The recent replacement of an environmentally damaging fishing operation with a green, environmentally friendly enterprise is one more sign that Belize is becoming a model for sustainable development and responsible tourism, according to The Lodge at Chaa Creek.
Chaa Creek owner Lucy Fleming said the recent conversion of a deep sea fishing boat from bottom trawling to seaweed farming had far ranging implications for this small Caribbean country whose economy depends on eco-tourism.
“Belize is such a small country that everything is interdependent, and we all depend on the health of our pristine environment. So to see this fishing trawler converted from an environmentally destructive to an environmentally sustainable business is great news.
“It also seems to be a symbol of the direction Belize is moving in,” she added.
Ms Fleming was referring to the recent hand-over of the “Northern II,” a former deep sea bottom trawler, by the international environmental organisation Oceana to the Placencia Producers Cooperative Society, to be used in a new seaweed farming venture.
When the destructive commercial fishing practice of bottom trawling was banned in Belize in 2010, Oceana bought the remaining two working boats. On May 25 2013, the “Northern II,” was formally handed over to the Placencia Producers Cooperative Society, a village fishing cooperative.
According to Oceana vice president Audrey Matura Shepard, the organisation gave the Placencia Village coop the trawler for one dollar after reviewing the sea weed farming project and deciding it was economically feasible and environmentally sustainable.
“When we saw this very innovative project that will not only take out from the sea but will also put back what they take out, and keeping a certain level of equilibrium, it had to be something we support,” Ms Matura Shepard said.
Ms Fleming said that while environmentalists and naturalist guides at Chaa Creek and across Belize saluted the project, it was also good news for Belize’s tourism industry and the economy as a whole.
“For example, we have a strong eco-tourism base because of the natural, untouched beauty of Belize. The Placencia seaweed farming project is viable because of Belize’s unpolluted, rich Caribbean seacoast. Maya farmers in southern Belize produce some of the most sought-after organic cacao in the world, again, because of Belize’s pristine and diverse natural environment.
“So the addition of one more sustainable business replacing a destructive one and providing employment is great news with positive flow-on effects for all of us.
“The more we develop these green sustainable industries the better chance we have of preserving what makes Belize so special,” Ms Fleming said.
With a list of supporters that reads like a celebrity who’s who, including actors Morgan Freeman, Kate Walsh, Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosnan, director James Cameron, musician Ben Harper and others, Oceana is an international environmental organisation that has been active in Belize for years.
The Placencia Producers Cooperative Society was formed in 1962 as a village fishing cooperative and is currently engaged in developing long term, sustainable practices for its members. “For a change we saw a fishing group that understood the concept (of sustainability)…” Ms Matura Shepard said when discussing the Placencia Coop’s success in its application to acquire the “Northern II.”
Ms Fleming said that the Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize’s first eco-resort, has been introducing travellers to the Belize Great Barrier Reef and its many small islands since 1981 and has always had a strong interest in the health of Belize’s stunning Caribbean seacoast.
“Even though we’re based in the rainforests of the Maya heartland our love affair with Belize’s beautiful Caribbean has been ongoing for many years, so this new joint venture between Oceana and the Placencia Coop is definitely cause for celebration, and we look forward to seeing more creative green ventures of this sort,” Ms Fleming said.