Thursday, 2 June 2005

Belize losing its credibility as Ecotourism destination

The past couple of years have seen Belize's reputation as an ecotourism destination seriously dented.

First there was the Chalillo Dam, which was pushed through despite widespread international opposition. This is widely perceived as a political issue, which has little or no benefit to the Belizean economy. Belize has a need for energy, but there are plenty of alternative sources. But worse was to come, with the arrival of hundreds of cruise ships. These visitors have little benefit to the majority of Belizeans. But put an extra burden on an already overburdened infrastructure.And big ships cause irreparable damage when they hit Belize's unique reef. Another potential disaster has been the "liberalisation" of fishing restrictions -- luckily on hold for the time being. And now the Government have approved a Dolphinarium. Not the sort of facility that is going to enthuse ecotourists, who prefer to see their dolphins wild and free.

Further problems have arisen in one of Belize's "star" reserves -- Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Belize Crodcodile and Reptile Breeders Ltd, have started clearing land within the Sanctuary. The Chairman of the company is Luke Espat, who is also one of the main shareholders in the development company that wants to enlarge the facilities for cruise ships. One can assume from his behaviour, that the future of wildlife and natural resources is not something he considers at all important.

Ecotourism is good for the country, but not good for individuals who want to make huge profits, and it does seem that a few wealthy individuals are going to get even wealthier. Ecotourism is also, by definition sustainable, but the rapid development associated with cruise ships is far from sustainable, and may simultaneously kill the ecotourism on which Belize has built its reputation.

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