After news broke about the new underwater project in the Mexico Rocks Area known as Sea Trek, the project has raised more than eyebrows as a group in the community has expressed their concerns of the potential harmful effects to the reef. But the developer of the project, David Gegg, says that he has followed proper procedures to ensure that his new tourist attraction is environmentally safe. An Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) has been signed by Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria with Gegg, giving the project the green light.
What has raised concern in some residents is that the project is being developed near the Barrier Reef and would allow visitors to walk on the seafloor while attached by a rope to a barge above. They, along with the opinion of a marine biologist on the island, believe that walking on the sea floor will raise sedimentation that will be harmful to the coral.
One resident asked the question : “why choose a sensitive area that is also thriving with real estate?” And also inquired why a public consultation was not carried out.
Elito Arceo, President of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) told Ambergris Today that the area is just too beautiful and pristine and that it should be preserved in its purest form for tourists and Belizeans alike to enjoy for years to come. The project is a cause of concern to the site’s integrity, he stated. Even the Hol Chan Marine Reserve personnel are now looking into the matter as tour guides and tour operators have expressed their concerns – a couple of them being the barge’s length of stay over the area and proper sewage disposal.
But will all these concerns David Gegg says that the concerns are based on unrealistic impressions and false information. He told Belize City’s News5 that waste being dumped from the 42 by 16½ foot barge should not be a concern because his project is required to pump waste into a holding tank and otherwise dispose of the sewer and that the project is completely safe and poses fewer risks than snorkeling and scuba diving.
Sea Trek believes that it is being chastised for doing the right thing and complying with the recommendations set out for them. In response to emails circulating against the project, a representative of Sea Trek had this to say.
“As you well know, being 100% Belizean we have been involved with the development and marketing of tourism in this country for over 35 years - the dawn of tourism! We have invested in developing new and exciting programs for Belize, keeping up with new trends and "innovative" activities. We have brought onboard a stream of well known international wholesalers, opened new markets and provided thousands of "heads in beds" for the overnight sector of this country. Tourism is our life - we helped build this industry and will continue doing whatever we can to ensure its sustainability for generations to come.”
Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and San Pedro Area Representative told Marion Ali for News 5 that if the project does not have the support of the local authorities and that of his electorate, then he cannot support the project as well. “If the majority is against then I have to ride with my people,” he said.
Sea Trek is asking concerned parties to make time to carefully review its ECP and absorb all the restrictions and conditions to which they have absolutely no problem adhering to in the name of conservation and that the ECP was conducted by the Department of Environment, with involvement from Hon Chan Marine Reserve, the San Pedro Town Council and the Fisheries Department.
Over all, it seems that the Island residents’ main concern is its location. Although Mr. David Gegg has received a green light to go ahead with the project, there will still be lots of friction from a group of residents who say they will continue their fight against it. Maybe Mr. Gegg could consider changing locations and pleasing everybody. How about moving the Sea Trek to the artificial “reef balls” that were created on the lagoon side of the island? It will be interesting to see who is willing to negotiate and come up with a possible solution where both parties are happy.