Migratory Messengers Motivate Belize Conservation Funding

DUBLIN, Ohio, January 31, 2001 (ENS) - The annual flight of migratory birds between Toledo, Belize in Central America and this town less than 100 miles from Toledo, Ohio has created a connection that is preserving a pristine tropical forest in Belize.

The Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy has pledged $500,000 to fund the purchase of 4,000 acres of forest along the Rio Grande River in the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor of southern Belize.


One of the increasingly rare birds of the Belize tropical forest, this one does not migrate to Ohio. (Photos courtesy The Nature Conservancy)
The unspoiled nature of the area is threatened by the construction of a new highway, as well as unsustainable logging, urban development and unregulated tourism.

"Belizeans and Buckeyes are separated by many miles, but we are united in our concern for conservation," said David Weekes, director of The Nature Conservancy's Ohio Chapter. Among the many connections, Ohio and Belize share 165 species of migratory birds.

The Conservancy's nonprofit partner organization in Belize will own and manage the property. The organization, the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment (TIDE), will ensure that the property remains protected forever by establishing one of the country's first conservation easements.

"This is an historic step for conservation in Belize," said Dan Campbell, director of the Conservancy's Belize Program. "The protection of privately owned lands through the use of legal agreements like conservation easements is the key to keeping this rain forest intact."

The purchase is part of an intensive effort to protect an ecologically rich area between the central highlands and the Caribbean coast of southern Belize.

The corridor is composed of public and private lands. Its forested land, including the rain forest that covers the acquired property, is home to jaguar, ocelot and several species of migratory birds.

The rivers, including the Rio Grande, are home to manatees and endangered hickatee turtles.

"This is truly a special place and it will now be protected forever," said Wil Maheia, founder and executive director of TIDE. The property is the first conservation area purchased by the organization, and the third area to be managed by TIDE.

The area will be open to the public for hiking, environmental education, bird watching and other ecologically compatible activities.

TIDE was founded in 1997 in response to urgent conservation needs. West Indian manatees, defenseless sea mammals, were being poached weekly, dramatically reducing the already endangered population. There were no independent, non-governmental organizations monitoring the logging, fishing, and agricultural industries of Southern Belize, so TIDE was formed to fulfill this function.

Because the government of Belize did not have the monetary or human resources to adequately patrol the southern Gulf of Honduras for illegal foreign vessels, TIDE has provided the watercrafts needed to protect this area - more than 800 square kilometers of open water.


Forest typical of the newly conserved area.
TIDE is made up entirely of local people. The office staffers are young Belizeans committed to conservation, the boat captains and rangers are former hunters and fishermen who are now protecting the resources they once exploited.

TIDE staffers and volunteers go to each community to solicit their visions on Toledo's future, meeting in local churches, schools, bars. They work to persuade Belizeans that there are alternatives to resource extractive practices. For instance, ecotour guides can earn more money catching and releasing fish, or taking clients to see manatees and howler monkeys, than they can by harvesting those same creatures.

As a booking agenct for ecotour packages, TIDE raises funds to invest in protected areas planning and management, environmental monitoring and enforcement, and guide training programs.

The Nature Conservancy is a private, international, non-profit organization established in 1951 to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

To date, the Conservancy and its members have been responsible for the protection of more than 12 million acres of land in the United States and it owns more than 1,300 preserves in the country - the largest private system of nature reserves in the world. It has helped partner organizations to preserve more than 80 million acres in the Asia Pacific region, in Canada, in the Caribbean and in Latin America.

The Nature Conservancy is found online at: http://www.tnc.org/international

TIDE links are available at: http://www.belizeecotours.org/belizetravel.html