Drake Magazine Back Issue Content Spring 2016

Don’t do it Leonardo. And a few words from Omar Arceo

I want to share this award with all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history, and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice. —Leonardo DiCaprio, Golden Globes, Jan. 10, 2016

WE DIDN’T KNOW IT AT THE TIME, but this heartfelt speech from DiCaprio might have been his best acting job yet. Four days later, at a public meeting in San Pedro, Ambergis Caye, Belize, results were shared from the Environmental Impact Assessment for DiCaprio’s latest project—a luxury “eco” resort planned for Blackadore Caye, about 10 miles northwest of San Pedro.

DiCaprio and partner Jeff Gram paid $1.75 million for the 104-acre island in 2004, after the two had met on nearby Cayo Espanto, which Gram also owns. There are plenty of iffy aspects to the development, starting with its greenwashed “Restorative Islands” name, but among longtime local permit guides, many who’ve been poling clients around Blackadore for more than 20 years, two especially intolerable details stand out: 1) An unlovely string of 20 to 30 guest villas scheduled to be built over water that was added to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve just last March. 2) An alleged need to keep the beaches and flats surrounding the resort “private and secure” due to the high-profile nature of its pending douchey guestlist.

Since Leo is so concerned about the voice of indigenous people, we figured we’d ask one to share his thoughts: Lifelong local and 25-year veteran permit guide, Omar Arceo, AKA “Dr. of the Flats.”

We are against the overwater structures proposed for the north and south of the island. The main pier on the north side would be right on top of the flat, over permit feeding grounds. We’ve worked closely with the fisheries department to ban net-fishing and commercial fishing from these flats for the sole purpose of conserving the ecosystem. We are prepared to stop this construction of the overwater structures. Our community has stopped two other companies wanting to build overwater structures on the reef.

The position of the flats makes it ideal for permit. On both sides there is deep water, so permit come in from the deep and go to the sandbar, which is about one mile wide and three miles long. There is two to three feet of water in the middle. It’s a bed of hard rock with sandy bottom. It’s because of this hard rock that they want to build on the flats—the bottom can sustain it. This is where permit feed because it’s crustacean habitat; it’s perfect for them.

We have no issue with them building on his land. He [DiCaprio] can build a ten-story building on his island, no problem. But the overwater structures violate the Queens Rule, as well as Section V of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This is why we are appalled at the project’s proposal to build over the water. He is claiming the flats as part of his property, and that is unacceptable.

Privatizing the entire zone for his own pocket is our biggest concern, and the complete disregard it shows for the Queens Rule is by far the worst thing about this project. They have no idea how famous these flats are, or how pertinent they are to the flyfishing industry in Belize. To say that there are security concerns highlights his ignorance of the indigenous people on this island.

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11 Comments

  1. As a Belizean following this project, I beg to differ with this article. From what I understand Dicaprio took the sentiments of the locals very seriously and is reconfiguring his entire plan to show respect and homage to all of the concerns expressed at that meeting. I heard this specifically at a presentation his group made just recently to local stakeholders. Articles shared on this site should ensure that they provide fact so that we do not affect anyone’s reputation, especially since we hold info in Drake mag with high regard, usually. We also need to be open minded to not affect future investors that respect us and can help stimulate the economy

    • If you have been there it would be obvious that There is no way to do anything there that would be anything but ruinous to the landscape, seascape, fishing etc.. not a question of knowing how sensitive they might be.. there is simply no way there should be any development in that area

  2. I am glad you clarified this, as sometimes we just jump off the deep end with heresay. We have to make sure we really investigate issues as after all this I researched a bit further and found this article which when investigated was exactly correct, The out rigger in the picture at the top of the Drake article and being commented on was removed completely from the plan,
    robertjhawkins1.wordpress.com/2016/04/13…oure-looking-at-him/

  3. Dear “Anonymous” #1. If what you say is true, then I’d be overjoyed. Can you please include a link to your next post that shows how and where “Dicaprio took the sentiments of the locals very seriously and is reconfiguring his entire plan to show respect and homage to all of the concerns expressed at that meeting.”

    I saw the April 8 press release put out by Caldwell Banker—one of many real estate companies hoping to sell some of the “68 villas and 48 estate homes.” The press release included this piece of breaking journalism: “Experts are now studying the feasibility whether the local Belizean can still be able to fish around Blackadore Caye. The developers don’t want to take away the local people’s livelihood and tradition but still not compromising the welfare of the island.”

    There are so many ludicrous lines in that single condescending paragraph that I don’t even know where to start. But the fact that the developers see themselves as needing to defend the “welfare of the island” from the locals, rather than the other way around, speaks volumes.

    Curious if you were at the same public presentation that these two people attended:

    “Sixty-six feet of all coastal waters are all considered Queen’s land because it belongs to the public,” said one concerned resident during a discussion of the project’s recently-completed 430 page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). “You may own land, but from high tide, sixty-six feet on to land is public access. And not only are you blocking that, but you are encroaching on the marine reserve and developing in that water.”

    Marissa Tellez-Kohlman, vice regional chair of Latin America for the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission, raised concerns with the Belizean Reporter that the EIA was conducted without input from local marine biologists.

    “Why did they hire international marine and terrestrial biologists to perform surveys instead of Belizean scientists?” she said. “Given my expertise, I have been asked to travel to various countries in the world to provide my expertise. Yet, I never go into another country without consulting locals or local scientists.”

  4. Thanks for your questions. Please note the entire outrigger which is the sixty six feet you mentioned has now been removed from the plan. This is why I mentioned they were highly responsive to the comments of the people, this was done almost immediately after the consultation. Also I did see the Caldwell Banker release which was not from the Blackadore Group at all, sometimes articles are issued which are not official. I agree with the point of hiring local Biologists which is why they do have local Biologists like Valentine Rosado among others who are assisting with studying the area and the environmental conditions. However where local expertise is and was not available they have hired foreign experts who are being shadowed for transfer of knowledge by local biologists. In fact a plan is being researched to conduct this transfer of knowledge with local University students this summer so that the benefits remain in country for future generations. They are working on advanced concepts like bio-mimicry for mangrove reforestation.
    I believe that assumptions are never healthy and dialogue is the only way we can see beyond many of the world’s problems. Leaders are those who want solutions and help contribute towards it, not those who make noise only to be noisy. Thanks for your willingness to talk.

  5. I am posting as a concerned Belizean because we still don’t know what local stakeholders were involved in the supposed meeting, and without a re-release of the revised EIA we don’t know how responsive the developers were to the many concerns of the local people.
    Will they respect the 66-foot reserve? The access of fishermen to the flats? How much will their plans to artificially alter the environment with shade and mangroves not natural to the environment impact the health of the flats and fly-fishing species? How do they plan to “restore” the health of the island and conserve the island, and at the same time create a mile of secluded beach (something which does not currently exist on the island)? Will the developers correct their harmful and incorrect narrative that the local people have destroyed the health of the island? These are all questions which wait to be answered.

  6. It is sad when people only feed their truths and don’t bother to talk with the people involved directly. The Blackadore Group has a local office and is on the ground to answer all questions, they are reaching out to all stakeholders for conversations. I am a local and instead of trying to stir muck and create a crusade against a project which has significant benefits for our country, environment and people (jobs, transfer of Knowledge, training, biomimicry of lost mangrove and economic benefits) I recommend that concerned persons should write to info@blackadoregroup.com . The EIA is being edited with the changes and considerations brought up at the consultations. We Belizeans are rationale people who want to discuss before rioting. Let’s hear all sides and make our decisions based on fact rather than one persons opinion while weighing out all the benefits.

  7. Let’s not kid ourselves… If we truly cared about the reef we’d be using modern outboard engines on all our boats. Have you ever seen the water taxis fuel up before going to San Pedro?

  8. We attended the 2nd EIA from the Blackadore group on Thursday. It is fundamentally the same as the 1st EIA. They did not address the community’s main concerns. They outright lied to us that all over the water structures were removed, except an arrival dock to access the island. In fact, they reduced 1 giant outrigger to 2 smaller ones that only represent a 33% reduction in space.
    We are NOT opposed to Blackadore developing their island, that they own. We are very opposed to them building for-profit cabanas over water they do not own, especially when that water is in a marine reserve. It sets a legal precedent that many other developers in the country will want to follow.
    I was left with the impression that at every opportunity they had to “restore” the island they did so at expense of the marine environment. Hol Chan regulations state “a person shall not within the boundaries of the reserve – erect any structure, whether temporary or permanent …unless authorized by the Fisheries Administrator.” Blackadore says it wants to be the kind of developer that sets a standard for sustainable, eco-conscious development. If so, they should build on their own land, not in a marine reserve; and they should not ask the government for exceptions from the Law.
    Department of Environment will accept comments about the EIA and the consultation for two weeks starting today, and NEAC meets on Aug 31st. Let your voice be heard. Please contact them here: envirodept@environment.gov.bz

  9. I had the pleasure of fishing for permit near Blackadore and Rosario Cayes with master guide Omar Arceo last week. I also stayed and contributed my significant vacation dollars to the merchants of Ambergris Caye and mainland tour operators during my stay. This was my fourth visit to Ambergris and I am appalled at the unabashed destruction of mangrove habitat on Ambergris. The developers have free run to rape and pillage to make a quick buck. Now developers are threatening Rosario Caye, another key permit and bird habitat. The Belizean people need to understand that many of your visitors come to Ambergris not just to stay in fancy villas and eat at fancy restaurants. They come here and spend their vacation dollars to recreate in unspoiled areas. The Belizean government is allowing destruction of these habitats and in turn killing their goose that laid the golden egg. The types of development proposed for Blackadore and Rosario Cayes are completely inconsistent with guided fishing and if these projects are allowed to move forward, they will be an economic death sentence for the over 350 licensed guides on Ambergris. These are jobs that could continue indefinitely, unlike the short-term economic stimulus from developing these cayes. Don’t fall prey to the “construction jobs” argument. It is a Trojan horse and a means to push through environmentally destructive projects in order to create short term construction and real estate focused jobs.

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