Belize City, Belize – Members of Belize’s cruise tourism industry today signed a Declaration of Commitment, in which key industry stakeholders – including government, private sector, civil society (NGOs) and the cruise lines – commit to create sustainable cruise tourism practices, such as protecting coral reefs. The commitment is the second such environmental agreement developed for Caribbean passenger cruise line destinations by Conservation International’s (CI) Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI). It is also the first to address considerations by an established nature tourism destination and will likely serve as a model for cruise line travel destinations around the world.
“This agreement marks an important paradigm shift, with leaders from both the international cruise industry and cruise ship destination industry jointly embracing the idea that managing cruise destination areas is a shared responsibility in which all stakeholders play an important role,” said Seleni Matus, MARTI Advisor for CI.
Over the last 20 years Belize has become a tourist destination known for offering its visitors unique experiences in a relatively untouched natural environment. In fact, Belize was one of the first countries to establish itself as an eco-tourism destination. Over the past five years, Belize has become one of the fastest growing cruise destinations in the western Caribbean. This has brought about new environmental considerations, and demonstrated a need for an overall plan for managing cruise ship visitation.
“As a premier nature tourism destination, the Government of Belize takes seriously the challenge of balancing the rapid growth of cruise ship tourism with protection of our natural resources,” said Honorable Manuel Heredia, Jr., Belize’s Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation. “This effort represents a first step toward achieving Belize’s vision of becoming a responsible cruise destination.”
The agreement provides a framework to facilitate the sustainability of cruise tourism in Belize by involving key stakeholders in the process. Having these stakeholders accountable for keeping Belize’s natural environment as pristine as possible creates as atmosphere of shared responsibility. Among the actions Belize cruise industry leaders agreed to:
Enhance marine and coastal resource use management
Improve tourism planning, basic tourism infrastructure and management of services/facilities for cruise ship visitors
Foster adequate site monitoring and compliance with existing regulations, and
Promote conservation awareness among cruise ship visitors about Belize’s natural heritage
“This partnership demonstrates the continued willingness and commitment of international cruise industry leaders to work with local partners to chart a course for working together on priority issues, as well as the leadership role that Belize’s cruise sector has assumed in implementing best practices for stewardship of the environment,” said Michele Paige, President of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
As part of the agreement, cruise industry leaders have formed a multi-sector Destination Stewardship Working Group through which they will collaborate to implement the commitments in the conservation agreement. Over the next six months, this Working Group will raise funds locally and implement several basic conservation projects that will demonstrate tangible improvements in the short-term, including:
Mooring Buoy Project that seeks to address anchor damage to coral from a spike in boating traffic at highly-visited marine recreation sites around Belize City, and
Conservation Awareness Video for Cruise Ship Passengers that will help reduce the visitor footprint in threatened ecosystems by showcasing Belize’s rich biodiversity, and invite cruise ship visitors to help Belizeans in their conservation efforts by adhering to good practices when they interact with the environment.
It is envisioned that the outcomes of this initiative will help Belize’s Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and the Belize Tourism Board to establish a permanent Cruise Destination Stewardship Council to lead efforts beyond the formal end of this initiative in December 2008 – using recommendations outlined in “Protecting Belize’s Natural Heritage” action plan for improved management of cruise ship visitation.