Chaa Creek Celebrates World Environment Day Every Day In Belize

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After celebrating World Environment Day at The Lodge at Chaa Creek, founding co-owner Lucy Fleming reflected on the importance of sustainable tourism and responsible travel, and why every day is environment day in Belize.

Belize's strong environmental protections make the little country a happy home for some of nature's most colourful and exotic creatures

we developed the way we wanted to; slowly and organically

The Lodge at Chaa Creek celebrated World Environment Day June 5th at the eco-resort’s traditional Maya organic farm, with co-founding owner Lucy Fleming using the day to reinforce the message that responsible tourism contributes to host countries’ environmental wellbeing.

Ms Fleming said that sustainable practices have proven long and short-term benefits for tourism stakeholders, their countries, local communities and the travelling public.

“Over the years at Chaa Creek we’ve shown, time and time again, that responsible tourism is not only good for the environment and communities, but gives visitors a richer, more fulfilling experience.

“It can also be good for a business’ bottom line,” she added.

Ms Fleming said that Belize, as a relatively new nation and fresh tourism destination, developed with strong environmental protections in place, and that those policies contributed to the little country’s current popularity as a travel destination.

“When tourism took off in the 1980s, there was a lot of interest on the part of large conglomerates to come in an replicate the sort of big development projects you see in other countries. But after achieving independence in 1981, Belize put many environmental safeguards in place that restricted the sort of ‘anything goes’ projects you see in other developing nations.”

Instead, she said, a proliferation of small, “mom and pop” family operations flourished, and came to define the face of Belize tourism.

“Chaa Creek, for example, grew out of our small family farm on the banks of the Macal River. Since we were not beholding to corporate boards or shareholders, we developed the way we wanted to; slowly and organically. If it meant working around a large tree rather than cutting it down, we did that. If it meant using local rather than imported materials, and using more labour-intensive methods of construction, that’s the path we took.

“For example, rather than buy cheaper imported furniture, we had ours made locally, which provided employment while giving our cottages their distinctive look and feel. Rather than using synthetic roofing material, we stuck to traditional thatch and began growing bay palm leaf as a renewable resource, once again providing employment, keeping traditional construction methods alive, lessening our environmental footprint and contributing to Chaa Creek’s signature look.

“Some people thought we were crazy, but now, over thirty years later, we’ve proven that environmental and cultural sensitivity works, and works well indeed.”

Starting in 1981 with two simple cottages built almost entirely from jungle materials, the Lodge at Chaa Creek now features a range of accommodations; from thatched-roof, cottage style rooms to deluxe Jacuzzi and Tree Top suites with two new, “green-tech” villas about to open. A more rustic Macal River Camp with simple bungalows and family-style dining is also an option.

Amenities include a fine-dining restaurant and lounge featuring farm-to-table cuisine sourced fro the eco-resort’s traditional Maya organic farm and fresh local Caribbean seafood, an infinity pool and internationally recognised spa, Belize Natural History museum, Blue Morpho butterfly farm and exhibit, a Maya rainforest medicinal plant trail and fully serviced conference centre within a 400-acre private nature reserve with 70 ancient Maya sites, crisscrossed by an extensive network of well-maintained trails used for horseback and mountain bike excursions as well as birding and nature walks. There are also canoes for river trips, Ms Fleming said.

“Our guests always comment on the natural look and feel of Chaa Creek, and this is a direct result of slow growth and trying to harmonise with the environment rather than impose something upon it. If we were putting in a new building or road, my husband Mick would spend days working out the least disruptive way to it. Maybe it was not always the most efficient or cost effective way, but the results speak for themselves,” she said.

Ms Fleming stressed that Chaa Creek was not the only Belizean eco-resort that valued sustainability.

“As a nation, Belize has developed very strong environmental credentials. This has been due to education and the fact that most Belizeans have lived close to nature, as farmers, fisherpeople, nature guides and in other pursuits that give people an appreciation of nature. It was only natural that when tourism became the main employer, it would have a strong green character.”

Ms Fleming pointed out that, among other initiatives, Belize is the host country for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), which coordinates the Caribbean region’s response to climate change and provides information on climate change issues and managing and adapting to climate change in the Caribbean. The country has also sponsored a range of conferences, regional meetings and other environmental projects and programs.

Chaa Creek has over the years sponsored a number of university and NGO research projects, hosts an annual “Eco-Kids” free educational summer camp for Belizean school children as well as other initiatives, and the Belize Natural History Centre educates thousands of visitors, students and researchers about Belize’s natural world and cultural heritage. Ten per cent of all Chaa Creek room revenue goes directly to environmental and social programs.

“We always felt that education was an important part of eco-tourism,” Ms Fleming, a former educator, said.

Given all that, it was only natural that World Environment Day would be enthusiastically celebrated in Belize with school excursions, exhibits and village events, she said.

“But, and not to sound like a cliché, pretty much every day is environment day in Belize. Many Belizeans work in eco-tourism and environmental management, and our young people study environmental sciences and related fields as well as tourism and hospitality, so it’s fair to say that for many Belizeans, environmental sustainability is part of their daily lives.

“That bodes well for the future of Belize, and for our planet,” Ms Fleming said.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a multi award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize.

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Mark Langan

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