Belize environmental laws show promise – but enforcement a challenge

Beautiful Belize – I could write you a love letter. I have fallen for your lush forests, colourful communities, and contagious smiles. I have only been here a short time, but I feel the same instinctive urge to protect the environment that surrounds me as I do at home on Vancouver Island. Thankfully, as a Coastal Planning and Monitoring Intern at Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, I have the ability to contribute to the protection of coastal areas in Belize alongside many dedicated Belizeans.

As a Resource Management Officer Technology graduate and a current Natural Resource Protection student, I was keen to learn how Belizeans use natural resource law enforcement to assist in the protection of coastal resources. The enforcement of legislation and regulations is a key component of environmental protection as it works hand-in-hand with law-making and education to prevent illegal activities from taking place, and to obtain compensation for damage to the environment. To some degree, laws without enforcement are useless.

I have worked from both the law enforcement and education perspectives previously, but before coming to Belize I had never worked from the regulation-making end of things. This has been an interesting change for me. I am used to working out in the field interacting with people and seeing the rules that others have established in action. As a park ranger and park interpreter, I felt that each day, no matter how small, I was making a difference. Now that I’m behind a desk, it’s a bit more challenging for me to gauge my impacts. However, I do not dwell on this because I know that without the existence of important guidelines, there would be nothing to enforce!

Currently, I work mainly in an office working with guidelines that will (hopefully) be enforced in the near future. Here in Belize, resources are limited and there is often insufficient funding to conduct enforcement activities. So although many laws, regulations and guidelines have been established, there is no one out in the field ensuring that they are being followed. This is a painful fact to accept because these regulations and guidelines have not been created lightly; they are rules that – if not followed – will have serious consequences for the environment, and by extension, all of Belize. I can’t imagine the frustration of those who have dedicated so much time researching and conducting community consultations in order to establish the guidelines necessary to protect their country, simply to have someone ignore them without consequence.

Despite a lack of adequate enforcement of regulations among other challenges, I consider this a very exciting time in Belize’s history. Belize is a very young country (independent as of 1981) and therefore has not had much time to develop all of the laws that older countries such as Canada have. To me, this is exciting because Belize has the chance to start from scratch, learn from other countries’ mistakes and do things right the first time! Although I won’t be writing laws any time soon, I look forward to digging deeper into the inner workings of guideline creation and working with communities to develop a reporting system for illegal activities. Many opportunities await!

Stephanie Govier, Natural Resource Protection, VIU