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Fighting for Sustainable Development Ambergris Caye Leads Belize Towards Sustainable Development

– Press Release – Residents of Ambergris Caye have come together to form the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD). The Stated mission of the newly formed organization is to support and promote sustainable development on Ambergris Caye and in its surrounding area through education, awareness and citizen involvement. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present while protecting and enhancing natural resources without compromising the livelihood of this and future generations.

The ACCSD was created by residents of the island who see an urgent need for planned sustainable use of our coastal and marine resources. Members of the organization come from varied backgrounds and professions but share a common interest of conserving the environment through proper planning as responsible stewards.

Ambergris Caye is an important tourist destination in the Belize, catering to approximately 60% of overnight tourist arrival in the country. However, the success of the tourism industry on the island has attracted mega-developments that do not confer with the ecotourism tourism product being marketed for Ambergris Caye.

This uncontrolled development now threatens the long term health of our coral reefs and associated ecosystems. Additionally, it will affect the livelihood of many locals who depend on a healthy coastal and marine environment for their sustenance.

A perfect example of this is the proposed South Beach Mega development which proposes to alter over 500 acres of perfectly healthy and productive mangrove wetlands. The proponents of this project fail to understand the vital role that mangrove play by providing a habitat and nursery for many species of fish and invertebrates; serving as a breakwater that dissipate wave energy and help stabilize the shoreline; filter nutrients and pollutants that would otherwise contaminate the reef. South Beach development is not consistent with sustainable tourism. The most dangerous aspect of this project is its proximity to Hol Chan, which is important to the island’s economy, both today and in the future.

The group is also calling for a master plan for Ambergris Caye. We need planned development that follows sustainable practices of resource use. Each new development must be considered within the context of the sensitive nature of our island’s environment and the effects of previous developments.

Coral Reefs, Sea grass meadows and mangrove wetlands are all interconnected and each is dependent on the other for their survival. Therefore it is important that we develop initiative that promote sustainable use of our coastal resources and guarantee long term benefits to our community.

Tourism Concern call for end to mega-resorts

Mega-resorts are destroying communities and are environmentally unsustainable and lead to widespread alienation and displacement of people from their land, according to a new report from lobby group Tourism Concern.

Poor communities in developing countries, which depend heavily upon their natural resources for their livelihoods, are the hardest hit.

Huge tracts of public and privately owned land are being ‘grabbed’ and sold off to real estate developers by governments keen to expand tourism in pursuit of economic growth. In reality, little of the profit from internationally managed resorts stays in the local economy.

The trickle down of tourism revenue to those who have lost their homes and livelihoods is minimal, particularly in the face of rising living costs associated with an influx of tourists and owners of expensive second homes. Cheap migrant labor is often drafted in from abroad to work on the developments, while opportunities for employment in the exclusive five-star resorts are limited to the most menial, poorly paid roles.

Tourism Concern has joined with campaigning groups from all over the world to call for a moratorium on the construction of mega-resorts and in support the “Declaration of Belém”. Issued at the World Social Forum in Belém do Pará, Brazil, the Declaration presents an alternative vision of the future of global tourism, and urges for more just and sustainable practices on the part of industry and governments.

Patricia Barnett, Director of Tourism Concern, says: “The development of mega-resorts and all the social and environmental problems that go with them is an issue facing communities from Scotland to Bulgaria, from Spain to the Bahamas, India to Thailand. Tourism has to be developed in a more sustainable, transparent and democratic way. That means listening to the needs of local people and the environment, and demands an abandonment of the ‘economic growth at all costs’ attitude that is seeing communities dispossessed of their homes and their means of earning a living the world over”.

Tourism Concern says despite fierce public opposition, the development of the sprawling Bimini Bay Resort on the tiny island of North Bimini in the Bahamas has caused irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem, which local people depend upon for their livelihoods.

It also points to the West Indian island of Grenada, where the government has sold off state land for a luxury development spanning 400 acres and including 170 private villas, a private island, a golf course and marina. The resort will also incorporate part of the Mount Hartman National Park, despite it being a protected area and the last remaining habitat of the rare Grenada dove. Local people are angry about the lack of public consultation and say that no compensation has been paid to the rightful owners of the land.

“The needs and rights of local communities are being pitched directly against those of mega-resorts, with the resorts winning out almost every time. Golf courses, landscaped gardens, swimming pools and showers all consume vast quantities of water, much more than the local communities, who often have to walk a considerable distance to fetch water that is barely drinkable”, says Barnett.

The group attacks governments and developers that espouse “responsible tourism” policies, covering issues such as sustainability, community participation and damage to the environment. However, all too often this amounts to little more than a marketing tool to win popular support and attract tourists. (Hopefully our Belizean Government and authorities can learn from the mistakes these countries have made and take a closer look at these mega-resorts which can pose a bigger problem to the tourism industry than what the aim to improve on.)

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