BELIZE CITY, Belize. Wed. Apr 14, 2021– Numerous cruise port projects being proposed to the Government of Belize have been raising Oceana’s concerns due to the possible threats that these projects pose to environmental safety and sustainability. An online leak of a government document granting permission for the construction of a cruise port approximately three miles south of the mouth of the Sibun River in the Belize District caused Oceana to break its silence.
Oceana’s concern stemmed from a letter dated April 9, 2021, that was signed by the Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, and was addressed to Portico Enterprise Ltd. (Port of Magical Belize). The letter in question grants the Portico Enterprise Ltd. permission to construct and operate the Port of Magical Belize — a cruise ship port and day resort development.
Oceana says its position is based on scientific principles. The area off the coast of the Belize District is a high retention zone (a region where there is limited exchange between currents and surrounding waters), and according to an Oceana release, “The proposed scale of dredging from even one project is a significant cause for concern.”
The new port site development project will involve a proposed mangrove clearing along the coast. Oceana highlights that mangroves are of great importance, especially at this time when there is a battle with climate change.
The Manatee Man, Jamal Galvez, also commented on the situation. He said, “If the ecosystem dies, the economy dies.” Such a massive development will surely have repercussions, he said. Galvez noted that studies have shown a direct correlation between tourism and manatee deaths. Those who are allowing such developments to take place “are pushing the manatee to the brink of extinction,” he said.
“We need to reassess and really evaluate the purpose of these organizations that are approving these things and ensure that they are doing what they are to do, because the Department of Environment and all these agencies are there to safeguard Belize’s environment,” said Galvez. The proposed development of a port will definitely affect the passage of manatees, megafaunas and other species that frequently traffic the area. The Manatee Man of Belize calls for development to be done in a more sustainable manner.
Despite the public concern, and the issues raised by Oceana, the Government of Belize has not issued an official press release on the matter to date; however, the Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, spoke about the matter today in an interview with Channel 5’s newsroom.
Alegria says that these environmental concerns had already been accounted for in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The Chief Environmental Officer said that the acceptance of the proposal was a lengthy process. “It was February they submitted a proposal, a concept. By the ending of February an EIA was requested of them and in March/April, we developed the terms of reference for the EIA and since then, March/April of 2019, they started developing the document via their EIA preparers”, he said.
The Portico Enterprise Ltd. had provided their first draft with the required EIA in January 2020. This submission followed a review by the National Environmental Assessment Committee (NEAC). There was a series of document exchanges and correspondence between the prospective port owners and the NEAC as the NEAC consistently requested supplementary information and addressed key areas of concern.
“The membership met on February 2 and at that meeting, which was the fourth NEAC meeting, that is when the decision was made to approve the EIA report with the supplemental info based on certain conditions that the NEAC either clarified, imposed or negotiated with the developer/investor”, said Alegria.
Oceana calls on the people of Belize to maintain awareness and demand meaningful engagement on development proposals. Not all developments are for the greater good of the country and environment. Oceana’s vice president, Janelle Chanona, said, “Taking the cautious approach will ensure that we are able to weigh the costs and benefits of our decisions. To do less than safeguard the very ecosystems and biodiversity that cruise visitors want to enjoy would be shortsighted and, in the end, economically detrimental to all Belizeans.”