Belize’s barrier reef may net over BZ$1 billion a year, according to published data.
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 29, 2010
The Government of Belize won a BZ$11.5 million award in the case of the Westerhaven vessel, which bulldozed about an acre of Belize’s world famous barrier reef – the longest in the Western Hemisphere – while moving through a five-mile channel off the country’s coast, 32 miles from Belize City, in January 2009, this occurring inside a protected area. The initial damage assessment was for US$18.5 million or BZ$37 million. The defendant argued that the figure is US$2.5 million.
“This Westerhaven site is actually inside the Caye Glory Marine Reserve which is one of Belize’s last ‘paper parks’ – the name given to parks that exist only on paper but have no management on the ground (or in the water),” said Melanie McField, PhD, Director for Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative in Belize, Smithsonian Institution, commenting that she is generally pleased with the CJ’s ruling. “Definitely, these funds should go partly to the Fisheries’ Department to get a boat and staff for this important marine reserve. It would also help bolster general marine enforcement in this region of the country. The nearby South Water Caye Marine Reserve is grossly understaffed and should also be supported with additional staff and equipment from this settlement,” she added.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow, told Amandala Thursday that “we have to collect first,” before Government decides what it will do with the money. Barrow noted that the funds would have to be deposited in the Consolidated Revenue Fund; however, the Government could earmark the funds for specific uses.
Assuming that the Government does get paid, Barrow said, a portion could be used for navigational aids and buoys, as Government’s technical team has recommended. He told us that even though he cannot say how much could go to conservation works, he can say that yes, Government intends to use some of the money for related conservation work.
In a decision passed by the Chief Justice on Monday, April 26, he declared that the insurance company the ship had contracted has to pay BZ$2,000 for each square meter.
After the case was lodged, the Government had affixed a minimum value for Belize’s reef at BZ$5,000 per square meter, which would apply to future cases.
Dr. McField noted: “The judge agreed with our perspective that the reef is not ‘property’ and is thus not included in that limit on liability. His ruling is in alignment with other global cases that award similar damage levels for coral reef injuries. This grounding was particularly large in spatial extent – which is the main reason the total amount is high. The dollar value he [the Chief Justice] prescribed per square meter of damaged reef (BZ$2,000/m2) is actually somewhat low for an important reef system like ours. We recently heard of a case in Egypt with Cunard cruise line that has [an approximate] US$23 million settlement.”
[A November 2008 article in The Independent in the UK quotes ₤15 million, about US$23 million, for the fine levied by Egypt against the UK cruise line back in 1996.]
McField and other conservationists in Belize are of the view that the damaged coral structure may take hundreds of years to recover if they ever do. She furthermore noted that, “The Carib Mariner injury site on Turneffe is a good location to have a restoration effort. It is more protected (on the western side) and was not completely leveled into a parking lot as the Westerhaven site was,” said Dr. McField. “I was told that an out of court settlement in the amount of BZ$2.7 million was recently reached for the Carib Mariner inquiry”. She added: “A good amount of that money should go back to try to repair this site on [west] Turneffe and support other conservation efforts in Turneffe, as it is a major fisheries area. Coast Guard, UB [University of Belize] and Fisheries’ [Department] all have management and enforcement efforts on Turneffe that need financial support.”
Belize’s barrier reef is of immense economic value to Belize, netting as much as BZ$1 billion a year, according to published data. A 53-page working paper for World Resources Institute titled Coastal Capital: Belize – The Economic Contribution of Belize’s Coral Reef Systems and Mangroves by Emily Cooper, Lauretta Burke and Nadia Bood, prepared for the 2008 International Year of the Reef Symposium held at the Radisson Fort George in Belize City, states: “In total, the value of reef – and mangrove-related fisheries, tourism, and shoreline protection services in Belize is estimated to be US$395–$559 million per year”. Tourist dollars amount to roughly US$150–$196 million annually, commercial fisheries between US$14–$16 million annually.
“Emergent reefs, such as the Belize Barrier Reef, can mitigate over three quarter of wave energy. Belize’s coral reefs provide an estimated US$120–$180 million in avoided damages per year. Coastal mangroves offer protection worth an additional US$111–$167 million per year,” the report added. The Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve alone nets Belize as much as BZ$15 million a year – US$4.9 to US$7.3 million per year – to the national economy, said the researchers.
By Adele Ramos Amandala Press