By Charles Leslie Jr.
As a 6th generation Placencian, I am compelled to write about my thoughts on the Placencia beach, however what I propose in this article can be applied to all beaches in Belize, since our beaches are publicly owned spaces and should be respected, cherished and protected by all Belizeans. I also write about Placencia since it is not a town thus has no access to trade license fees, property taxes etc…
Placencia is a sandy peninsula in Southern Belize in the Stann Creek District that stretches and weaves 17 miles out into the Caribbean sea, and boasts some of the most picturesque postcard scenes in the country of Belize. Unfortunately, over the past decade the peninsula has been plagued with a filthy phenomenon that occurs mostly between July and October each year: huge mountains of garbage washes out from the rivers of Puerto Cortez, Honduras and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and around this time of the year a strong current that runs from south to north pushes large bulks of that trash directly towards southern Belize, and as far north as Caye Caulker and it ends up on what I consider one of our most valuable asset: our pristine beaches.
In October 2010 the GOH Gulf of Honduras project was launched. It was requested by Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The project proposal is for, “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.
Placencia is one of the most popular destination for Belizeans when it comes to the Easter weekend. Over the past couple weeks the Placencia peninsula was hit by a few waves of sea grass and garbage. Fortunately volunteers from up and down the peninsula came together to clean the beach. It is not an easy task to clean 17 miles of beach.
It seems that not much has come from the GOH project to assist the coastlines of Belize, especially in the south. We are now in 2015 and all coastal communities have to fend for themselves when it comes to cleaning up their beaches. This is an insult for villages like Placencia and Hopkins which generates 10s of millions of US dollars each year for the Government coffers via tourism-related taxes.
In 2012, as the Chairperson of Placencia, I drafted a Proposal along with my Council and other concerned citizens, that raised funds for the purchase of two commercial beach rakes, which is now owned by the Placencia Sanitation Company. These beach rakes has helped with keeping the beach cleaned in Placencia Village; however, it is not enough, and the time has come that there needs to be a peninsula wide beach management plan.
The private and public sector on the Placencia Peninsula, along with the proper Government departments, needs to formulate a beach management plan, as is being attempted with the Placencia lagoon. I do not believe this will be too difficult; however it will take the effort of the entire peninsula.
Once we get a management program for our beaches and a stable source of funds; we then need to develop a beach certification program, such as the system that exists in Mexico; once we get the cleanliness of our beaches under control we then push to get our beaches International Blue Flag Certified. The Public Relations return on investment of such a bold initiative, is priceless, and we will actually be helping to protect our valuable coastal environment.
In conclusion, as a nation that is now heavily tourism-related in providing jobs and livelihoods, we need to focus on formulating a long-term, cohesive management plan for our beaches. Such a bold initiative should also create a unified sense of pride for all Belizeans, why? Every Belizean love to visit the beaches of Belize to enjoy with friends and family, and this will take collective effort.
The Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to more than 4000 beaches and marinas in 49 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.
The Blue Flag works towards sustainable development of beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with Water Quality, Environmental Education and Information, Environmental Management, and Safety and Other Services.
The Blue Flag Programme is owned and run by the non-government, non-profit organization the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
Charles Leslie Jr. is the Chairman of the Belize Unity Alliance and the former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience.
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