I realize there’s so many reasons to be sad and scared right now. I realize there’s still no end in sight for the pandemic. But I also realize that amid everything 2020 has brought to all of us, we can still find nuggets of joy, reasons to hope and moments of love that brighten the darkness. My constant prayer is that somehow, hope, joy and love will find their way to you in this very different Christmas season.
Since I last spoke to you, there’s been good news on the work front. On November 4th, Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020 was signed into law by the Minster of Fisheries. For resource strapped enforcement agencies, this turns a complicated process into a binary matter. No gillnets, no problem. Gillnet? Fines and penalties apply. This policy outcome is therefore realistic—because it’s easy to enforce and strategic because it eliminates by-catch and stops illegal fishing activity.
The ban on gillnets covers Belize’s entire marine territory. This means that more than 36,000 square kilometers of the Caribbean Sea is now fully protected from gillnets, all forms of trawling and offshore oil activity. Through your unwavering support, that of the Oceana board and our incredible donors to a financial support package, the legal, Belizean fishers declared beneficiaries by the Government of Belize have received two of a total of 24 payments to facilitate their transition away from gillnets.
Following elections in November, we have already begun conversations with Belize’s new Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceno as well as key members of his Cabinet including the Minister of Natural Resources and Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Cordel Hyde, the Minister of Environment Hon. Orlando Habet and Minister of Blue Economy, Hon. Andre Perez and their respective teams to apprise them of the work completed to date. We are also highlighting that this new administration can solidify key milestones such as making the ban on offshore oil permanent. And most importantly, we are emphasizing that organizations like Oceana are keen to work with the Government of Belize to create a vibrant, abundant Caribbean Sea, for the benefit of all Belizeans.
These initial conversations have had to include discussions regarding a developer’s proposal to dump dredge spoils into the Caribbean Sea between the Belize Barrier Reef and the Turneffe Atoll. Oceana and several other organizations continue to maintain that ocean dumping should never be considered for Belize, given the inevitable negative impact of that material to the marine environment and key economic drivers such as tourism and fishing. When the mathematicians crunched the numbers, they determined that 5 million cubic meters of dredge spoils were equivalent to 200,000 school buses; the length and width of Caye Caulker at a foot high; and those spoils would fill approximately half of Great Blue Hole if poured inside. And that’s the minimum amount the developer would dump. We’ve collectively asked for this project to be rejected so long as ocean dumping is a part of the plan.
The Government has told us the project is on pause. Based on previous experience, we know that your voice counts! If you haven’t already, please join the conversation here. While dumping the dredge spoils at sea would save the developer money, the true cost of the damage to the environment would be to the rest of us. The covid-19 pandemic has forced us to do a lot of reflection, to appreciate what truly brings value to our lives. What was once esoteric, is now an existential truth: the health and integrity of our natural world makes our lives possible.
The new year brings the promise that by continuing to work together, we will not only survive all the challenges ahead, we will thrive well past them.
With love from our homes to yours,
Read more in our December 2020 E-Newsletter here.