Left Conservation, Right Development, Middle Sustainable Development Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 11 June 2009 14:23

The debate between conservation and development continued on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel. The Department of the Environment held an open meeting on a document they released, which contained proposed guidelines for the construction of water structures in Belize coastal areas.

Representatives from both sides of the arguments gathered to take part in the open meeting and the Department of the Environment acted as the mediator between the two. Structures being discussed were cabanas, restaurants, bars, dive shops, among others.

Emotions were wild at the meeting as environmentalists spoke about the negative effects the structures have on the environment; for example, water pollution and soil erosion. On the other hand, developers argued that there are too many restrictions already that are prohibiting economic development for the country. One proposal that the developers argued against was that there is to be no structures developed over marine protected areas. Alfonso Avilez, an engineer, argued against that proposal because he said that those areas are the best sites to build on because “those are where the tourists want to go”. He said that he supports strict regulations but feels that Belize needs to be friendlier to investment.

Though representatives of both sides are passionate about their opinion, they do agree on the need for the development of guidelines. Avilez said, “These guidelines have been needed for many years now. We may never see eye to eye with the conservationists but we definitely have one thing in common and that is our desire for the betterment of the country.”

Dionne Miranda, President of Belize Tourism Industry Association, said, “Any negative effect that we cause on the environment could seriously damage the reputation of the tourism industry.” She said that a report came out from UNESCO saying that Belize is in danger in regards to the protection of its natural resources and if that does not change the damage could be worst than that of the global economic crisis. In regards to the policies of the D.O.E., she said, “The policies have to be done constructively and it needs to be in line with the master tourism plan. We have to ensure that we allow for sustainable development.”

Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, said, “The policies are just to manage development in an organized manner. Through the Environmental Impact Assessment Process we noticed that more and more tourism developers are proposing over water structures and there was no guideline to manage them or hold them accountable. So we decided to develop policies through a consultation process.” He said that the consultation started two years ago. He spoke about the difficulty in maintaining the balance between economic development and environmental protection. He adds, “It is difficult. We have been targets of the frustrations from both sides because every decision made affects one side negatively. So we are darned if we do and darned if we don’t.”