BELIZE CITY, Fri. Aug. 20, 2021– In November of 2020, the announcement that Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited planned to carry out dredging to transform a portion of the Port of Belize property into a cruise terminal and cruise tourism village sparked major concerns. Waterloo Investment Holdings (an entity with ties to Lord Michael Ashcroft) had held a public consultation to present their plans for this venture and explain how it could be a major revenue generator for Belize’s tourism industry. But the primary response from members of the community who are trying to protect our natural resources was not excitement over their revenue-generation claims. Rather it was concern—in fact alarm — among conservationists who have been drawing attention to the great harm such a project could cause to Belize’s marine systems.
A number of conservation-focused NGO’s, including Oceana, the World Wildlife Fund, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, the Belize Audobon Society, Fragments of Hope, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, SEA Belize and Ecomar, subsequently joined forces and sent a letter to Prime Minister John Briceno to state their opposition to the project. In their letter they made three major points: that the oceanic dumping associated with this project could cause major damage to Belize’s Barrier Reef, that a comprehensive cruise port strategy should be conducted by an independent consultant before further port development, and that the laws should be revised so that the public can play a greater role in the handling of our shared natural resources.
Prime Minister Briceno responded by saying that he would forward the letter to the relevant government ministries, and the Fisheries Department later issued a statement that they would be reviewing the project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (EIA). Less than a year later, those NGO’s have written another letter, this time to the CEO of the Department of the Environment, Mr. Martin Alegria, regarding an addendum to the EIA of the project.
The letter states that “the online and print notices regarding the addendum to the ESIA make no reference to any further public consultations on the changes/amendments/updates to the development proposal. The importance of further opportunity for the public to understand the merits or demerits of the changes being proposed and to field questions about the information provided, before understanding or adopting a position on the changes being proposed, is essential and cannot be overstated.”
The letter goes on to reference the response of Justice Courtney A. Able to Claim 223 of 2014 between the Belize Tourism Industry Association and the National Environmental Appraisal Committee, the Department of the Environment and Belize Island Holdings Limited (Harvest Caye Cruise Port), which laid out the importance of meaningful public consultation in addressing key concerns surrounding projects such as these. The NGO’s have therefore called on Mr. Alegria in his capacity as CEO of the Department of the Environment to monitor the implementation of the Environmental Protection Act and the EIA Regulations and have made clear that they are now awaiting an announcement of further public consultations on the matter.
In closing, the letter stressed that it is critical that those consultations be done before Waterloo’s project is put forward for consideration for approval in the environmental clearance process. That type of consideration for approval must be “premised on meaningful participation of the Belizean public at large”, the letter said.
The founder of Fragments of Hope, Lisa Carne, spoke to AMANDALA this week and said that she was sent a copy of the addendum and asked for professional feedback on the original EIA by “someone in the government”. Carne reportedly requested technical support from the University of Miami and received information that the original EIA for the project was based on “inaccurate hydrodynamic modeling.” Subsequently she further explained what was shared in the addendum:
“They had not taken into account our three atolls that we have and they have very high retention, so we have a unique water circulation patterns in Belize. That basically means what happens in Belize stays in Belize. So, that’s why we have such high biodiversity, meaning we also have endemic species that are found only in Belize like small fishes and different vertebrates – that if those populations are destroyed they cannot be seeded from elsewhere. Since we have this unique circulation pattern, it’s nothing like the Yucatan, it’s nothing like Honduras. And it’s related to the three offshore atolls that we have. So in a nutshell the previous EIA treated the atolls as if they were flat, as if they didn’t have steep sloping reefs which they do — they have wall edges. And so that changes the circulation patterns,” she said.
Carne also stated that further consultations with experts have shown that sediment dumping would wash back onto the reef and as a result the addendum seeks to “change the spoils from offshore dumping to nearshore dumping,” which would still affect our reef system. Carne asserts that this change does little to protect our aquatic resources, as four million cubic centimeters of sediments will still be dumped near the shoreline. She also stated that there are a number of ongoing issues with ongoing dredging projects both large and small that are already being conducted:
“The overall problem is that we already have Harvest Caye, we already have Stake Bank — why would you even consider these two additional cruise ship ports, especially in proximity to Stake Bank, which personally I didn’t condone. So that’s the big picture, and then the small picture is all the nitty gritties of development. The real problem I have is, that we’ve been monitoring, over the years, smaller dredging projects like even the maintenance project at Big Creek Port, which you need regular maintenance for. They messed up and all these mangroves died, and fishing sights were ruined.”