The Belize Natural History Centre at Chaa Creek has applauded a recent government decision to deny approval for a large cruise ship project in an environmentally sensitive area of Southern Belize, according to the Centre’s assistant manager Brion Young.
Mr Young said that the decision sends a clear message that Belize is serious about protecting its natural environment.
“When the proposal to build a large cruise ship facility at Crawl Caye in Southern Belize was announced, alarm bells were set off all across the Belize,” Mr Young said. “It’s not just environmentalists who were concerned, but stakeholders in Belize’s tourism industry as well. We have a great reputation as a clean, environmentally conscious travel destination, and that’s something we want to maintain,” he said.
Belize’s main travel industry body, the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), has come out strongly against the proposal. According to a BTIA news release of May 30, 2013, “By opening the Southern portion of the country to large scale cruise ship visitation, the proposal fundamentally contradicts the country’s tourism master plan and irrevocably positions Belize as a mass tourism destination. This 180 degree shift from Belize’s identity as an authentic eco cultural destination is inexplicable in view of the uninterrupted success of Belize’s dynamic overnight tourism sector.”
Mr Young said at issue is a proposed development plan by Norwegian Cruise Lines to build a port on Crawl Caye, a small island off the southern coast of Belize, which will facilitate cruise lines operations in southern Belize. Crawl Caye, which is privately owned and currently on sale for US $6 million, is surrounded by sensitive coral reef formations and sits within the Belizean section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. In addition, the caye is inside the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Opposition to the plan was widespread throughout Belize. Healthy Reef Initiative director Dr. Melanie McField, in an open letter to Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow wrote, “Construction of the cruise terminal would involve massive mangrove clearing and marine dredging, which would severely damage or destroy the fringing reef, sea grass beds, and mangrove forest – all critical marine ecosystems supporting fisheries, tourism and biodiversity.”
On June 5th, the Belize government issued a statement that “Cabinet accepted the recommendation from a Technical Team working with Cabinet’s Sub-committee, examining Norwegian Cruise Line’s proposal for a Cruise Terminal, that Crawl Caye in the Southern Waters cannot be developed as a cruise terminal because of numerous environmental considerations.”
In the statement, Prime Minister Barrow said the government would still consider further proposals from Norwegian Cruise Lines. “However, in an effort to stimulate employment and open up other economic benefits for Belizeans in the South, Cabinet did support Norwegian Cruise Line’s request to search for an alternate site in Southern waters.”
Mr Young said that with increased attention on development in south Belize, there will be more scrutiny, both in Belize and overseas, of any further development projects.
“While we all certainly applaud cabinet’s decision, and salute Prime Minister Barrow for rejecting this specific proposal. However, we are aware that Belize’s stunning natural beauty makes it a target for exploitation, so constant vigilance is necessary.
“Fortunately, we live in a healthy democracy, and Belizeans are very aware of how precious and fragile our natural assets are and, as this recent decision shows, not afraid to speak up when those assets are under threat.
“I think this bodes well for the future of Belize,” Mr Young said.