Environmental Threats
and Challenges


Dredging for boat accessSeems everyone on the coast or at the cayes has an itch to dredge. 

Need fill for your low-lying lot on the Placencia Lagoon?  Why, just apply to dredge a marina - easy to get your fill that way (unscrupulous real estate agents are even advertising property using the marina/fill scheme as a hook to get potential buyers).  

Own a small caye you want to make into a bigger caye - why, just dredge!  (Bigger caye, bigger asking price.  Bigger caye - more money from your brand new caye resort!)

Building a concrete house - well cement needs sand, so you order some sand, meaning someone needs to dredge that sand up from somewhere.

So, what's the problem with dredging?  Unfortunately, there are many of them:

  • Sedimentation:  dredging stirs up silt, which can kill coral, sea grass beds and other marine habitat when it settles.  (Silt curtains to contain the silt are supposed to be used during dredging, but they never are - at least not in the Placencia area.)  Smothering and killing sea grass beds and corals means fewer fish and other marine life, which means less food for local people who depend on fish for their protein, fewer fish for export, which means less money available for programs such as schools, healthcare, police and fire protection, and less protection from storm surges, putting people and their homes in danger.

  • Change in shorelines:  Increasing the depth of a shoreline is a recipe for disaster in a tidal surge.  Dredging too close to shoreline creates larger waves, which may eventually take back the dredged sand, causing even more dredging.  When dredging removes sea grass beds, the seabed becomes "loose," allowing tidal surges to cut deep into a shoreline. 

  • Changes in depths of bodies of water:  Extensive dredging in the Placencia Lagoon has harmed its nursery function - smaller fish don't need big holes to hide in, they need shallow water, mangroves roots and sea grass beds for food and protection. Dredging that significantly deepens a body of water also kills sea grass even without sedimentation because sea grass needs lots of light to live, which it can't get if the bottom is too deep for sunlight to reach it.  Add sedimentation to deeper waters and it's easy to see why little sea grass is left in the Placencia Lagoon - and few manatee, which need sea grass to survive.

Dredging in the Placencia LagoonA dredging/ mining permit is required to dredge any body of water in Belize.  However, permits are easy to obtain, especially for lagoons and rivers, and no environmental review is needed unless permission is requested to dredge more than 50,000 cubic yards.  As might be imagined, dredging permits applications routinely ask for permission to dredge 45,000 - 49,000 cubic yards, but never 50,000 or more except for very large projects.

DredgerFurther, no one keeps track of how much is actually dredged once dredging begins.  PCSD has been trying to over a year to find out how much has been dredged from the Lagoon at the Peninsula Club site, but Geology just ignores the requests.  A request for information about dredging at a number of sites in the Placencia area has recently been made under the Belize Freedom of Information Act.

In the Placencia area, dredging is becoming a very sensitive issue and the Placencia Village Council recently refused to endorse a project that would have involved dredging to fill in a portion of the Placencia Lagoon for a residential subdivision. 

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development

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Placencia, Belize