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Belize – Part 3: Crooked Tree Lagoon

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Jan 31, 2009 | by Kevin Loughlin

Crooked Tree Lodge

The new Crooked Tree Lodge — photo taken from the dock on the lagoon.

A cold front is moving through northern Belize right now. The high is 75° F today. I am enjoying a day off before the group arrives on Sunday, relaxing on the deck. A little bit of birding this morning turned up the usual suspects: Vermilion Flycatcher, Ringed Kingfisher, Snail Kite and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture to name just a few. It is overcast and the breeze is strong coming across Crooked Tree Lagoon. We expect some rain. But no rain at this time of year will compare to what they received here in October 2008.

October is nearly at the end of hurricane season in the Caribbean. However, late last October Belize was hit with wide-spread flooding –the likes of which no one had ever seen! When Tropical Depression #16 (not even a full hurricane) passed through, it dropped an estimated 19 inches of rain in western Belize. The affected areas of Cayo District, Belize District and Orange Walk District all lie along the Belize River which is formed by the meeting of the Mopan River out of Guatemala and the Macal River from the Maya Mountains of Belize.
Crooked Tree Lodge

Crooked Tree Lodge a few days after the water began to recede.

Interestingly, from the research I have found on the Internet, Belize has received more significant rainfalls in the past. So why was Crooked Tree Village so much more devastated this time? Some blame the deforestation of Guatemala along the Mopan River. But I have driven along the Mopan River in Guatemala many times, and the forests have been gone from its banks for decades. So why would that affect the Belize River now? Others I have spoken with are probably more accurate when they blame the recently built Chilillo Dam, which blocks the proper flow of the Macal River.
This dam was opposed by environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and others, but court injunctions and suits could not stop it from being built. Not even when they knew that the dam would destroy the only known nesting area for the last remaining Scarlet Macaws within Belize.
The dam was supposed to greatly reduce the cost of electricity to Belize’s citizens. Electricity prices continue to rise, even as gas prices fell to nearly one third of last summers cost here in Belize. The dam was no help to Belizeans after all… as was the expectation of many.
We must remember, however, that Belize still has the highest percentage of protected land of any Central American country. Yes… even more than Costa Rica, who gets all the awards and promotion. Nearly 60% of Belize is protected as private sanctuaries, national parks and forest reserves. Crooked Tree Village and the surrounding lagoons, wetlands and savanna are one of the community based wildlife sanctuaries funded by the government and managed by the Belize Audubon Society. It is a model for other countries to follow. The people here are proud of their wildlife and know it well. They survive off the fisheries and surrounding land and want to protect is much for the wildlife as for themselves. It truly does go hand in hand…

photos © Michael Webb / Crooked Tree Lodge

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