Belize in effort to reclaim beaches, restore coral reefs – PM Briceno tells CARICOM Heads Summit

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve. Photo credits to UNESCO.

(CARICOM Secretariat, Georgetown, Guyana) – The government of Belize is pioneering a coral transplantation and beach reclamation effort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, located in the southern part of the island.

San Pedro is the setting of the first face-to-face meeting in two years of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government. They are meeting for the 33rd Inter-Sessional Summit, 1-2 March 2022.

The heavy agenda items, including the COVID-19 pandemic, regional security, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), food security and agricultural production, almost seem incongruous with the leisurely nature of the island.

Chairman of CARICOM, Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize, beamed with pride as he welcomed his colleagues to the ‘La Isla Bonita,’ translated from Spanish to English as ‘beautiful Island.’

He said Pedro Town, a major tourist attraction, epitomises beauty and leisure, which, he jested, Heads of Government will not get to enjoy because they are locked in discussions, tackling a very packed agenda.

Heads of State and delegations to the 33rd CARICOM Summit pose for a family photo in the glorious sunshine of San Pedro, 1 March 2022.

On a poignant note, he said San Pedro is under threat from climate change, and other socio-economic challenges.

Part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS) that makes up one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, Prime Minister Briceno said it is a microcosm of the vulnerabilities small island and low lying coastal states face as a result of climate change, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Beaches here are eroding because of rising sea levels; the Belize Barrier Reef is struggling due to coral bleaching; a growing population is testing the limits of the island’s capacity,” the Belizean Prime Minister stated.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a devastating blow to San Pedro’s lucrative tourism industry, but the resilient people did not succumb.

Belize’s Prime Minister John Briceno addressing the 33rd CARICOM Summit, 1 March 2022 in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

They pivoted to their traditional economic activity, fishing, which is rebounding due to efforts to sustain the island’s marine ecosystem.

“Pioneering coral transplantation is restoring the reef, and a herculean beach reclamation project is underway,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the country is adapting to and mitigating against the threats of climate change.

“We are spending millions to meet these crises because we must, even though we did little to cause them. Unfair, yes. The harsh reality of the 21st century,” Prime Minister Briceno stated.

According to UNESCO, Belize Barrier Reef System is the largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Caribbean region, representing the second largest reef system in the world. The site is one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere and was referred to as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” by Charles Darwin, according to UNESCO.

The system provides important habitat for a number of threatened marine species, and harbours a number of species of conservation concern including the West Indian manatee, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead turtle and the American crocodile. It is also a habitat for endemic and migratory birds which reproduce in the littoral forests of cayes, atolls and coastal areas, according to UNESCO.

Prime Minister Briceno said global action to reverse the climate catastrophe has fallen dangerously short and warned that the world is heading, “perilously” towards breaching the global temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees centigrade.

“Accessibility and scale of climate finance is not commensurate with urgent needs for adaptation and mitigation,” he stated, adding that the very existence of countries on the frontline of climate change is at risk.

The Chair of CARICOM said the Community must send a “clear message” about its expectation and demands for global climate action. This must include calls for strengthening of 2030 emissions reduction targets to safeguard the 1.5 degree temperature goal.

It must also advocate for the scaling up of finance beyond the US$100 billion through 2025, and for SIDS to access finance for loss and damage, Prime Minister Briceno said.

Immediate Past Chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who is also the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) echoed concerns about the existential threat climate change poses to the Region.

Expressing disappointment with the outcome of COP26, he said greater attention needs to be focused on climate emergency accountability.

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