Environmental Threats
and Challenges


Air-Borne Pollution

Citrus Processing Plant, Belize
Citrus Processing Plant
Stann Creek Valley

Belize NGO, Wildtracks, recently discovered that agricultural pesticides sprayed on citrus farms are being carried upward by the wind and then "raining" down onto areas of the Maya Mountains formerly thought to be some of the most pristine areas in Central America. 

(The level of glyphosate, a chemical sprayed under citrus trees, found in the Maya Mountains is 50 times greater than European standards for safe drinking water.)

Wildtracks is currently waiting for results to determine whether chemicals used on banana farms are also present in these areas. 

(For more information on Wildtrack's efforts, see http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/neotropics/eco-exchange/2008/november_08_01.html )

And, the World Wildlife Fund has found these same chemicals in the tissue of reef fish - at alarming levels - meaning that this air-borne pollution is also affecting the Placencia Peninsula and the cayes, reef and marine life just off the Peninsula.

Water-Borne Pollution

Banana Farm just off the Placencia Peninsula, Belize
Banana Farm just off the Peninsula

All water bodies are susceptible to harm from agricultural run-off which includes fertilizers, pesticides and dirt, including the Placencia Lagoon, which directly receives run-off from banana and citrus farms, affecting the Lagoon's water quality.

But, it turns out that oceans are even more vulnerable to agricultural run-off than many people thought.

Fertilizer runoff from farms can trigger sudden explosions of marine algae capable of disrupting ocean ecosystems and producing "dead zones" in the sea. This happens because the extra nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off land into the ocean can drain oxygen out of the water, so plants and animals that need that oxygen can't breathe - - and they die.

Pesticides in runoff can cause diseases in people and marine life, not to mention kill them when the run-off is big enough. Plus, many of the chemicals used in pesticides can change the reproductive cycles of animals, birds and fish, causing them to be sterile, which results in harm to an entire eco-system.

The dirt itself that is loosened from the ground when soil is dug is also harmful in run-off because it causes turbidity, cutting down on the light needed by marine life to grow, and in some cases, smothering and killing it - corals and seagrass are particularly vulnerable to sedimentation. And, when the corals and seagrass are killed, fish, lobster, crab and other marine animals have a harder time finding food and may even die of starvation.

Agricultural run-off can reach the ocean directly through run-off from the land itself, or indirectly by run-off into rivers that empty into the sea.

In tropical and subtropical areas like Belize, banana plantations and citrus groves are major sources of pesticide laden agricultural run-off.  Run-off enters local rivers, which feed into the Placencia Lagoon or the Caribbean Sea.  Bananas plantations, in particular, are a major source of insecticides and pesticides because of bananas' extreme vulnerability to insects.

Belize has no water quality testing plants that are able to assess water for the presence of heavy metals, and lacks the financial resources to conduct regular water quality testing for agrochemicals.

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development

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Placencia, Belize