Posts Tagged toledo

Central American River Turtle



Please help look for hicatees


Women cleaning hicatees for sale photo taken by staff

Did you enjoy a tasty and traditional Easter meal of hicatee this year? If so, it may have been your last as this Critically Endangered species was listed as one of the Top 25 Turtles on Death Row by the Turtle Conservation Fund over 7 years ago. To be classified as Critically Endangered, the species must face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. In terms of biological diversity, the Dermatemys mawii (hicatee) is of very high importance; it is the single living genus and species in this family, which dates back to the Eocene.  

Preparing a female hicatee for sale at a market photo taken by staff

The main threat to the hicatee is over  hunting. Hunting regulations do apply in Belize,and include a closed season (the month of May), a take limit (maximum 3 per individual and 5 per vehicle), and limits on the size of females that can be killed. In addition, Belize Fisheries regulations state that no person shall buy or sell any hicatee turtle, however, for just one hour on one random day at the fish market in Belize City, I witnessed 4 hicatees being offered for sale. Obviously, national legislation to protect the hicatee turtle in Belize has been ineffective, wether due to lack of consistent enforcement or lack of general knowledge of, and compliance with, regulations.   

For adequate and realistic conservation measures to be adopted and enforced by the Government of Belize and the managers of the protected areas, there must be a drastic change in awareness in both governmental agencies and the public at large. This can only be brought about through the presentation of a comprehensive and accurate report on the current status of hicatee populations nationally, the threats impacting them, the outcome of current trends, and viable strategies to safeguard the species and critical habitat for future generations.   

Dermatemys mawii photo by Thomas Rainwater


There is a strong concern by conservationists, nationally and internationally about the sharp decline of the hicatee. From April-June of 2010, surveys were conducted throughout Belize by international reptile expert Thomas Rainwater (who took the accompanying photo), to assess the current hicatee population. Plans are underway to conduct a workshop to draft a National Conservation Action Strategy for the hicatee, with anticipated completion by the fall of 2010. Information on the outcome of these activities will be forthcoming.   


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Punta Gorda Community Clean-up

Seaside Cleaning

 Lately, there has been an increase in litter along the coast of Punta Gorda Town. Ya’axché, in collaboration with the Punta Gorda Town Council and other citizens of Toledo, has been cleaning up the garbage, debris and other pollution along PG’s coast. But only a few cannot handle the great excess garbage floating around.

The litter, debris, tree trunks and stumps are not here because of Belize’s poor waste 

Loading tree trunks onto trailer

management. Most of the garbage (consisting of products made and mostly used in Guatemala) are from our neighbouring countries who use these products. This is in addition to our home-grown garbage. 

Ya’axché, today, brought a trailer to remove the huge tree trunks and stumps from the seaside to an empty lot around the Burial Ground Area. This can be used as firewood when dry. Ya’axche also provided a chainsaw for cutting the trees into smaller pieces for easy clearing. 

The Town Council would like the entire Punta Gorda community to participate in this clean up. 

Some locals helping

 Punta Gorda needs our help to make it look beautiful. Not only is it unsightly, but it is not good for the health of young children who enjoy these waters and also tourists, not to mention providing a bad environment for the fish to live and regenerate in. We are not asking for money, but merely asking for your time to clean up our community. 

On Friday June 18th 2010, Ya’axché is asking the community to assist in this clean-up. Ya’axché will provide a trailer to transport and a chainsaw to cut the large tree trunks and stumps. Ya’axché’s staff will participate in this clean-up as well. 

Please come out to support this cause. Let’s make Punta Gorda Town a beautiful place where people want to visit. The community effort of people working together will make it even more beautiful . 

A beautiful sea we can enjoy

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Toledo villagers: no concession, no research permit for BHD in nature reserve

This article is an extract
from The Amandala Newsletter
Date Posted: 08/01/2010 – 10:23 A.M.
Author: Adele Ramos –

A group of villagers from San Pedro Columbia Toledo, and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust (YCT), an NGO wich co-manages the Bladen Nature Reserve of Toledo with the Forestry Department, continue their calls to the Government of Belize to revoke both the concession given to Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited (BHD) back in 2008 to develop the hydro electricity potential of the Rio Grande basin, and the permit for research awarded in 2009.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed the concession agreement on December 5,2008, granting it for 15 years with possible 10-year extension.

“It is very concerning that we would even contemplate a dam in a nature reserve,” said Lisel Alamilla, YCT’s executive director. “It brings to question the commitment to the protected areas of Belize. If you are willing to continue this, then really, there are no sacred cows.”

She told us that YCT is prepared to go to the Supreme Court for an injunction if the activities inside Bladen Nature Reserve are allowed to proceed, because it is the view of the NGO that allowing research activities in the reserve under a development concession demonstrates “a complete disregard for the Laws of Belize, specifically the National Parks Systems Act.

Alamilla visited Amandala today along with Michael Cus, secretary of the committee set up by area residents to investigate the works being done by BHD in Toledo. Also present were Bartolo Teul of YCT, who lives in Big Falls, Toledo; Stephanie Lara, villagers of San Pedro Columbia and committee member; and Nicanor Requeña, chairperson of the committee.

“We don’t want it,” said Requeña, saying that people living around the area of San Miguel, where the Hydro Maya dam is located, are already feeling the negative effects.

Requeña said that the Central River goes underground and them comes back to surface as the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande watershed that BHD has concession for, said Requeña, is the mother source of the freshwater in the area.

“We want to make sure we have water 10 years from now,” he added.

The nature reserve, said Alamilla, is the strictest form of safeguard for protected areas in Belize. The law, she added, only permits research inside a nature reserve for ecological purposes that would serve the interests of the reserve, and not for development projects.

Requeña said that base on the terms of the concession agreement, BHD is in the development stage of operations, which includes the hydrology studies they claim they are now conducting.

The group had met Wednesday with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, who is the minister with responsibility for Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido.

The Minister promised an assessment, but didn’t commit to anything , the group reported.

They also told us that Sabido promised to put a cease-an-desist order on BHD until the assessment is complete. (Despite numerous calls to Sabido’s office today, Amandala was unable to speak to him to find out if the order has been issued and implemented.)

Alamilla explained that Bladen Nature Reserve is the greatest of the three nature reserves in Belize; the others two being the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in Cayo and the Burton Canal Nature Reserve behind the Belama area of Belize City.

Allowing development inside Bladen, she said, leaves the already overexploited area “wide open” to further incursions by Guatemalan xatéros and other illegal activities.

BHD was fined last year for illegally commencing work in the protected area, as well as the adjacent Columbia River Forest Reserve, including bulldozing a road inside the protected areas.

The team told us that a subsequent assessment had revealed that personnel working for the company had opened up a total of 16 miles of road, some of it an old road that had been re-colonized by forest.

If it was “only a research,” the team questioned, why bring in a bulldozer?

“If they were not caught, they would have continued,” Requeña said.

He told us that the greatest concern of Toledo villagers is the health of the rivers, on which they depend to sustain them. The area is home to species that internationally are threatened, including some amphibians.

“Why give the concession agreement in the first place?” questioned Batolo Teul.

Teul said that while the residents of Toledo have been quiet in the past, a new attitude of activism is emerging, and they won’t be quiet any more.

They are concerned that xatéros continue to illegally exploit the area, and more will come with the newly expanded access created by BHD personnel to the protected areas.

Requeña said that while they were on their visit of the research sites in early December, they found xatéros and overworked horses, some of them dead, illegally occupying the protected area.

One of the xatéros they came across indicated that he had worked in Chiquibul, Cayo, and that area is largely decimated of xaté plants; hence he was now working down south. The xatéros indicated that within 5 years, there would be no more xate to take from Belize’s forests, Requeña recounted.

He exclaimed that they know Belize’s forests so well, that they have an idea how long it will take to reap all the xate leaves.

For xate extraction to be sustainable, the team explained, only two leaves should be drawn from a plant per year. However, xatéros take as many leaves as are there, because if they don’t make their bundles of 200 leaves, the purchasers, such as on operating out of Monte los Olivos, Guatemala, will not take them. Evidence of this, said Requeña, was seen when a xatéros left behind a bundle of 150 leaves, because it was short of 50 and he would not be able to sell it.

The continued loss of Belize’s forestry resources, including its prized woods, are seen by the group as one of the many costs that could come from opening access and bringing hydro development to Toledo.

Alamilla told Amandala that the NGO has already gotten legal opinion, and if government does nothing, is ready to go to court for an infunction to stop what they believe is illegal under the National Parks Systems Act.

“We have a deadline by which we need to file an injunction,” she expresses, emphasizing that they prefer to avoid going to court over the matter.

The group also indicated that while the claim is, that the projects are being undertaken to provide hydro power for Belize, they suspect that a land grab could be the wider motive, because initially, they had received reports that BHD would get 25 acres of community land at San Miguel to facilitate its project, but that figure had once ballooned to 500 acres. They claim that they do know how much acreage was finally awarded to the company.

If that could have happened with community lands, they say, imagine what would happen in this new development that involves Crown Lands in protected areas.

Bladen Nature Reserve comprises 99,782 acres, while the Columbia River Forest Reserve, a adjacent protected area in Toledo, comprises 148,303 acres.

Later on this month, the committee, which is producing a documentary, plans to do another assessment of the research area, and they will hold a community meeting subsequent to inform area residents of their findings.

Among those slated to attend is Candy Gonzales, environmental activist and lawyer known for advocacy against the dams on the Macal and their adverse environmental effects – most recently the ugly siltation of the Macal and Belize Rivers that lasted several weeks.

The committee says that anyone wishing to contribute their expertise to the cause can call the secretary, Michael Cus, at 626-8227 or email him at

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Finnegan Tells Conservationists that Deputy PM Gaspar Vega Misspoke

The following article was extracted from
7 News dated January 7, 2010.

The Bladen Reserve in southern Belize is called a core conservation area – which means that it should be ensured the highest status of protection. But the conservationist groups that co-manage it say that government is allowing a developer to run roughshod over the reserve. That developer is Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited and according to the Yaxche Conservation Trusts which co-manage Bladen, they have been invading the park to conduct a feasibility study which is called research. They ventilated this issue on Lik Road with Michael Finnegan last night.

Lisel Alamilla, Co-manager, Yaxche
“We are concerned that government is even contemplating a building of a dam within a nature reserve which is the strictest category of protection within our park systems. They have cleared an area, they are landing helicopters, all in contravention of the conditions of their permit. There is sign of graffiti all over the place or they are just leaving messages for one another. There are saying they are only doing a hydrological study but really we feel that they are causing more damage than is necessary to even conduct a research if that was their sole intention.”

Darrel Bradley, Co-Host
“But at this stage it is simply that tests are being done, it is not as if government or any agency or the people of Belize have committed to having anything built.”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Why are you even contemplating a hydro dam within a nature reserve which is the strictest category of protection? There are no sacred cows? Nothing is off limits?”

Michael Finnegan, Host
“What is going wrong, what illegally are they doing?”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Well first of all they entered the Bladen Nature Reserve without any kind of permit. The fact that they entered earlier without any regard to our law and then came to us and said they didn’t know it was a nature reserve and I didn’t know I needed to get permission. Come on, you’ve done this before. And then we went in and we conducted an assessment along with Forestry Department and we calculated very conservatively, that the damages was $125,000 and that is what they should be fined.”

Darrel Bradley,
“What are we talking about in terms of on the ground that was done?”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Well they built roads without permit, they fell trees, they clogged up streams, just to build a little causeway. They cleared about an acre within the nature reserve, they built camp, they set up thatch, and they blocked creeks.”

Michael Finnegan,
“But then they are in violation of this agreement that they signed with government because this agreement tells you straight and plain that you are not supposed up camp, there should be minimal damage.”

Nick Requena, San Pedro Colombia
“The hottest issue in our village right now is this hydro-dam thing and everybody wants to know what is happening. Government is not telling us what is happening.”

Michael Finnegan,
“Lack of communication.”

Nick Requena,
“Everybody said we have to stop this white man who is doing this and we said no man, let good heads prevail. Slow down; we can’t just protest, we can’t just go and stop somebody, we need to stop what is happening. We’ve invited our Area Representative and he didn’t attend two of the first meetings and then on 21st we had a meeting and we told him, ‘Area Rep., Hon. Juan Coye, do you know of this concession agreement that was signed by the government of Belize in the person of Hon. Dean Barrow,’ and he said I don’t know anything about this concession agreement. He said I only became aware of this when you all had a public meeting on November 1st at the school and when people started to talk about it.”

Michael Finnegan,
“I can tell you that is not true. I know it is not true…I am not disputing what you are saying, I am saying what he tell you is not true. I know that for a fact.”

And if you thought Finnegan was rough on his Cabinet colleague Juan Coy – who he just accused– of not telling the truth, he also threw his Deputy Prime Minister under the bus saying he misspoke. Yesterday those conservation and community groups had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. They described it as cordial but were disturbed by what he said.

Lisel Alamilla,
“The Deputy Prime Minister stated that look if this was going to give us more energy at cheaper then we are going to build it. He did state that and I wrote that quote…if it is going to provide Belize with more electricity.”

Michael Finnegan,
“Yeah but doesn’t sound too correct because this is a study…and if anybody to tell you that that is going to go on then they are misinforming you and I can’t really think that that quote you quoted there, I am disputing you, but it sounds hard that it can be accurate.”

Lisel Alamilla,
“The Deputy Prime Minister was saying yes, we should this, we should partner, but the laws are there. I didn’t leave the meeting with them saying that there is a commitment to adhere to our laws. They said yes they will go in there but we said and by when will you make a decision and they said it is not fair for us to demand that because weather might prevent us from doing x, y, z etc. I don’t think it was done with any malice but I think this thing is going too long.”

We were unable to get a comment from the Ministry. The Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited has issued a release saying that, “we are not building a Hydroelectric Project on the Central River in the Toledo District. We are not proposing a Hydroelectric Project on the Central River in the Toledo District at this time.”

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December 13th 2009 Hydro Dam Meeting

The following are extracts from the meeting at San Pedro Columbia regarding the Potential Hydro Dam in Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee
San Pedro Columbia Village
Toledo District
Belize, C.A
December 14, 2009
San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District

Addressed to the Prime Minister of Belize Hon. Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Barrow Is Called To Stand In Solidarity With Belizeans And Ensure That Our Laws Are Respected.

Over 300 Belizeans from several communities in Toledo in attendance of a public meeting held on December 13, 2009 in San Pedro Columbia call upon the Prime Minister to act in the interest of Belizeans and our protected areas. Despite a number of requests to our area representative, Hon. Juan Coy and the Chief Forest Officer, Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Ltd. (BHD) none has dialogued with us.  As a result of the many unanswered questions in regards to unsustainable development specifically the proposed construction of a hydroelectric facility in our most pristine areas we formed the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee which sent a team to see firsthand what the development company was doing. The concerns, findings and recommendation generated from this Educational Field Visit and from community members were presented at this community meeting which started at 1:30 pm and concluded at 6:15 pm.  We found numerous violations reference BHD’s permit and the National Park System Act, which has resulted in the following resolution:

We hereby call upon the Government of Belize to REVOKE the concession agreement granted to Belize Hydro-electric Development and Management Ltd (BHD) on December 5, 2008 signed by the Prime Minister Hon. Dean O Barrow. This development activity, in one of Belize’s most pristine areas, threatens the ecological integrity of Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve along with the social well being of several communities in the Toledo District.  We will no longer accept the unsustainable use of our natural resources that are the lifeline of our society.

Furthermore, the Toledo Alcaldes Association convened an emergency meeting with all its Alcaldes on December 14th, 2009 and unanimously stood in solidarity with the resolution tabled at the San Pedro Columbia meeting held on December 13, 2009.

We request that the Government of Belize adhere and publicly respond to the December 13th 2009 public resolution. In the event that this is not addressed in its entirety we will have no other option but to engage in a peaceful protest to demand that our rights and the rights of our protected areas be fully respected and ask for the December 5th 2008 Concession Agreement to be REVOKED.

For more information please contact:
Nicanor Requena, Committee Chairman, San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District
Belize, C.A, Cell number: 628-4252, email:

Central River in Bladen Nature Reserve


Good Afternoon Village Committee, Honourable Juan Coy,  Mr. Jeff, Villagers of Columbia and other invited guests.

Season Greetings to All

Ms Ash making her speech

I am a villager of San Pedro Columbia with concern about this hydro dam that they are planning to build between Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserves. These two places are reserves and it can be sold however a Nature Reserve  needs to be de-reserved if so be the case more so this is yet another process for BHD to undertake. In such cases the government should ask the people in the south, especially the villages of Columbia but instead taking the authority to do whatever they want is not right. This dam, if built, might not be beneficial to everyone but will affect many adversely, for sure. What are the consequences of this? Honourable Coy do you think you should listen to the people and do what they want? Yes people want jobs like you’ve said in the previous meeting but not in this form of development by the way, I should not say development but rather “destruction” because it will destroy our beautiful rivers and our environment. There are other means that we can help in getting jobs for people; for example getting funding for people to do farming, raising chickens, doing business like how Plenty Belize and SHI are doing.

Also I know this dam will produce electricity but ­let me tell you electricity is not that important like water which is the essential one for living and land which God made for everyone to enjoy. Let’s look at the past, our ancestors didn’t use electricity but they survive; also, an alternative way of getting electricity is through solar power which does not damage anything but it can also create jobs because someone can be trained to install and maintain it.

By the way I did a survey on the views of the people in my village about hydro dam, which they are planning to build. It resulted to 90% against the dam so this show us that the people don’t want it because of its negative impacts and we use the river for washing, drinking, bathing, recreational purposes, travelling also not only the villagers use it but people from PG and other areas within the country or outside come to enjoy the relaxation given by this river and bathe in the nice, cool, crystal water of this Columbia River.

I am asking you, Mr. Jeff, to please leave this village with its beauty, leave the two reserves alone. What else do you want? You have already built a dam in San Miguel, which is enough. This Esperanza river is the Central River so do you see what we don’t want to happen to us and the rest of the villages? Honourable Coy, can you please do what you think the people deserve? Remember when you wanted their support, they were there with you always and now that you are in position you wouldn’t even bother to look at us. Let me tell you something before you make a mistake, listen to your people do what they want and you will see what they will do in return. Think about your governance because I know you want it to last for 5 years perhaps more. So pass on this concern to the rest of the branch of government. I am asking for the people of Columbia to voice up your concerns; don’t be afraid everyone has rights. As for the future generation like myself let us help the villagers to get what we all want because we are the future of our family, village, and country so let us cooperate and stop this destruction from this dam and let us stop the xateros from the  illegal harvesting of xate. Come on we need to achieve our goals by stopping this.

As for the organization and other individuals strongly supporting this concern with the people of Columbia, I encourage you to continue because your assistance is needed and appreciated.

My name is Aliana Ash. I am a high-school student at TCC and I am 16 years old and if I, at the age of 16, can see that it is a mistake then it is should be clear to adults that this dam is a mistake, with this I say, THANK YOU!!!

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