During our three to five years in Belize, we saw many changes.
The first year we visited and bought our property, Placencia was a very laid back fishing village which offered some very nice dive locations. Yim and I rented a small house close to the water tucked away in the mangroves 25 feet from the clay road which led to the village. The roads were covered by palm trees and had no pavement in any direction for at least 25 miles.
The cost was $300.00 a week. We stayed for three weeks.
We rode bikes across the airstrip to watch the planes land and take-off just over the ocean, watching them arch quickly to gain altitude. We walked along the shores and watched small rays forage for food along the Ocean's Edge.
When we visited the property we eventually bought, we knew this was where we wanted to be.
When we left in 2004, there was a construction company that had opened 500 feet down the road from us which started work at 5 am and a resort adjacent to our property on the way up, at least 25 fairly major developments in various stages of construction, crime on the rise dramatically and we knew this was no longer the place we had wanted to be.
On last view, there was virtually a solid row of resorts along the coastline of Placencia and more under construction faster than we could have possibly imagined. The growth was explosive. This is not sustainable development.
Placencia is a 12 mile peninsula. At it's widest point, I'm guessing it is perhaps 1/4 of a mile wide. On many occasions, we were told that we were very lucky as we had purchased the highest point of land on the entire peninsula. Our property was six feet above sea level.
As we watched the development take place, we had to wonder what this would do to the local environment. Where would the sewage go. The sand could not possibly leech away all that additional waste. How would that affect the surrounding waters?
I think what I found hard to deal with was the alienation the resort owners had with the locals. I found that it was difficult to share the local values if the owners spent their time in New York City and came down to continue development. There was little respect for the locals and that is where I believe Placenica will eventually fail.
The village of Seine Bight was a good example. By North American standards, the villagers lived poorly. Often, their homes had no windows, no running water and no garbage removal services of any type, so the ocean was their form of washing away the garbage which accumulated.
The introduction of resorts surrounding the village did little to help as very few of the resort owners recognized that while they may have been employing the villagers, they were certainly not assisting them in any way. That is not sustainable development.
Villagers had some money now but overwhelmingly, the resort owners insisted that these villagers, myself included to a smaller degree at first, show up for work at exactly 8 am and 'put in a full work day'. From my perspective at the time, I loved to scuba dive and was building a business where all my staff could earn a decent living and create a better life for themselves. Why would they not want to be a part of that?
I quickly learned that what was important to me was certainly not important to the locals who had lived there their entire lives and I began to spend a little time with a couple of my employees out spear-fishing or lobster hunting on our off days, which helped me understand a little better what their value systems were.
But let's be honest here. I was brought up in Montreal. A big cosmopolitan city. I may have aspired to being able to culturally adapt but I can't fool myself. I had certain ingrained expectations that required a very open mind to simply look at when it came to some local customs, and quite frankly, who was I to say if my ways were better than their ways, with the exception of a few things.
It's always easier to reflect on experiences after they've happened. No doubt about that, but I like to think that the days Yim and I got to wander north along the coastline of Belize, splashing our feet in the water and trying to encourage Sheba, our Belizean mongrel pup, to actually come in the water were the days where Belize was what it was supposed to me for me.
In the mornings we would walk to the Ocean's Edge and have our coffee, Sheba trying to dig up a buried crab frantically and sometimes, a small juvenile manta ray would bump into our feet.
But then again, we had some money, not a lot, and we could simply drive into town and buy some food if we chose. Lots of the locals had no money whatsoever and their days were focused on the most basic of human needs... nourishment.
In that context, where does money come into play?
I have ben writing a book on Belize and one of the short stories I am including goes as follows;
Title: But Steve… I caught three fish.
We waited and waited for Wayne to show up for the bone-fishing charter we had arranged. Eventually, we managed to find another fishermen at 9:30 am but by then, it was already too hot for the best bone-fishing of the day.
I waited almost three days until I saw Wayne again. Wayne was a good guy… fairly dependable and a likeable fellow so when I saw him, I asked him if he was all-right, thinking something must have been wrong.
He said he was fine and asked why I thought something was wrong.
I said, ‘Well, Wayne, you had a fishing charter that a guest was really looking forward to and you did not show up.’
He replied, ‘Well Steve, on my way in that day, I caught three fish.’
A little puzzled, I said, ‘Yes, but you had a charter, Why didn’t you show up?’
He repeated to me that he had caught three fish.
Now a little annoyed, I said, ‘Yes Wayne, but we had a guest who waited for you for almost three and a half hours.’
He repeated to me once again that he had caught three fish, only this time he added, ‘So I didn’t need any money for a few days. I had food.’
It was on that day when I realized that it would be a long time before I would be able to figure out just what made the world go around in southern Belize.
Monday, April 28, 2008
The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), a partnership of two-dozen government agencies, NGOs and other institutions, has designated 2008 as the International Year of the Reef (IYOR).
IYOR 2008 is a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of coral reefs and the threats they face, and to motivate people to take action to protect them.
Blue Ventures, the organization we partner with to offer our Madagascar Trips, have partnered with Coral Cay Conservation and the Project AWARE Foundation to hold public events and educational activities throughout IYOR 2008 to promote reef conservation and motivate people to take action to protect them.
Coral reefs have been called the “rainforests of the sea” because of the vast diversity of life they support. Reefs cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface, yet they are home to 25 percent of all marine fish species.
But more than half of the world’s coral reefs are at risk from human activities. At the present rate of destruction, 70 percent of the world’s reefs will be destroyed by the year 2050.
The last IYOR took place in 1997 during which hundreds of groundbreaking studies were conducted to determine the status of coral reefs and numerous international policies were enacted to protect these vital resources. But much more needs to be done.
Coral Cay Conservation, Blue Ventures and Project AWARE Foundation will work with like-minded businesses, government
leaders, non-profits and individuals to raise awareness for the need of reef conservation and push for policies and programmes that will ensure these precious resources remain healthy and productive for generations to come.
Ocean's Edge supports these efforts and asks for all our members to take some time to read more of what can be done by visiting the International Year of the Reef web site.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
In January 1999, Yim and I flew to southern Belize to spend three weeks on the beach and scuba dive. By the time we left, we had placed an offer on an acre or so of beachfront property along the Caribbean Sea with plans to build our own small resort.
We named the property Ocean's Edge.
The property was completely overgrown and we looked forward to returning the following year, walking the property, clearing some of it and developing plans to build our little resort. When we did, we began to clear the property according to our plans. Above, Yim is standing in front of the large Sea Grape we tried to keep but couldn't.
We secured what we thought was financing in Montreal with a partner whom we would be in an equal partnership with. Unfortunately, that would turn out to be a very big mistake for us.
Over the next two years, I designed beach houses, developed the landscaping plans, Yim and I found a builder and set about building the resort. It became our little piece of paradise for three years. Yim and I personally planted 155 Palm Trees, Alamanda, Oranges, Bananas, Limes, Rubber Trees, Plantain, Hibiscus, Oleander, Orchids, Periwinkle, Bougainvillea and Birds of Paradise.
The houses were constructed to my drawings and delivered in sectional pieces, which we then constructed on site. We built it entirely from indigineous materials found in Belize, Guatemala and San Salvador.
We designed septic systems which utilized the grey water to fertilize our garden.
We developed a cistern system which caught our rain water and filtered it through multiple charcoal filters, which we kept stored in multiple 5,000 gallon tanks. We even bought the telephone pole and our own transformer and had it installed.
We built a walkway which allowed guests to walk above the sand if they chose. In short, we had some fun.
The most rewarding thing about this project is that Yim and I built Ocean's Edge entirely on our own, with no help from anyone except those we hired to do work we designed.
However, after three years of constant fighting with the fellow we thought would be a good partner, turned out to be a terrible choice for us and because of all the hassles with him and we eventually sold the property to him. That was a big disapointment to us because they had never even heard of Belize when Yim and I found the property and never actually helped at all during the construction of the resort, other than to one day come down and offer cigars to the electrical crew while they were hooking up the transformer it had taken me eight weeks to source. The crew laughed at him and as usual, Yim and I completed the work.
In fact, when we formed the partnership, he was not married and by the time we had started building, he was and his 'new wife' was telling us that unless we bought certain colors, she would not agree to the purchase... ugh.
So, we now continue along with www.oceansedge.com like all good troopers. Life goes on along the Ocean's Edge...
In 1986, I was asked to help a company on the Island of St. Maarten create their first every tourism magazine.
The first year was mostly spent traveling back and forth and all we really accomplished was setting up the Islands first ever telephone directory by armed with all that info, we had the connections to create a full fledged magazine... so I move to Marigot, St. Martin, and lived in the lowlands just outside the town where one of my neighbors was Jasper Johns.
It was a very interesting year for me and an experience which got me deeply involved in scuba diving.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
After a 17 day road trip from Vancouver Island, we finally arrived in Maya Beach in Belize for the first night we could stay in our little house by the beach and there it was, with no roof left on it after Hurricane Iris.
To say that was a disappointment would be an understatement but once we drove into Placencia and realized that most of the houses we recalled being there were nowhere to be seen, we began to count ourselves very lucky.
We had a partner at the time who now owns our little houses that Yim and I put so much effort into creating and his first words to us upon hearing about the damage was that we should move into the shed for the time being so the guests we had booked could still take their vacation.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, it has included not only my traveling but cooperating in the development and marketing of several very well know destinations books and tourism publications, including this book on Bermuda, where I spent two years helping build a brand identity for the Royal Naval Dockyard and creating and producing the Bermuda Department of Tourism guides.
That traveling experience is what makes Ocean's Edge an interesting web site to read or to take part in by joining us on one of our trips.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The Great Barrier Reef is about 500,000 years old, but it has not been present in its current form for all of that time.
Reefs have grown and receded on Australia's continental shelf, depending on sea level changes. The present reef structure is only about 6,000 to 8,000 years old, and is growing on top of the underlying structure of old reefs formed during periods of higher sea levels.
The Great Barrier Reef is not a single continuous reef along Australia's continental shelf. Rather, it is composed of around 2,900 individual reefs of many shapes and sizes, and includes some continental (or rocky) islands surrounded by reefs. The Great Barrier Reef comes quite close to the mainland, within a few kilometres, in the northern Great Barrier Reef, and is hundreds of kilometres offshore in the southern parts including the Swains Reefs.
Most reefs of the Great Barrier Reef have formed on the continental shelf rather than in the deep ocean like atolls, and are generally known as shelf reefs. The reefs on the Great Barrier Reef include fringing reefs, ribbon reefs, deltaic reefs and platform reefs.
Fringing reefs form adjacent to the mainland or a high island.
Platform reefs are oval in shape, 3km to 10 km long, and often have a lagoon in the middle. Some platform reefs accumulate sand in one section to form a coral cay, and this may be stable enough to support vegetation, and hence populations of birds other small animals.
Ribbon reefs occur only in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef, close to the edge of the continental shelf. They are long and thin and lack a lagoon.
Deltaic reefs occur only in the northern Great Barrier Reef, and resemble a river delta.
Courtesy of The CRC Reef Research Centre.
Monday, April 14, 2008
It's not every day I am asked to sit on a Board of Directors, and when the Ogden Point Enhancement Society asked this month, I instantly agreed.
Ogden Point is one of the spots in Canada that I consider among the best dive locations, particularly for beginners and the Society is committed to protecting and promoting the location. Ogden Point is not only the location I completed my Instructors Certification, it is home to some of the finest and most accessible scuba diving in the Pacific Northwest.
So, it is with some sense of pride that I have been appointed to The Board of Directors of the Ogden Point Enhancement Society, dedicated to preserving and promoting the area. We hope to add an Interpretive Center within the Point this year to inform visitors on the marine life of Ogden Point and the surrounding areas.
The Ogden Point Breakwater and Docks were constructed between 1914 and 1917 and required over one million tons of rock, ten thousand granite blocks, fifty three concrete caissons and over one million cubic yards of dredged fill to build. Indeed, a Canadian engineering marvel.
There are a number of entry points along the breakwater which allow entrance at a wide variety of depths, but the farther you go, the harder it is to get there with a dive tank strapped to your back on the walk out. However, the farther out you go, the greater the variety of sea life...