Over the last ten months, the Sargassum Task Force (STF), a public-private committee, has worked diligently to strategize possible mitigation and adaptation measures to address the impact of Sargassum on the top four impacted tourist destinations, namely, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Hopkins and Placencia.
In late 2018, Cabinet approved a set of relief support mechanisms, including a hotel tax relief for 4 months for accommodation situated on the beach front, duty exemption facility for machinery and equipment imported to support clean-up efforts and containment of the Sargassum, as well as a BZ$1.5 million to support municipalities for beach clean-up. Based on the latter, the Task Force led the development of destination-level Sargassum management plans that focus on a four-prong strategy of collection, containment, disposal and awareness.
To date, and since the reinstallation of the Sargassum Task Force, over 299 properties have benefitted from the Hotel Tax Relief, with an additional 10 properties taking advantage of the Duty Exemption program for Sargassum Management Equipment. Additionally, the four hotspot areas have been integrated within a municipal relief mechanism being administered by the Belize Tourism Board. This relief support has seen the establishment of disposal sites within each area, and the designation of a municipal beach clean-up budget within each area, amounting to approximately BZ$500,000, collectively. The STF is also in the planning stage of a Boom Installation Pilot Test in San Pedro Town, to assess the effectiveness of these systems to protect beaches from Sargassum Influx. The technical team, led by the Department of Environment, Fisheries Department, and the Belize Port Authority, has been on the ground to assess critical environmental and logistical parameters.
A campaign will be shortly launched on social media to create awareness for stakeholders and tourists to be aware of what is being done and educate on best practices of how to collect, contain and dispose of the Sargassum.
Lastly, the Task Force has worked with support from the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MTCA), National Meteorological Service, the National Emergency Management Organization, and the Department of Civil Aviation in developing a Sargassum drift projection system, with intentions to evolve this system into a full Forecasting System in 2019. These reports are issued every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday along with local weather forecasts. The team continues to improve on the accuracy of Sargassum detection and drift forecasting with support from international satellite-based tools, and with a ground truthing mechanism being developed with Maya Island Air. Belize is poised to be one of the first countries in the region with a local forecasting system for Sargassum.
As stated by John Burgos, Executive Director, Belize Tourism Industry Association, “As the influx of Sargassum continues to threaten our marine ecosystem and our tourism industry, the work of the Sargassum Task Force with the support of the Government of Belize remains paramount to the livelihood of Belizeans. The efficient removal of Sargassum is the best option available, we must continue to work hand-in-hand to find the best solutions available.”
The MTCA, as chair of the Sargassum Task Force, thanks all its members and partners for its continued support and partnership in the management of Sargassum in Belize. It also thanks the invaluable support it has received from the local municipalities, tourism stakeholders, and most importantly from the communities in the hotspot areas. The Task Force continues its work to develop a plan of action for the remainder of the 2019 season, and also on a long-term management mechanism for Sargassum, beyond the scope of tourism, as this phenomenon is projected to impact the region for the foreseeable future.
The Sargassum Task Force is comprised of the following Agencies: The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (Chair), the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Belize Hotel Association, the Department of Environment, the Belize Fisheries Department, the Ministry of Health, the National Meteorological Service of Belize, the National Emergency Management Organization, the Coastal Zone Management Authority Institute, the Belize Network of NGOs, the Belize Port of Authority, the respective Local Governments and numerous observers and partners.
For more information, contact:
Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation