Turneffe Flats: Leading sustainable fisheries in Belize

Turneffe Flats has long been recognized as one of Belize’s premier saltwater fly fishing, SCUBA diving and marine eco-tourism destinations. Located on the incredibly beautiful Turneffe Atoll, Turneffe Flats provides visitors access to the most biologically diverse atoll in the Caribbean.

Green Globe first certified Turneffe Flats for its sustainable operations in 2013 and again this year the eco-tourism resort has proven its environmental credentials with a notable compliance score of 89%.

Turneffe Atoll – home to this remarkable eco-tourism resort – provides pristine habitat for 260 fish species, 77 plant species and 5 spawning aggregation sites. The marine eco-system is a combination of healthy coral reef, both fringing reef and patch corals, expansive backreef flats, large lagoon systems, seagrass beds, and extensive mangrove forest. Turneffe Atoll is of significant economic and sociological importance to Belize as a major commercial fishery and ecotourism center, while also providing Belize City and the mainland coast with essential protection from hurricanes.

For the past three decades, Turneffe Flats has actively supported the sustainable environmental, economic and social use of Turneffe Atoll through a variety of efforts. The eco-tourism resort has worked to be a model off-the-grid green enterprise and has developed many innovative ways to combine top-notch service with minimal environmental effects.

Approximately 17 years ago, Turneffe Flats wanted to make a more formal commitment to conservation efforts so became a charter member of 1% For The Planet. Wanting to concentrate conservation efforts locally, the resort then formed an NGO named Turneffe Atoll Trust to focus efforts on the surrounding reef environment.

Since then the Turneffe Atoll Trust has worked with government in Belize to deliver legislation instituting landmark protection for important game fish – bonefish, permit and tarpon. Belize’s “Catch and Release Law”, as it is known, has now been emulated in several countries.

In 2012, the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve was established offering a new level of environmental protection for Turneffe. Turneffe Atoll Trust drove this process, which included more than 10,000 hours of consultation with stakeholders – mostly commercial fishermen. The consultative process, and the Management Plan for the new reserve, were together funded by Turneffe Atoll Trust and substantial donations from Turneffe Flats.

With local leadership from the resort, commercial fishermen in Turneffe have transitioned from opposition to the Marine Reserve to largely supporting it. A new organization has recently been formed to bring commercial fishing and eco-tourism stakeholders together. The sole purpose of this new organization, named the Fishermen and Ecotourism Alliance, is to jointly advocate for protection of Turneffe habitat.

Turneffe Flat’s owner Craig Hayes said, “With expanding coastal population and decision makers too often avoiding the need to protect our valuable coastal resources, sustainable management of these areas is more critical than ever.

“We will do our part by working to sustain the incredible natural wonders of Turneffe Atoll with Turneffe Flats serving as a model for sustainable coastal marine tourism,” added Craig.

Turneffe Atoll Trust is involved with several other conservation initiatives including sustainability-related research, an advocacy program for strict enforcement of environmental laws at Turneffe and the development of a land trust to perpetually protect key areas at Turneffe. Over the upcoming 3 to 4 years, plans to build a Turneffe Sustainability Center will be realized, assisting in overseeing and expanding local conservation efforts.

Green practices are continually being improved at Turneffe Flats, Currently the eco-tourism resort is in the process of upgrading its septic system with an innovative closed-loop process. For several years, a water tank supplied from a brackish well has fed toilets. The well water has been utilized to avoid using the primary source of fresh water – rainwater. The resort has now installed a system, which processes the toilet water to the point that it can be recycled back into the water tank to create a closed loop that has subsequently reduced reliance on the well.

Turneffe Flats has begun a transition to renewable energy that will reduce use of diesel fuel by 75%. When complete this system will include solar, wind and battery backup. To meet air-conditioning requirements a chiller-system concept designed by Rogelio Valasco in the Yucatan will be installed. All surplus energy will be used to chill water, which will then be utilized as “ice batteries”, to meet air conditioning needs.

Turneffe Flats has been owned and operated by its original owners, Craig and Karen Hayes, since 1981. Beginning as a rough fishing camp, “Flats” has evolved to one of the better-known fishing and diving properties in Belize, and arguably throughout the world.

For more than three decades, Turneffe Flats has been known as one of the world’s premier flats fishing destinations combining a remarkable fishery with excellent English-speaking guides, top-notch equipment, superior accommodations and service. The ability to sight-fish for BONEFISH, PERMIT and TARPON on any given day makes Turneffe one of the few places where a Grand Slam is always a possibility.

Green Globe is the worldwide sustainability system based on internationally accepted criteria for sustainable operation and management of travel and tourism businesses. Operating under a worldwide license, Green Globe is based in California, USA and is represented in over 83 countries. Green Globe is an Affiliate Member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). For information, please visit greenglobe.com

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