Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. Mon. Aug. 30, 2021– Today, TASA representatives and stakeholders from the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations, and the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation gathered to unveil what has been described as the the largest concrete reef wreck site in the Caribbean: a decommissioned ship that is 375 feet long, 58 feet wide, and 38 feet high and that contains sixteen chambers, each 30 feet in height, that will serve as miniature “caves” for interested divers and tourists.
Before the plans for such a site could be brought to fruition, a lot of groundwork had to be laid beforehand. The environmental concerns of various conservation groups had to be addressed. The working group underwent extensive research and consultations with stakeholder groups to ensure that the development would not cause harm to the environment.
A suitable location had to be selected for this project so that the reefs or aquatic life would not be adversely affected. “We are looking at a large sandy area because we want no possible damage to the ecosystem, [to] any reef or [to[ major reef ecosystem, or [an area] that allows for a margin of error in sinking to ensure that the coral reefs are not impacted,” Valdemar Andrade, executive director of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, had said. The working group was able to find a spot in the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve called the “Oasis”, a 1000-foot wide area consisting of mostly sand, where the risk of harming aquatic life was minimal. The area has a gentle slope conducive to diving and is a 15-minute boat ride away from TASA headquarters.
The Department of Environment later examined the plans for the site, and on May 25, 2021, they provided TASA with an environmental permit.
Preparations for the decommissioning of the ship would then start. The working group contracted two companies, Green Waves Industry, and the Out Island Construction Company. The former assured them that the ship had met US standards while the construction company removed everything that could become hazardous to divers and/or the environment if the vessels were sunk. The two major concerns in this phase were asphalt that was found on the deck of the ship and anchor chain chambers that were filled with over 3,500 drums of oil. It was not until this week that the Department of Environment gave the final clearance for the ship.
This marks one of Belize’s most innovative projects to date. The wreck site will also serve as a spawning/breeding location, as well as a habitat for many small fishes.
Proceeds from this new development will be used to subsidize the costs of managing the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve.