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OCEANA Back and Forth With GOB
posted (October 19, 2016)

The back and forth between OCEANA and the Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum continues. Yesterday we told you about the government's response to claims that they were conducting seismic surveys without considering the research about the negative effects of the tests. In that press release, the Ministry of Petroleum refuted claims that its research was lacking and instead turned the finger at the environmental community, claiming that it was they who did not have all the information.
Today, the environmental community, including organizations like OCEANA, WWF, the Belize Audubon Society and BTIA held a press conference to clarify their views on the subject of seismic surveys and why they are so concerned. Here's what they said…

Janelle Chanona – Vice President of OCEANA Belize
"Throughout all of this we were applying or requesting formally, in person and by email for copies off all the contracts, materials, data related to this. Following the October 11th session 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're basing this approval without EIA on? We have not gotten that."

"What we do have is in part what you heard today of the Department of the Environment saying that they are able to definitively say that there will be no long standing effect from seismic on Belize, that it will not affect a large area, and that the scientific concerns 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 off Belize. Which is not really information, it's 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 thing survey."

"The tourism, even the BTB were not consulted or informed, we have written to the Fisheries administrator asking if the Fisheries Department was consulted, we have not gotten a response from her on that point, but overall of that, you the public, the owners of the 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 that is how this should be carried out. The other crucial point that everybody has been emphasizing is what is the rush? When we asked that question we were informed that geology and petroleum has been in fact discussing this for the last three years. At no point in that 3 year period apparently did they find it necessary to let anybody else know that may be concerned about this, or may have questions about this, because just because you are asking a question 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 it three years ago it was also made clear to us that it was about doing seismic. The multibeam component was only added this year."

During the press conference, Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria's statement about why an EIA would not be necessary before conducting these seismic tests was also addressed…

Alex Courtenay
"So, obviously the public's attention in all of this, and research needs to be done to figure out what is right. I know that government responded to a press release by the Coalition refuting a lot of the claims saying that the seismic surveys would be detrimental, and then obviously the environmental committee is saying the opposite, where does the public look, or how are they supposed to know whose research to trust?"

Janelle Chanona – Vice President of OCEANA Belize
"That's a great question, Alex. It's really, that's why it's important that it is fine for the government to say our science is right, and here we are pointing out that there is contradictory science, but doesn't that then scream that that's why everyone has to put all the science that they're finding and we have a hash out and we go through all the material that's 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?"

OCEANA maintains that its main goal is to make sure that all options are looked at when making decisions that could significantly affect the marine environment. They have again urged the government to release the research that led them to approve the seismic surveys, and be more transparent going forward.

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