Established 15 years ago as a marine reserve, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve in Southern Belize has gone through its ups and downs, from incursions by Guatemalan and Honduran fishermen to ongoing beach erosion to changes in the fish stock, while hanging over it all is the possibility of petroleum exploration. The reserve has been carefully nurtured by the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment (TIDE) and the many villages that are a part of it, from Barranco and Punta Gorda to Monkey River, Punta Negra and up to the Placencia/Independence area. On Friday, members of the press toured the reserve at the invitation of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and TIDE. We spoke to long-standing fisherman Toribio Parchue, also known as Sandy, for his perspective on the area he has called home all his life.
Toribio Parchue, Fisherman – “I think the amount of fish right now is difficult more than a couple years ago because a couple years ago, you nuh have to come way out ya fu ketch fish but now, sometimes you have to go way to deep riva fu ketch fish.”
Reporter – “In terms of the conservation efforts in this area and in terms of being limited in any way, can you speak to us about that?”
Toribio Parchue – “I mean, for right now it’s alright. This should’ve come for a good while cause then fish would be kind of abundant but right now it’s kind of late but still alright for kids and grand kids in years to come.”
The Reserve, stretching for 160 miles, encompasses three zones, a general use zone that allows regular fishing and tourist visits; a conservation zone where stocks replenish, and a preservation zone where absolutely no activity beyond research is allowed. Despite these, the Reserve continues to face direct threats, according to TIDE Protected Areas Manager, Mario Muschamp.
Mario Muschamp, Protected Areas Manager, TIDE – “In terms of oil exploration and the potential threats we are foreseeing, if that comes our way. For one, in case there is a spill, what that will impact for us. As you heard from Edwin earlier, Port Honduras Marine Reserve is an excellent nursery habitat for important, commercial marine species such as fin fish, lobster, conch, sea cucumber, and oil exploration will impact this for the fishers and the users of this area. People have been using these areas for about two centuries now and these communities have been here and living off these resources and so anything that will impact the resources here, will impact these communities and that’s key for us. For me, they are the owners of these resources and they should have a say in terms of what goes on here and oil exploration can definitely have some negatives impacts that will threaten the livelihoods of these communities.”
In Punta Negra, the seaside community has been dealing with heavy beachline erosion. Village councilor Ray Jacobs told us what they will do about it.
Ray Jacobs, Village Councilor, Punta Negra – “At the moment, we are thinking of what to do – probably bring what they call “the big bolas” on a barge and then we just put them along the beach side so we can make a sea wall, I think that would work.”
Reporter – “Any assistance from the government in that regard?”
Ray Jacobs – “Not yet. After today, since you are here with the media, when they see it then we are going to work with the village council – we’re going to write them a proposal to the Climate Change Department so that they can assist us.”
Reporter – “Can you give us an idea of the mileage that’s been lost from the coast?”
Ray Jacobs – “Do you mean out or along?”
Reporter – “Along.”
Ray Jacobs – “We have five miles that side and we have seven miles that side. Basically, of the twelve miles it’s about ten, about ten have been eroded.”
Reporter – “So Punta Negra is twelve miles long all around?
Ray Jacobs – “Where we have beaches, the other part is mangrove – so the beach is like twelve, North and South.”
The concession belonging to Providence Energy that covers the entire reserve is not currently active.