By Ingrid Fernandez/ Staff Journalist
The recent detention of eight men fishing in restricted no take zones outside of protected fishing areas, brings to light why it is important to protect conserved areas such as Half Moon Caye.
The Belize Audubon Society (BAS), that manages seven conservation sites in Belize believe that Half Moon Caye, located 62 miles away from the coast line of Belize City, and is considered an endangered world site, has concrete economical and historical implications on the country’s heritage.
According to Amanda Acosta, executive director of the BAS, Half Moon Caye is on the endangered list because of drudging that occurred a year ago, and because of the threat of offshore oil drilling that threatened the island until the recent ban was proclaimed last year.
Half Moon Caye is a prominent tourist attraction and therefore popular among tourist destinations. It’s significance, however, extends to deeper issues in the country. Acosta explained that the island has geographical, economical and historical importance.
“We’ve had management on this island since the 1980s so there is a history of territorial settlement here on the island. One of the first light houses was here so from a maritime history point of view it is important because it’s telling you the history of Belize,” she said.
Apart from the historical significance of the island, its location is also intricate, making it the most eastern Belizean territory. “So if you are here on the island you are the first to see the sun rise,” Acosta said.
According to Acosta, the site is an essential part of Belize’s tourism product, hosting approximately 10,000 visitors a year. Tourists flock to the island to do diving and snorkeling and see the diversity of marine life surrounding the area. “At least two to three times a week there is a dive tour out here, it provides income for stakeholders and impacts the tourism industry,” she said.
She added, however, that the direct beneficiaries do not live any where close to the island. There are approximately 250 fishermen registered as users of the area surrounding Half Moon Caye. These fishermen hail primarily from the northern villages of Xunux, Copperbank and Sarteneja. “Half Moon Caye, although it’s an island two hours away in the middle of nowhere, the economical impact is felt through the northern portion of the country,” Acosta lamented.
The Fisheries Department is restructuring the management of the area, through Manage Access programs, to understand exactly how much the area produces economically, by logging the fishermen’s earnings.
The eight fishermen recently caught were found in the Harry Jones Channel in possession of 610 undersized conchs that failed to meet the minimum requirment weight of seven and a half ounces.
Five of the fishermen were arranged before Magistrate Carlon Mendoza. Three of the men arranged were charged and were ordered to pay fines ranging from $10,000 to $1615.