The Belize environmental community is mourning the passing of a pioneer Belizean marine conservationist, Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, who contributed immensely to the protection of Belize’s marine resources, and manatees in particular.
“Chocolate” had a healthy respect for the environment, as he spent most of his life around the sea as a fisherman and later, a tour guide. He knew conservation was important even if he was at times short on words.
Knowing about the manatees near Swallow Caye for most of his life, he decided it was beauty he could not keep to himself and must be shared with the tourists whom he started to bring to see beautiful manatees in the 80s.
Others followed his example and as more visitors came to Swallow Caye even getting in the water with the manatees, by the mid-90s Chocolate had realized it was important for the entire Swallow Caye area to become a protected area.
He recruited other concerned Belizeans from all over the country to form the Friends of Swallow Caye in 1996, a community-based conservation association dedicated to promoting the designation of Swallow Caye as a wildlife sanctuary.
Chocolate achieved his goal when the Minister of Natural Resources signed the Statutory Instrument creating the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary in July 2002.
The Friends of Swallow Caye now co-manage the protected area along with the Forest Department.
Chocolate won many kudos for his environmental work, from the Belize Tourism Board and from Oceana, which last year presented him with the Ocean Hero Award for his outstanding work spanning over 50 years as a conservationist when that term had not even become popular or even considered a career field.
Oceana Belize vice president Audrey Matura-Shepherd said, “We must celebrate the life of our brother Chocolate and always remember him as a role model because even though he has departed this earthly life his works and contribution to this nation remain with us. And it is his work all of us in the conservation community must continue as we stand on the shoulder of this conservation giant.”
Oceana has called on all Belizeans to never forget his work, which must be continued. May Chocolate rest in peace!