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Turneffe Atoll Trust launches “Risking the Atoll” study on the analysis of Environmental and Economic Effects of Improperly regulated Development at the Turneffe Atoll

The Turneffe Atoll Trust today launched the “Risking the Atoll” report. It looks at the unsustainable activities, particularly unregulated development, at the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve that continues to threaten that ecosystem, highlighting past failures to protect the reserve and the damages it has sustained. The report also shows how it contributes to economic and social development of the country.

Valentino Shal – Consultant: We are dependent on the the Atoll, the Atoll is not dependent on us and we use it for fishing, for Tourism and Sport Fishing but in addition to those things that we draw from the Atoll it also provides us with storm mitigation value especially for Belize City and of course it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides us with fresh air and of course these are very hard to quantify but we have made an effort to put a value on it and in total the Atoll in our estimate provides Belize with about $540,000,000 worth of services every year in economic value. This is in economic terms and so its a very important resource and we benefit immensely from it. Just from fishing alone, from Tourism and the taxes we pay to the Government is over $150,000,000 a year and this is in real money and so it is a valuable resource and we must continue to take care of it.”

Dalilah Ical: “And that is just what the Turneffe Atoll Trust has set out to do with the “Risking the Atoll Report”. It is a case study that sought to analyze the environmental and economic effects of improperly regulated development in the reserve. It is located some 25 miles East of Belize City and it is described as the most biologically diverse atoll in the entire Caribbean. It was designated a marine reserve in 2012. But fast-forward six years and the atoll is facing continued damage and degradation. The situation is not only being documented by environmental groups, but by the very fishermen who live off the reserve’s resources. Hopeton George Westby Senior has been on the Atoll for over forty years and says the negative impact have been significant.”

Hopeton George Westby Sr: “The resources have dwindled down to about quarter of what it used to be. A large part of the problem is that we are over fishing and we have way too much fishermen for the size of the Atoll. We are up to 950 from about 150 back a few years ago, ten years ago we were about 250 and today it is 950 for 15 sq miles of reef. The stock is getting smaller, the lobster is smaller, the conch is getting smaller and even the fish is smaller so that’s the thing and more damage to the reef due to more dorey impact in the reef, you know the dorey bounce up on the corals and break the corals and at times we found rocks where humans actually take bars and break the rock to get a few lobster out and that is a fact. I can take you to a few rocks that I know I used to go and catch lobster and now they are busted up because if one is in there these guys think that they need to get it to make a buck so they condemn the rock. For a fisherman right now it is pretty challenging and this is what is stirring up the product because when guys go out there and they can’t get the big they take the small and so the stock is going down and it’s going down real fast.”

Dalilah Ical: “But overfishing is just one of the problems. Valentino Shal, a consultant, worked on the case study of the area. He says improperly regulated development in the reserve is causing much of the degradation.”

Valentino Shal – Consultant: I think one of the biggest impacts have been dredging, well the most damaging activity has been dredging. There is a dredging of some of the islands but also dredging of what we call back reef flats. These are a special type of reef that you find at Turneffe so breaking them up and removing them in the scale that we saw is definitely damaging and I think the other one is the removal of mangroves. Mangroves are very critical and important habitats and so just removing them without permit is also very damaging to the area and we know that a lot of fishers depend on the Turneffe and so mangroves play a very important role in the fishing sector by providing a nursery for fishes so simply removing them is going to not just destroy the mangroves but have a downstream effect on the fishing sector.”

Dalilah Ical: “The Turneffe Atoll Trust is looking to collaborate with stakeholders to curb the destruction on the Atoll.”

Valentino Shal – Consultant: “We are asking that developers educate themselves about the rules and make sure you follow the rules. Any responsible developer should be concerned and interested in protecting the environment because their investment will also depend on that very same environment so no developer should have to be forced to follow the law but making sure that they are familiar with it and comply with it because it is in the interest of the environment but it is also in their own self interest to do so. We are also asking the Government agencies to strengthen their monitoring of the area because they are the only ones that have the legal mandate to enforce the rules. Turneffe Atoll does the research, we don’t do any enforcement, that is left up to the Government agencies and of course the people who manage the area need to make sure they are more strict with the enforcement of the rules of the area.”

Dalilah Ical: “Copies of the report have been provided to interested parties. Dalilah Ical Love News.”

The report indicates that approximately two-hundred fishers regularly work at Turneffe and 950 are registered to fish there. These fishermen are mainly from Belize City, Sarteneja, Chunox and Copper Bank, and they produce a substantial amount of the marine products for Belize. The eco-tourism resorts at Turneffe employ approximately 100 individuals.