Archive for July, 2009

Unlawful Development Threatens Belize’s Core Protected Areas

Cleared Area in Bladen Nature Reserve

A now well-established pattern of disregard for Belizean protected area law and value has reached an intolerable height in southern Belize.  The integrity of Belize’s crown jewel of protected areas and some of its most virgin jungle, Bladen Nature Reserve, has been abused in a manner similar to recent events at Victoria’s Peak in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and in South Water Caye Marine Reserve. The latter of which has ultimately left Belize’s Barrier Reef on the “List of World Heritage in Danger”.  Unplanned and unlawful development that benefits the few yet disregards the interest of local communities and the natural environment of Belize is a prevailing threat to this country’s comparative advantage of pristine protected areas.

Last week the construction of a new road in Colombia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve by Hydro Maya Inc. was halted as the company did not have necessary permits from the Forest Department or Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct such activities. The company’s plans include the construction of a hydro-power dam on the Central River within Bladen Nature Reserve, more than 15 miles into protected areas lands.  The proper procedure of applying for permit had not been followed.

Significant damage has already been inflicted on Bladen Nature Reserve, where the planned road had been marked and roughly three acres were cleared for the construction of three thatch buildings and a helicopter landing zone.  Evidence along the new road proves that illegal hunters have already taken advantage of improved access to the bountiful yet delicate wildlife of the reserve.  In a four day patrol with the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Forest Department and Ya’axché Conservation Trust recorded  evidence of a diversity of wildlife including jaguar, great curassow and howler monkey troops as well as unexcavated Maya ruins along the new road or in its path.  Also of note on the patrol was evidence of Guatemalan Xateros more than 17 kilometres into Belize.

Bladen Nature Reserve is protected at the highest level by Belizean Law.  Its role in the National Protected Area System is of pure conservation, research and education for the benefit of all Belizeans.    The upper Bladen watershed in the east and the Central River in the west, of the Nature Reserve, support a large extent of old-growth, primary tropical broadleaf forest, which helps safeguard the provision of clean water to many villages in Toledo.  The Nature Reserve also encompasses many unique vegetation assemblages, including upper-elevation and limestone hill forest – two of the most unique and significant threatened ecosystems of Central America.

The lack of respect for due process, community input and protected area law has become an all too common exploit of venture capitalists in Belize.  While the Toledo West Representative, Hon. Juan Coy, has keen interest in the construction of this proposed hydro dam, few other stakeholders, including the communities of San Miguel and San Pedro Colombia and the Belize Forest Department, have been consulted and as such they are unaware of the illegal activities which have been occurring over the past seven weeks.

Efforts to undermine the integrity of Bladen, and the processes and systems that protect Belize’s natural and cultural resources must be dealt with swiftly in order to curb this current pattern of unlawful and poorly planned development.

Hydro Maya Bulldozer in Forest Reserve

Hydro Maya Bulldozer in Forest Reserve

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Funding for Freshwater Research and Monitoring

Some good news for Ya’axche’s research and monitoring efforts and Belize’s freshwater systems this week…

Ms. Rachael Carrie, Ya’axche’s Freshwater Ecologist has secured funding from the Natural Environment (NERC) and Economic and Social Research Councils (ESRC) of the United Kingdom to develop biological assessment tools to assess human impact on the threatened rivers of Belize.

Whilst earning a Doctorate degree through Lancaster University, Ms. Carrie,  with the support of the Freshwater Biological Association of the UK and Ya’axche’, will seek to 1) develop ways in which communities and NGOs can monitor  human impacts on riverine health, and 2) measure the effectiveness of conservation efforts taken to maintain, restore and enhance ecosystem function.

Beautiful Rio Grande in Southern Belize (photo from Ya'axche)

Beautiful Rio Grande in Southern Belize (photo from Ya'axche)

Growing awareness that our planet’s freshwater ecosystems are in crisis as a result of human activities has led to the corresponding global need to design and test new, scientifically and socially robust methods for sustainable ecosystem management. This need calls for the development of economical, yet rigorous aquatic monitoring and assessment techniques which measure the effects of complex and cumulative human impacts and enable their effective management. Nowhere is the need more acute than in the culturally and biologically diverse tropics, where the impacts of poorly planned urbanization, agricultural expansion and intensification are exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure, resources and technical expertise.

The freshwater biodiversity of Latin American and the Caribbean is one of the most diverse on earth.  However, in many countries, such as Belize, there exists a scarcity of baseline information pertaining to almost every aspect of freshwater biodiversity. This research will use Belize as a case study to develop an interdisciplinary approach for the sustainable biological monitoring of tropical rivers.

Ya'axche's Freshwater Monitoring Team Hard at Work

Ya'axche's Freshwater Monitoring Team Hard at Work

The need for this research was identified by Ya’axche, TIDE, the Forest and Fisheries Department’s of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, The Nature Conservancy and Fauna and Flora International during a structured Conservation Action Planning process for the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor.  Ya’axche’ is thrilled to partner with Ms. Carrie, Lancaster University and the NERC and ESRC to work towards achieveing the objectives of this important regional Strategy and to build on and enhance their existing research and monitoring programme in the Maya Golden Landscape.

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