But while public pressure forced the Government to put the activities on hold today, environmentalists have been lobbying for much more from the authorities. The Northern Explorer Sea Bird arrived in Belize this week ready to begin seismic testing. Oceana Belize was unaware of this plan and only learnt of the situation when the Department of Environment informed them that they had given approval. Since then, Oceana Belize has been requesting more information, but little has been forthcoming says Vice President Janelle Chanona.
Janelle Chanona - Oceana’s Vice President
“We wrote to the department of the environment saying can you please share with us the written submission that you made to Cabinet that they are basing this approval without the EIA on, we have not gotten that. What we do have was in part what you heard today of the department of the environment are able to definitively say that there will be no longstanding effect from seismic on Belize, that it will not affect a large area and that the scientific concern is that we have raised as an environmental community is not accurate and that careful research was done. It is really important to emphasize, that that has been the only information shared with the people of Belize which is not really information, its defending without much detail or clarity why the recommendation was made, it has been absolutely clear that there was lack of consultation with even other governmental department agencies when the department of Geology and Petroleum were discussing this and proposing this survey, the tourism industry even the Belize Board were not consulted or informed we have written to the fishes administrator asking if the fisheries department was consulted we have not gotten a response from her on that point but over all of that, you the public the owners of this shared resources only know the level of detail that you know because of the information that the environmental community stakeholders have been able to glean and record and share with you and we do not believe that this shared should be carried out. What is the rush, when we asked that question we were informed that Geology and Petroleum has been in fact been discussing this for the last three years, at no point within that three year period apparently did they find it necessary let anybody else know that maybe concerned about this or may have questions about this because just because you are asking a question about this doesn’t mean you are saying right off it can’t happen we are allowed to ask questions, at no point in the three years did they consult on that and at the start of the three yeas it was also made clear to us that it was about doing seismic, the multi bean component was only added this year.”
In interviews with the media, Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria contends that the concerns are an exaggeration and based on erroneous information. He said they have done the studies and this kind of seismic study does not require an environmental impact assessment.
Martin Alegria - Chief Environmental Officer
“We looked at the methodologies we were proposing to do it the areas they are talking about and we look at the policies that we have in terms of procedures and legislations and we understood that one it was a none inclusive type of methodology, it was far outside the protected area and then we saw that it was something that instituting a few mitigating measures that are internationally acceptable can be done so we did approve the multi beam survey.”
Oceana’s Janelle Chanona responds to GOB’s rationale
“It is fine for the government to say our science is right and here we are pointing out that there is out contradictory science but doesn’t that then scream that that is why everybody has to put all this science that they are finding that they have a hash out and we go through all the material that it is available and we look at specifically what we have in Belize the little we know about this deep sea area especially the EEZ and then make a decision going forward.”
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
“There has been this misinformation out there that the law says that any seismic has to do an EIA, that is not true, the EIA has regulations and has schedule I and II, schedule I has a list that have to do EIA regardless, schedule II has may or may not, and seismic fall under schedule II may or may not why because seismic depends on the methodology which is non-inclusive, in land it is even less inclusive than on water so when we look at schedule II it says may or may not.”
The suspension of the seismic activities will give Oceana Belize and other environmental groups more time to demand information and that an environmental impact assessment be conducted before. Whether the Department will agree is another matter.
We must point out that in December 2015, the Government had announced that it would ban oil exploration in in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System, and within the seven (7) World Heritage Sites in Belize. So far, there has been at least one account of the impact of the multi beam survey. A post on social media by a guiding tourist at the Turneffe Atoll describes what he experienced yesterday.
The tour guide posted that while diving he heard what sounded like thunder. He first thought it was a storm building nearby, but shortly after, there was a second thunder clap, then another and another. He then realized that it was the seismic airgun blasts and chose to end his dive. The tour guide noted that the fish seemed disturbed by the loud sound.
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