CORONA REEF, Toledo District. Wed. Apr.14, 2021– The Corona Reef serves as the most under-represented habitat in the marine protected areas system of Belize. It was recently included in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve and serves as an important outlet for fish-spawning aggregation (FSA). Last week, the Toledo Institution for Development and Environment (TIDE), issued a press release stating the collaborative efforts between Belize and Guatemalan researchers at the Corona Reef, also known as Cayman’s Crown.
The wording of the release drew the ire of local activists Geovanni Brackett and Wil Maheia (of the Belize Territorial Volunteers), who said that the press release insinuates that a portion of the reef belongs to Guatemala, while that is far from the reality.
Brackett says we should not tolerate the dissemination of any information that suggests that Guatemala owns any sections of the reef. He said, “We shouldn’t be appeasing Guatemala by going into getting any agreement so that we don’t have any trouble with Guatemalan authorities. What kind of legal implication will that have at the ICJ at The Hague? And so it is for that reason that I lobbied, I try to get the peace movement, and they have to convene meetings.”
Maheia supports Brackett’s statement, and he himself remarked, “Precedence was set when the area was declared a marine reserve, and there was no objection from Guatemala at that time when this area was declared a marine reserve. I understand that Guatemala has also declared a part of their waters as a marine reserve.”
Maheia said, “I think the government have a responsibility to educate the public about where the Corona Reef is exactly.”
The Minister of the Blue Economy, Hon. Andre Perez, responded by saying that the focus should be guided towards how to better protect the marine area, which requires research and cooperation between two neighboring countries.
While bilateral agreements are important, Wil Maheia of the Belize Territorial Volunteers believes that national and border security is of paramount importance. Maheia said he has no objections to collaborative efforts with Guatemala and Honduras, as long as they understand and acknowledge that the reef is a part of Belize’s territory.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the area straddles the maritime borders of both states and that the permission request was mutual. Both Guatemalan and Belizean stakeholders sought permission from involved entities.
Geovanni said that he is unsure if that is indeed the situation. He said, “I know that the Corona Reef is close by the border area. We have a border with Guatemala up the Sarstoon River. I don’t know if the Corona Reef is like that. My knowledge of the Corona Reef is that it is inside Belize. There is a chance that the reef extends into Guatemala, but I know the documents that I have seen show that the reef is in Belize.”