The Placencia Peninsula beach is 17 miles long and is one of our main tourism assets. Majority of it is filthy almost all year round and especially during this time of year. This is unacceptable, and it is slowly eroding our image as the fastest growing tourism destination, and the best stretch of beach in Belize. We recently won Destination of the Year. To keep that prestige, we need to focus our energies on our beach.
In October 2010 the Gulf of Honduras (GOH) was launched with an objective of: “Environmental Protection and Maritime Transport Pollution Control in the Gulf of Honduras,” with a primary focus on demonstration of new and mixed technologies to address some of the major environmental problems and issues of the Gulf leading to the degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems by human activities. The long-term goal of the project is to reverse the degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems by enhancing the control and prevention of maritime transport-related pollution in the major ports and navigation lanes, improving navigational safety to avoid groundings and spills, and reducing land-based inputs to the adjacent coastal and marine areas within the Gulf of Honduras. This project has a budget of $58 million USD and a 5-year duration. In Placencia, we cannot afford to wait until this program truly kicks in and hope it will directly benefit us. We need to take matters into our own hands, now.
Under the May 2010 draft National Guidelines for Subdivision and Consolidation of Land in Belize which falls under the Lands and Surveys Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, it states, “Under the LUA (Land Utilization Act) general subdivision guidelines to ensure that access to water bodies is maintained include: A 66-foot reserve must be provided for each subdivision of a land parcel next to the sea, lagoon, river, creek and other major water bodies.”
My interpretation: the 66ft beach reserve in Placencia is common to all Belizeans. It is what makes Placencia peninsula unique. It is also one of the most important tourism-related assets for the entire peninsula, especially for those who own tourism-related businesses along this stretch of beach.
For those of us who live on the Placencia Peninsula, we can attest to the struggle we have been having in keeping our beach clean of debris. As I have pointed out in the preamble of this article, there are plans under way. However, it is not here, and won’t be for a few more years. We are still dealing with a lot of trash that washes out from the rivers in Puerto Cortez, Honduras and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Most of it goes out in the Gulf of Honduras. Around this time of the year, we get a strong current that runs from south to north and pushes large bulks of that trash directly towards southern Belize, and creates one huge mess. It is very costly to try and keep the main stretches of the beach clean, much less the entire length.
The Placencia Sanitation Company/Village Council has procured two commercial beach rakes, which are currently semi-operational. These can be utilized in this endeavor; however, I am afraid it will take a lot more resources than that.
The private and public sector on the Placencia Peninsula, along with the proper Government departments, needs to formulate a beach management plan, as we are attempting to do with the utilization and development of the Placencia lagoon. I do not believe this will be too difficult; however it will take the effort of the entire peninsula. As I said, the beach is a public common and all should be concerned and responsible for its well-being, for, we all directly or indirectly benefit from it.
I have a proposal which will attempt to identify funds, for a good management plan is useless without the necessary financial resources. For the sake of having this letter published, I will not go into details; this can be done at a public meeting on this specific issue to crunch out details, if it reaches that point:
Proposal: Earmark money to be set aside in a fund that will be designated specifically for the cleaning of the entire Placencia Peninsula Beach. Potential source of funds: Lobby the Belize Tourism Board, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Finance, the entire Cabinet, and ask that a percentage of our taxes – hotel, business, GST, property tax etc. be earmarked. Identify and apply for a grant. Local businesses voluntarily contribute a monthly fee. A combination of some or all of the above.
SIDE NOTE: We should also lobby the BTB to have a beach certification program developed, such as the system that Mexico has, and we can then push to get International Blue Flag Certified.
Charles Leslie, Jr.