The University of Belize (UB) hosted a stakeholder consultation to launch the Belize River Watershed Management Plan (BRWMP) project on October 13th, 2017. The primary objective of the project is to develop the integrated BRWMP and to develop ecological and hydrological monitoring tools while assessing the status of the Belize River Watershed. The consultation had full support from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Government of Belize, the Department of Environment (DOE) and other non-governmental organizations in attendance. Faculty members on the Project Execution Team from the Natural Resources Management Program, in the Faculty of Science of Technology include: Antonio Cano, Dr. Abel Carrias, Josue Ake and Dr. Pio Saqui along with support from Dr. Ed. Boles.
(Photo of: Dr. Ed Boles and Dr. Pio Saqui)
The aim of the project is the development of a management plan that will guide decision making and the implementation of a sound management strategy of water resources in Belize.
(Photo of: Dr. Mariot Simon, UB Vice President)
UB Vice President, Dr. Mariot R. Simon delivered the opening remarks and resonated the significance of the rich biodiversity of Belize and the need for its preservation. Vice President Simon said, “such biodiversity can only be possible with a healthy, clean and abundant freshwater source. Belize has plenty water. However we must recognize, that as Belize seeks to negotiate its development strategies, we must take care of our water resources. Approximately 135,655 of Belize’s population depend on the Belize River watershed on a daily basis. Most of our agriculture happens within this watershed, which can mean that this watershed is at risk of being severely impacted. Frankly, Belize as a nation, cannot afford to lose the goods and services provided by the Belize River Watershed … I want to assure you, that the University of Belize will continue to develop research and academic programs that bolster applied sciences that will address current natural resource management issues in Belize. Indeed ‘Education Empowers a Nation.’ With that in mind, UB must ensure that our education and scientific agenda remains relevant and responsive to our dynamic challenges.”
(Photo of: Martin Alegria and Dr. Mariot Simon)
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer in the Department of Environment, delivered the keynote address. Alegria told the stakeholders that the DOE, the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment of the GOB are all encouraged by the initiative. “We have tried for many years to protect key natural resources using the Protected Areas mechanism and the Environmental Screening (EIA) process, with varying results. It is time to develop a complementing mechanism such as Watershed Management to strengthen these efforts. We commend the University of Belize to take up the challenge, and join forces with a strong partner in WWF, to deliver a successful product that we, in Government, can use to increase the success rate of plans, programmes and activities geared at Sustainable Environmental Management.”
The project also allows for a learning experience. Three students have been honored with research fellowship awards. Ilya Herrera, Rigoberto Saqui & Giselle Mahung will work closely with faculty on the Project Execution Team, assisting with the characterization of the Belize River Watershed, through physical, biological, and social data collection and analysis. The Student Fellows will assist with the aerial surveys, and mapping component of the project.
(Photo of: Ilya Herrera, Rigoberto Saqui & Giselle Mahung)
Giselle Mahung grew up amongst conservationists in the Toledo District. Mahung said “I’ve always had a love for the environment and a passion for conservation that I developed from experiences growing up in Southern Belize and volunteering with various organizations. Consequently, being awarded the opportunity to participate in this project is significant to me, as I will be able to continue fostering that passion while participating in a meaningful project. I look forward to contributing much-needed baseline data that will later be used for the development of policies to ensure the sustainable use of one of Belize’s major watersheds.”
UB student Rigoberto Saqui had an interest in conservation from early childhood. “Exposed to the complexity of the terrestrial and marine ecosystem function, it sparked an interest to volunteer in ongoing research projects. To receive this award from the University of Belize, validates and supports me to continue pursuing my future endeavors in the research realm. While gratified for the endless opportunities and possibilities of first hand experiences, I intend to contribute all necessary means, knowledge and skills to future researchers, policy makers and self-driven stewards for conservation to be proactive in the campaign for sustainable use and management of natural resources in Belize.”
After the ceremonial opening, the afternoon session concluded with developing a work plan and timetable for key outputs of the program that would result in proper conservation of the watershed. The granting of fellowships to students and the involvement of Faculty in national issues are perpetual by design as the University understands its role and commitment in the education of the people who will manage the resources of Belize.