Photo: Deborah Ruiz, Chief Executive Officer of the SSB
by Kristen Ku
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 16, 2023
Over the past few years, our Belizean beaches have often been subjected to an influx of sargassum that has become a huge cause for concern.
While in moderate amounts, sargassum, which is a large brown seaweed that floats around in large clumps on the surface of seas and oceans, serves as a nursery for a variety of sea animals when floating on the surface. In excessive amounts it can become a great nuisance as it covers the beaches and shallow waters, and it eventually falls to the sea floor and decomposes, giving off a very unpleasant “rotten egg” odor.
Seaside tourist resorts have battled with this problem, which is a severe threat to the industry, and they have had to engage in an extensive, costly effort to try and keep beaches clean and attractive for their guests.
In trying to deal with this problem, the NGO directors of Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which covers approximately 18 square kilometers in the vicinity of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, have been seeking investors for a proposed project to minimize, if not control, the influx of sargassum in their area.
On Friday of last week, the Social Security Board (SSB) announced that they had approved a loan of $3.5 million to the Hol Chan reserve.
Some members of the public, however, have objected to this use of workers’ funds and have questioned whether the non-governmental organization is in fact capable of repaying this kind of money.
However, the Chief Executive Officer of SSB, Deborah Ruiz, explained to reporters that she is secure in the fact that the organization is capable of paying back that loan.
“You know, we are always looking for loan opportunities and Hol Chan did approach us in terms of getting 3.5 million dollars. As you know, the sargassum is a problem for the waterfront areas, especially the cayes in the height of tourist season so their proposal … they will be putting some barriers in the three main channels that hopefully will direct and minimize the impact on the shoreline, so yes, that is there. They have in fact approached us in terms of their numbers, the viability you know is tied to the tourism numbers, and we have seen a rebound. It’s not back to where it was pre-COVID, but the numbers have significantly increased … They have the collateral; they did have an issue in terms of the recent past, but those numbers and internal controls have been put in place to our satisfaction that we feel it’s a reasonable investment to make, and it certainly was higher than what we would get if we leave our money in the bank. 6.75%, I believe, is the rate that was agreed,” she told local media.