Sensitizing Belize River Valley Communities on Hicatee Laws

Date: March 12, 2014

Contributed by Felicia Cruz, Fisheries Department.

The Belize Fisheries Department was present and in full force during the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge 2014 with the aim of sensitizing the general public and communities along the Belize River Valley about the hicatee laws of Belize. The hicatee (Dermatemys mawii) is a fresh water turtle also known as the Central American River turtle and is one of the rarest turtles in the world. It is classified as Critically Endangered by IUCN and it is the last species within its family Dermatemydidae.

Hicatee is a Belizean cultural delicacy and is quickly decreasing in numbers due to its demand. A study in 2010 illustrated that as much as 40 turtles have been removed by hunters in a night. From past experience, it is known that during the famous canoe race, anybody can buy the very rare stew hicatee with coconut white rice. This common practice desperately requires regulation before this turtle becomes extinct. The Fisheries Department was in full force for the weekend race starting at San Ignacio followed by  Banana Bank, Double Head Cabbage and finally at Burrell Boom for the end of the race. An informational booth was assembled at each stop with educational brochures, flyers, activity books, promotional t-shirts and water bottles, all focused on the hicatee laws and conservation. These promotional and educational tools were disseminated to the wider public that followed the race during the weekend.

In attendance and collaborating with Fisheries were Forest Officers and the NPAS Communications Officer. The Forest Officers were focused on enforcing the forest regulations for game meat and wildlife. One vendor was caught selling out of season game meat and fined by the Forest Department. Through out the event, the communities were very receptive and compliant with Fisheries laws since there were no hicatee violations reported. Intimidation and stern enforcement was definitely not a focus. For the most part, the presence of the Fisheries Officers was to educate and inform the public about the hicatee laws and conservation actions geared for the sustainable use of this turtle so that it can remain as a part of our culture.

It was strongly felt that the people at the event who visited our booth became knowledgeable of the Fisheries laws, not only because they had to know it in order to win a prize, but they assisted us in informing other persons to visit our booth. People came to become informed and try their luck at one of our amazing prizes. A complete success in and of itself.