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February 10, 2016


Belize is a “bucket list” destination for anglers from all over the world. The country is collectively home to some of the finest saltwater flats on the planet, from the northern waters of Ambergris Caye as far south as Placentia and Punta Gorda. Bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, snapper, jacks, barracuda and numerous other species can be found throughout the waters of Belize’s coastline, in fisheries that range from skinny, white sand flats, to shallow-water lagoons, to some of the largest “classic-style” tarpon fisheries on the planet. 

This diversity is one of the reasons anglers and conservationists are alarmed at the oncoming development of Blackadore Caye, a 104-acre island just 7.5 miles west of Ambergris Caye, into a high-end, exclusive “Restorative Island” eco-resort. Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the island nearly a decade ago with a partner for $1.75 million, and now has announced plans to develop the island into a sprawling resort of villas, infinity pools, and recreation. 

One chief cause of concern? The project blueprint shows those villas will lie over the water, not on the island itself. Blackadore rests in the newly-expanded Hol Chan Marine Reserve, raising concerns that despite ostensible plans to create artificial reefs to support the fishery, the resort’s encroachment into the water will have negative effects. 

According to this January 15, 1016, article from the San Pedro Sun, the public review of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment did not have a warm welcome. The paper notes: On Thursday, January 14th, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was presented before the island community during its first public consultation. The proposed schematics for the island consist of only 41.4% of the land being developed, with 58.6% left untouched as a conservation zone. While the EIA seems to promote development in a sustainable manner, and offers great potential for Belize’s tourism industry, there is still skepticism over how environmentally friendly the construction will be, what the impacts will be on the neighboring marine environment and how it will affect local fishing guides who depend on the area for tourism based catch-and-release sport fishing.” 

Defend Blackadore Caye, a group keeping track of the resort’s progress, released the following statement in early February: “Leonardo DiCaprio and his team of corporate “environmentalists” want to build overwater structures in a conservation zone designated to protect fly-fishing species, their nursing grounds, and in turn the livelihoods of fly-fishing guides who depend on the health of the area. This is not only an action in violation of Belizean law, but an action without regard for those fly-fishermen. The Environmental Impact Assessment for the project has only one sentence in 430+ pages which discusses fly-fishing. Unfortunately, the single sentence which writes that ‘a few’ fishermen use the area undermines the economic and cultural importance of the waters surrounding Blackadore.”

The group continues, “While we are not opposed to the development on the island. We are extremely opposed to the proposal of over-the-water cabanas in our newly formed marine reserve (an extension of Hol Chan) specifically designated to protect the nursing grounds of fly-fishing species and fly-fishing areas. We are also opposed to their request to not have to abide by the Queen’s Land / Public Access Law which allows public access — namely it allows us to fish these important flats around Blackadore which our San Pedrano fishing guides have been doing since the mid-1970s.

Allowing any developer to take public water and use it to build for-profit private cabanas — especially in a marine reserve is an extremely dangerous precedent to set. Please help us continue to protect these beautiful flats and magnificent flats species for generations to come.” 

Have an opinion? Want to make your voice heard? Defend Blackadore Caye has started a petition titled “Blackadore Caye: Stop the Overwater Structures, Protect the Environment & Public Access.” The petition outlines the concerns of Belize locals, those in the angling community, and a crowd of concerned conservationists and anglers.


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