By Marion Ali
A public consultation in San Pedro, late last week, over the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted on Blackadore Caye, the island which actor, Leonardo DiCaprio owns, drew objections from residents over wide-ranging reasons.
The actor’s representatives have said he intends for the eco-luxury private island “to serve as a benchmark for testing innovative ‘green’ technology and natural energy sources such as water, sun and wind.” But this has not stopped locals from raising questions over its scope.
The consultation, held by the Department of Environment (DoE) at the San Pedro Lions Den, discussed issues pertaining to: the use of renewable energy to power the resort; reforestation of the mangroves and not removing or building on any current vegetation on the island; the use of fossil fuels, with a suggestion to use electric vehicles as the mode of transport on the island; the need to install a boardwalk; the need to protect wildlife in and around Blackadore; as well as a cleaner water treatment system; and a better means of disposals, with a suggestion for composting and recycling of waste products.
The prime eco-luxury private resort, equipped with solar-paneled energy, is designed to include an 80-room hotel, spas, private beach villas with pools and restaurants. The guest villas on Blackadore Caye will be built above a massive platform that stretches in an arc over the Caribbean Sea, with artificial reefs and fish shelters underneath. A nursery on the island will grow indigenous marine grass to support a manatee conservation area, and mangrove trees will be replanted, replacing invasive species.
The first-of-its-kind project in Belize drew wide-ranging concerns from those who attended, including President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association and member of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development, Billy Leslie. He was quoted as saying to DiCaprio’s architects, engineers, biologists and field workers present at the gathering that locals do not have a problem with DiCaprio developing his island, but: “Our concerns are those with problems arising from the over-the-water structures that are being proposed for development in pristine fishing areas surrounding Blackadore Caye.”
Marissa Tellez-Kohlman, vice regional chair of Latin America for the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission-Crocodile Specialist Group (IUCN/SSC-CSG) and United States National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, told the Reporter that while she has not read the EIA report, she has read scientific papers and reports about biomimicry and self-sustainable architecture. She opines that it is a good scientific advancement, but she has reservations over the foreigners hired for the planning of the resort design, and what she termed as the lack of consultation between them and locals.
“Why did they hire international marine and terrestrial biologists to perform surveys instead of Belizean scientists? Given my expertise, I have been asked to travel to various countries in the world to provide my expertise. YET, I NEVER go into another country without consulting locals or local scientists…The local community, and more inclusion of Belizean scientists, architectures, etc., should have been hired or involved from the beginning of the design,” Tellez-Kohlman suggested.
The conservationist also shared similar sentiments with some of the locals at the consultation on the structure over the water, and its possible effects on local sports fishing. These, and other concerns raised need adequate responses from the developers, Tellez-Kohlman believes, before work on the resort begins.
The design to construct a building over the sea in an area that has been demarcated as part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is another point of contention raised. Another, primarily for fishermen and tour guides, is that they use the sea in front of the caye for fishing and tours but when the resort becomes operational, they fear their access to the beaches, which they consider public property, will be cut off.
But DiCaprio’s developers assured the audience that they want to improve the current conditions for the fishermen. They promised to consider the concerns raised. The developers pointed out that, based on their research, Blackadore Caye has been suffering its share of erosion, and the development they have planned for the island will only help to enhance its condition.
The DoE noted the concerns raised and will take them into account before a final green light is given for construction to begin. Anyone who wishes to submit written comments to the DoE regarding the Blackadore Caye project can forward them to: Chief Environmental Officer, at The Department of Environment in Belmopan. They can also send those concerns via email to: [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]
The Environmental Impact Assessment report is available and DoE’s website at: www.doe.gov.bz
Blackadore Caye is 104 acres of wild, unpopulated land, located between the coast of Belize and Ambergris Caye. DiCaprio discovered the caye while vacationing in Belize in 2004. He purchased the island along with the owner of Cayo Espanto, Jeff Gram, the following year for $1.75 million.