My fellow Belizeans,
As I write this, the list of issues compromising Belizean resources, and the people who depend on them, is long and growing longer by the day. Pollution in the Macal and New Rivers; the almost nightly chronicling of the latest manatee to be shredded by a boat propeller; decapitated and dismembered jaguars, crocodiles and even a tapir; the way single-use plastic continues to be the constant in every community, highway and byway; and of course, the perennial destruction of mangroves, seagrass beds and mud flats in the name of development.
If I’m being honest, it’s a list that depresses me. Not just because they’re complicated issues but because so very many people seem apathetic, content even, with the status quo. But the reason I’m not taking a long walk off a short pier is because of you. You are my answer when I get asked, “What keeps you going?” Each of you have a singular story, a unique experience that makes you love our beautiful Belize and that drives you to want to help to protect her. You recognize that we have a shared destiny. That it will matter not in the future that you get to say, “I told you if you destroyed mangroves this would happen!” You know that we will rise or fall as one.
Thank you for showing up and standing up. Now, more than ever before, your voice matters. As you’ll read about in this newsletter, we continue to highlight the multiple opportunities for you to continue to embrace your role as shareholders, owners of the ecosystems that make our lives possible.
We urge you to keep supporting the businesses making the switch to green alternatives in the battle against single use plastic. It’s just as encouraging to see the conscious decision so many of you are making to use reusable shopping bags; that you’re taking your own containers to your favorite restaurants and that you are walking with your metal straws! The legislation to ban single use plastic and Styrofoam in the food sector was not completed by April 22 (the deadline promised by the government). But that’s just as well. The draft bill falls short in several key areas. While it does prohibit plastic items, it includes allowances for import permits for prohibited products and says that different forms of plastic, like “bio-plastic”, is an alternative. We promise to continue to work towards a ban that’s actually a ban. It’s entirely possible to have a single use plastic free future; we were doing so not long ago. You and your loved ones deserve nothing less—for health, economic and environmental reasons.
Our work also continues towards stopping the use of gillnets in Belizean waters; there are a million reasons to do so. Gillnets are the gear of choice for illegal fishers. Gillnets to target and indiscriminately kill sharks, a keystone species to healthy marine environments. They’re destroying coral reef habitats. Gillnets are compromising Belize’s highly lucrative sports fishing species. Nets are undermining the protected status of endangered species like sea turtles and manatees, not to mention the management efforts of the commercial fisheries that more than 15,000 Belizeans directly depend on daily.
Gillnet users represent 3% of all our commercial fishers. The latest development is that NGO community has pooled resources to ensure that those fishers (there were 83 in 2018) licensed to use gillnets receive financial and technical assistance to transition away from this destructive gear. Cabinet will decide what happens next. Use your voice to let your elected representatives know you care about safeguarding the fisheries-based livelihoods, of making sure Belizeans will always be able to depend on the sea as a source of jobs and food. By supporting the commitment of fishers to adapt, by championing the leadership of Government officials to implement change and by increasing the transparency and accountability of decision-makers, we can collectively ensure that natural resource-based livelihoods will thrive for generations to come.
In the coming months, we promise to update you on our efforts to address unsustainable development projects that are on the table. When we put the environment first, development lasts. We will also continue to highlight the work of community leaders and fellow NGOs to protect freshwater and wildlife. Demanding that deliberate pollution of our rivers stop is non-negotiable. The reality that poachers are targeting species like our majestic jaguar is unacceptable. That the dismembering of a tapir is not being considered disrespectful is disturbing; contributing factors need to be addressed urgently.
So yes, the list is long. But our resolve is strong. The resiliency of nature is as determined as hope itself. And if we only give it a chance, nature won’t just survive, we’ll all thrive.
Vice President, Oceana Belize
For more news from Oceana Belize’s September Newsletter, click here.