The Ramsar Bureau visit to Ramsar site No. 1000
The Ramsar Bureau had received multiple complaints from national and international NGOs regarding problems with Ramsar site number 1000 in Honduras. Sistema de Humedales de la Zona Sur de Honduras (designated in July 1999) is a complex of seven coastal areas totaling 69,711 hectares along the Honduran portion of the Golfo de Fonseca, along the Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano Pacífico de Honduras. Various species of mangrove form the predominant vegetation in this area of typical marine-coastal ecosystem influenced by the fluctuation of the tides.
The complaints received were related to shrimp production in the Ramsar site, considered illegal by the complainants and detrimental to the ecological character of the site.
In accordance with Article 3.2 of the Convention, the Ramsar Bureau made inquiries with the Ramsar Administrative Authority in the country and received a formal reply indicating that all possible measures within the legal system of Honduras had been taken, or were in the process of being taken, to resolve the situation. Since, thereafter, the Bureau continued to receive complaints about the effectiviness of the government action, it was decided that the Regional Coordinator for the Americas at the Ramsar Bureau, Ms Margarita Astrálaga, should visit Honduras to inspect the Ramsar site and consult with the national authorities and other concerned parties.
Ms Astralaga visited Honduras on 26-28 September 2000. Her activities included a visit to the Ramsar site, where she met with the local authorities, the private sector, and government officials from different agencies. She observed there that the shrimp culture project, which is at the origin of the controversy, covers an area of 15 hectares of the 69,711-ha Ramsar site. This area was formerly owned by traditional fishermen who used to have an artisanal aquaculture project a few years ago. The project had been abandoned and the mangroves had recovered. The new owner has made an investment of close to 1 million USD and has rebuilt the old ponds and constructed a road. The shrimps would be ready for harvesting by the end of October 2000.
Ms Astrálaga also had the opportunity to visit another nearby large shrimp aquaculture project where the managers informed her that they are in the process of obtaining ISO 14000 for the environmentally friendly and safe way they are carrying out their activities. They have an impressive water treatment and water quality monitoring system in place, as well as an impressive mangrove reforestation project, and they are administering a small biodiversty reserve.
Back in the capital of Tegucigalpa, Ms Astrálaga met with Minister X. Caballero in her office, together with representatives of a number of other government agencies, including the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Prosecutor, and NGOs. Each participant at the meeting presented a report on the actions that the different agencies have taken in relation to this case, which revealed that an impressive number of actions have been initiated to stop this development.
The conclusions of the meeting were:
1. If despite all the efforts that were reported no one has been able to stop the development, there must be some serious legal weaknesses in the Honduran system.
2. Although it appears unacceptable that this developer has got away with the shrimp aquaculture project without an environmental license, the fact is that legally he would have had the right to do so, if he had followed the existing EIA legal framework, considering that he owns the land and that the area used to be an artisanal aquaculture project.
3. The damage to these 15 hectares, while regrettable, is not sufficiently important to justify the inclusion of the entire Ramsar site in the Montreux Record of Ramsar sites requiring priority conservation attention.
Ms Astrálaga also had the opportunity to discuss with the Honduras authorities other Ramsar-related activities, such as the updating of the management plan for the Ramsar site Barras de Cuero y Salado, for which final approval is pending, and several other activities that are being carried out by the Wetland Conservation Society in the Ramsar site National Park Jeanette Kawas. The management plan for Punta Izopo is being prepared. The establishment of a National Ramsar Committee was also discussed, and the authorities undertook to make serious efforts to have it in place in the near future.