situation, which it acknowledges is of great concern for the community. Withholding from immediate interviews, they have informed Amandala of an in-depth, comprehensive press coverage scheduled for the upcoming week to discuss the present characteristics of the river, what has been done in their recent interventions, and what is in store for the near future.
Janelle Chanona, vice president of Oceana, shared that in her dialoguing with other conservation organizations about the issue, they have been left with questions after their inquiries have gone unanswered. “According to the groups, they’ve been asking for information and making inquiries on monitoring but no response,” informed Chanona.
Amandala reached out to Lisbeth Torres, the manager of Maracas Bar and Grill, a well-known local restaurant in Orange Walk which is situated in front of the New River at the end of Naranjal Street. The manager of the thriving business, an Orange Walk resident herself, describes the effects of the kill fish situation as quite minimal for the time being. However, the foul stench has increased as well as the number of dead fish visible and this has resulted in a number of complaints by customers, which is unfortunate for the business.
The streams head downward toward the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, so we also reached out to the Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD), co-managers along with the Forestry Department, into how they are monitoring the impacts of the polluted water in their area, but to press time, they have not responded. The situation remains fragile as residents and organizations await the building effects of this new episode and again, some sort of intervention by the DOE.