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COMMUNITY RESIDENTS' PERCEPTIONS OF ECOTOURISM IMPACTS
AND CONSERVATION ISSUES IN RURAL CREOLE BELIZE:
A CASE STUDY OF CROOKED TREE
JENNY BROWN HADDLE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Jenny Brown Haddle
I dedicate this thesis to the people of Crooked Tree. In all the confusion and complexity
of life, they helped me to understand its true simplicity. For this reason, they will always
have a place in my heart.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Tropical Conservation and
Development (TCD) program for funding my thesis research. Their financial support
made my study possible. The TCD program fostered my academic and professional
growth. I greatly appreciate the contacts and friends I made through the program. I
would like to thank my supervisory committee chair, Rick Stepp, for giving me the
freedom to make my own decisions and guide my own research. Without him, I would
not be where I am today. I would like to thank my other committee members, Brijesh
Thapa and Taylor Stein, for their guidance and suggestions. In particular, Brijesh, was
always available to meet with me and never let me leave his office without something to
read. In addition, although Melissa Johnson is not an official member of my committee, I
consider her an honorary member. Her dissertation and knowledge of Crooked Tree
guided my research. I appreciate her willingness to share her experiences in Crooked
Tree. Also, I want to thank Kent Vliet for giving me a chance and providing me with a
job to pay my way through graduate school.
I would like to thank all the family and friends who supported me. My family,
through their financial and emotional support, made it possible for me to follow my
dreams. My father, David Haddle, raised me to ask questions and always have an open
mind. My mother, Patricia Walczak, taught me to be considerate and always treat others
as I would want to be treated myself. My grandmother, Dorothy Haddle, taught me the
value of independence and is an inspiration to us all. She is the glue that binds our
family. I never left for school without something homemade from Grandma's kitchen.
My friends were always there to help me party my stress away or to give me advice when
I needed it most. Kari MacLaughlin has been my closest friend in Gainesville. I only
wish I had known her sooner. Pio and Jennie Saqui helped me immensely with filling in
the blanks regarding my thesis research. They are my resident experts on Belize. Edda
Wilkinson gave me loads of valuable feedback and encouraged me to experience life to
its fullest. Chuck Wilson, my boyfriend and best friend, has always believed in me. He
listened patiently when I cried about some assignment, complained about some professor,
or gushed about some accomplishment. Even when I was 2000 miles away, Chuck was
there for me.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the many people in Belize who made my
field work just a little bit easier. The Belize Audubon Society (BAS) helped me to get
situated in Crooked Tree and provided valuable information for my thesis. Although I
have only been in contact with her a short time, Anna D. Hoare gave me with useful
feedback regarding my thesis. Also, Dirk Francisco kept in touch with me after my field
work was finished. Osmany Salas, though no longer with BAS, was kind enough to offer
to facilitate my contact with them. I would like to give a special thank you to the
wardens of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary who were always available to talk with me.
Steve Tillett, Rennie Jones, and especially Derick Hendy kept me laughing nonstop. Two
families in particular that made my stay in Crooked Tree seem far too short. Pastor
Owen and Miss Maggie Rhaburn provided me with my first home in Crooked Tree. I
spent many hours in the hammock on their top floor verandah relaxing from a long day of
interviewing. Despite her painful arthritis, Miss Maggie always had breakfast ready for
me in the morning. I love the Rhaburns as if they were my own grandparents. The
Tilletts provided me with my second home in Crooked Tree. The Tillett family never
failed to give me hours upon hours of entertainment. Their home was always open to me.
I would especially like to thank Judy Tillett, for her friendship and awesome gourmet
Belizean cooking; and Bruce Tillett, for teaching me to ride a horse and always finding a
way to make me smile.
Producing this thesis has been the best and most challenging experience of my
life. I remember as a little girl looking at my grandfather's master's thesis in awe and
thinking, "I could never write something like that!" Despite the hours of stress and
worry, I have finally written what at one time I would have thought was impossible.
However, my thesis was written with the help of all the people I acknowledged above. I
would like to thank everyone one more time for actually making my thesis possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST O F TA B LE S ......... .. ........... ...................................................... ........x
LIST OF FIGURES ......... ......................... ...... ........ ............ xi
A B S T R A C T .......................................... .................................................. x iii
P R E F A C E .................................xv.............................
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N .................................................................................. 1
State ent of Purpose .................. .................. .................... .................
Study Objectives ................................................................... .......... 5
Contribution to Interdisciplinary Ecology .............. ..............................................5
T hesis O v erview ................................................................... ............................ . 7
2 LITER A TU R E REV IEW ............................................................. ....................... 9
E cotourism : A D description ........................................ ................................. 9
Im portance of Ecotourism Research............................................... ........ ....... 12
People and Protected A reas ....................................................... .... ........... 12
Role of Ecotourism in Protected Areas ...........................................................16
Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism.....................................................19
Social Impacts of Ecotourism..................................................... 20
Economic Impacts of Ecotourism ............................. .................... 21
S u m m a ry ......................................................................................................2 2
3 RESEARCH CONTEXT AND STUDY SITE .................................. ...............24
E cotou rism in B elize ......................................................................... ................ .. 2 4
Tourism in Belize: Early Beginnings ...................................... ............... 26
Conservation Initiatives in B elize ............................................ ............... 27
E cotou rism in B elize ........................................ ............................................2 9
C ruise Ship T ourism ........... .......................................................... .... .. .... .. 3 1
Study Site: Crooked Tree, B elize ........................................ .......................... 33
Crooked Tree: Physical Environment ...................................... ............... 34
Crooked Tree V village: H history ........................................ ........................ 39
Crooked Tree V village: Today ................................................. .....................42
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: Establishment ..........................................44
Ecotourism in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary ................................................. 47
4 M E T H O D O L O G Y .......................................................................... .....................54
Semistructured Household Interviews.................................. ..................54
Sam pling Procedures .................. ................. ........ ...... ...... .. .......... .... 54
R e sp o n se R ate ................................................... ................ 5 5
Interview Instrum ent ........................... ...................... .. ...... .. ...... ............55
G uttm an Scaling .......................................... .................... ........ 56
Interview Procedure................ ........... ........ .............. 57
Interview Schedule and Constraints ...................................................... 57
P participant O b servation ..................................................................... ...................59
K ey Inform ant Interview s .......................................................... ............... 60
Interviews with Belize Audubon Society ....................................... ............... 61
S eco n d ary D ata .................................................................... ................ 6 2
D ata A naly sis ........................................................................... 62
Field Notes and Semistructured Household Interviews ....................................62
S e c o n d ary D ata .............................................................................................. 6 3
5 R E S U L T S .............................................................................6 4
Demographic Profile of Residents.......................... ...........................64
Residents' Involvement in Ecotourism: Early Beginnings.............. ............ 67
Im pacts from E cotourism ........................................ .............................................70
P o sitiv e Im p acts.............................................. ................. 70
N negative Im pacts ............................... .......................... ................ .... 7 1
Community Support of Ecotourism and Future Directions ..............................73
Conservation Awareness and the Wildlife Sanctuary .............................................76
Perceptions of Conservation.....................................................76
Im pacts of the W wildlife Sanctuary................................... ............... ............... 77
Belize Audubon Society (BAS) and the Community ................................................79
Tying Together Ecotourism, the Wildlife Sanctuary, and BAS ..............................81
6 DISCUSSION .............. ...... .. .. ................ .................. ......... 84
Are the Goals of Ecotourism Being Met in Crooked Tree? ..............................85
Empowerm ent Issues .......... ........ ............... .................... ............ 86
Econom ic Em pow erm ent ............................................................................. 87
Psychological Em pow erm ent ..................................................... .... ............... 88
Social E m pow erm ent................................................. .............................. 88
Political Em pow erm ent ................................................................................ 89
Recommendations for BAS and the Community ................................................. 90
Lessons Learned from Crooked Tree ........................................ ...............92
F utu re R research ................................................................94
A M A P O F CR O O K ED TR EE ........................................................... .....................96
B HOUSEHOLD INTERVIEW PROTOCOL.................................... ...............98
T ourism : G general Q questions .............. .. ............................................ .....................98
The Wildlife Sanctuary, Conservation, and BAS ....................................................98
F future of E cotourism ................................................ .. .............. ............ .... 99
D e m o g ra p h ic s ....................................................................................................... 9 9
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ....................................................................... .................... 100
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ...............106
LIST OF TABLES
2-1. Signs of Community Empowerment ..... ..................... ...............14
3-1. Dominant vegetative covers found in Crooked Tree.................. ...... ............36
3-2. Common species of birds found in Crooked Tree......... ............ ............... 38
3-3. Common animal species found in Crooked Tree ......................................... 39
5-1. Summary of Demographic Profile of Respondents...................... ...............65
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1. Tourist D estinations in Belize ............................................................................3
2-1. Framework for Ecotourism ...................................... ........ .................. 11
3-1. M ap of B elize ................................................................2 5
3-2. Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1961-1990 .............. .................... 30
3-3. Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1998-2003 .......................................... ............... 32
3-4. Cruise Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1998-2004 ............................... ............... .34
3-5. Crooked Tree, Belize ........... ................................. .......... ................. 35
3-6. Ripe Cashew Fruit ......................................................... .. ............ 44
3-7. Local Family Harvesting Cashew Fruits ...................................... ............... 45
3-8. Cashew Wine Production in Crooked Tree.......................... ...................46
3-9. Tourist A rivals to CTW S, 1987-2003 ........................................ .....................49
3-10. CTWS Boardwalk..................... ........ .. .. ............... .........50
3-11. Tourist Arrivals by Season ................. ......... .............. .............................51
3-12. Tourist A rivals by N ationality......................................... ........................... 51
3-13. L odges in C rooked Tree ................................................ .............................. 52
3-14. Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Visitors Center ..............................................53
5-1. Reasons for Crooked Tree residents Becoming Involved in Ecotourism...............68
5-2. Ecotourism Benefits to Households as Perceived by Residents............................71
5-3. Ecotourism Benefits to Community as Perceived by Residents............................73
5-4. Negative Impacts from Ecotourism to Community as Perceived by Residents......74
5-5. Residents' Suggesting for Improving Ecotourism in Crooked Tree .....................74
5-6. Two Parrots Kept as Pets by a Crooked Tree Resident............... .......... ........77
5-7. Wildlife Sanctuary Benefits as Perceived by Residents............................. ....78
5-8. Belize Audubon Society's Proposed Fish Farm Project ........................................81
5-9. Nature of Income for Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary................................. 83
A-1. Trails M ap of Crooked Tree Village ........................................... ............... 97
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
COMMUNITY RESIDENTS' PERCEPTIONS OF ECOTOURISM IMPACTS
AND CONSERVATION ISSUES IN RURAL CREOLE BELIZE:
A CASE STUDY OF CROOKED TREE
Jenny Brown Haddle
Chair: J. Richard Stepp
Major Department: Interdisciplinary Ecology
Ecotourism is a type of small-scale tourism development centered on natural areas
that should, ideally, promote conservation of the area and provide financial benefits and
empowerment to local communities. In the last decade, ecotourism has become a popular
type of Integrated Conservation and Development project among International Non-
Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and governments worldwide. Consequently, it has
become crucial to assess impacts perceived by residents in local communities involved in
ecotourism, especially those in developing countries.
Over the last two decades, Belize created a series of protected areas throughout
the country and adopted ecotourism as a main economic-development strategy. As a
consequence, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS) was established in 1984 by the
government of Belize in conjunction with the Belize Audubon Society (BAS). Located
within the sanctuary is Crooked Tree Village, a 300-year-old Creole community made up
of approximately 150 households. The purpose of my study was to characterize the
impacts of ecotourism and the issues surrounding conservation in Crooked Tree Wildlife
Sanctuary (CTWS) as perceived by members of the local community. My three specific
objectives were to 1) assess the environmental, economic, and social impacts of
ecotourism based on villagers' perceptions and my own observations; 2) identify
villagers' perceptions of the wildlife sanctuary and their understanding and views of
conservation; and 3) evaluate the relationship between Belize Audubon Society and the
community to improve management practice in CTWS. I conducted 43 semistructured
household interviews over 3 months during the summer of 2004. In addition, I used key
informant interviews and participant observation to supplement household interviews.
In Crooked Tree, ecotourism has contributed to economic and infrastructural
development in the community. Although benefits from ecotourism are not spread
equally among community members, it has created jobs and increased the flow of money
through Crooked Tree. The most apparent negative impact is regulation of traditional
subsistence strategies such as fishing, hunting, and livestock raising by the government
and BAS. These regulations have caused resentment toward the wildlife sanctuary and
the BAS among some community members. Additionally, instability within the BAS
administration, poor communication, and a lack of transparency and accountability have
resulted in a breakdown of the partnership between the community and BAS. By
reaching out to all community members, not just elites, the BAS may succeed in
improving their relationship with the community of Crooked Tree; and in response,
ecotourism and conservation practices may be more successful.
As I drove into Crooked Tree for the first time, I sensed that there was something
special, almost magical, about the area. Already, I could understand why ecotourists
would be drawn to the village and its surrounding wildlife sanctuary. I was certainly not
the only American to be infatuated with Crooked Tree. A good friend told me, "After my
first visit to Crooked Tree, though short, I knew that I would return. It is one of those
places." And, indeed, he did return to spend a few months designing and building an
educational display for the wildlife sanctuary's visitors center. An American tourist, who
spent a few days in Crooked Tree, was so taken with the community that he was ready to
bring his entire family back to spend a few weeks in the village. The charm of village
life and the diversity of wildlife surrounding it will immediately sweep any visitors off
their feet. Life is a little slower, a little more relaxed, and always a little more interesting
in Crooked Tree.
For the first couple miles, the access road into Crooked Tree is engulfed by semi-
swampy bush. The only signs of habitation are snack wrappers and glass bottles
intermittently scattered along the roadside. I half expected a jaguar to lazily stroll into
our path and challenge our 4X4 Toyota, but the bush during the day is eerily still. The
only movement that I could detect was a few spiny-tailed iguanas and various water fowl
scrambling for cover, as they were startled out of silence by our passing. As we neared
the village, the bush abruptly came to an end; and a large lagoon stretched out in front of
us, cut in half by the access road. Scattered through the lagoon were wood storks,
jacanas, green herons, little blue herons, and endangered Jabiru storks. At once, I
understood why this area is considered the most ecologically important wetland in Belize.
On the opposite side of the lagoon, the shore was decorated with many multiple
story concrete buildings, some dories (canoes), and even a couple of run-down shacks. A
fisherman and his child were hauling their morning catch onto the shore. The small catch
would probably be sold to villagers for their evening tea. Further into the village, I was
greeted by the blank stares of cattle as they roamed freely through the village, barely
budging an inch even when threatened by our moving vehicle. On our right, we passed
the school, a run-down police station, and the Nazarene church before cutting through the
middle of a children's cricket field to find the road that would take me to my new
summer home. The house was a quaint two-story with a verandah and a hammock.
Cashew, mango, and crabble trees dotted the yard. As I hopped out of the truck, I was
greeted with my first whiff of ripe and rotting cashew fruit... a sweetly intoxicating scent
unique to Crooked Tree.
I was home. My initial impressions of the village made me feel that ecotourism
could certainly thrive in this environment. Outwardly, all the aspects were there, a
distinctive community and abundant flora and fauna. However, what was the real story
in Crooked Tree? Was ecotourism flourishing and had it actually helped the community?
Had Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary been successful in its conservation mission, and
how was the community affected by the imposition of the conservation philosophy on
their traditional way of life? I had come to Crooked Tree to answer these questions.
However, I knew that by the end of my stay in Belize, I would have the answers to my
questions and also a new understanding of life. No outsider who visits Crooked Tree
remains untouched by its beauty. For this reason, Crooked Tree became an ecotourism
destination; but will it remain one?
Ecotourism as a tool of conservation and sustainable development has been widely
questioned and criticized in recent years (Duim and Caalders 2002, Honey 1999,
Lindberg et al. 1996, Wall 1997). Ideally, the development of ecotourism brings together
local communities, tourists, suppliers, and managers to promote conservation of natural
areas and economic growth in impoverished communities (Ross and Wall 1999).
Potential benefits of ecotourism are numerous (Koch 1997), but realizing these benefits
has been problematic (Ross and Wall 1999). The lack of proper planning for impacts and
the lack of standardized methods to gauge progress have caused numerous ecotourism
ventures to experience negative environmental, social, and economic impacts. These
include but are not limited to resource alienation, increased local resentments toward
ecotourism, little or no income generation for conservation, and disruption of normal
feeding and breeding habits among wildlife (Belsky 1999, Ghimire 1997, Wallace 1993).
To alleviate some of the negative impacts, there has been an effort to include local
communities in many recent ecotourism developments. A community-based approach to
ecotourism focuses on empowering local communities with the responsibility to manage
all aspects of the operation (Scheyvens 1999). In theory, local participation in
ecotourism seems an ideal situation: the people benefit economically, while the
environment is protected. Nonetheless, local politics can limit co-management
opportunities and impair equitable distribution of income from ecotourism, causing a lack
of support for the operation across the community (Belsky 1999, Koch 1997). Further, a
lack of proper training can exacerbate potential impacts (Drumm 1993, Farrell and
Despite problems, ecotourism has become a popular option as an Integrated
Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) among conservation organizations. In the
1990s, International Non-Governmental Organizations such as Conservation
International, World Wildlife Fund, and the Nature Conservancy focused on ecotourism
as a conservation and development strategy. This is largely a result of the movement to
include communities in the planning of protected areas and to find alternative subsistence
strategies for them (Brandon and Wells 1992, Negi and Nautiyal 2003). However, it is
questionable whether ecotourism can replace the traditional subsistence strategies that are
restricted in protected areas. Nonetheless, many developing countries are turning to
ecotourism to promote conservation and economic development in local communities
One example is Belize (22,966 km2), a tiny country located just south of Mexico
and the Yucatan Peninsula (Belize Central Statistical Office 2000). Despite its size,
Belize contains a multitude of ecosystems and cultures. Perhaps its size is what makes it
such a popular tourist attraction. In a few hours, one can travel from a tropical island
with stretches of sandy white beach and sparkling sapphire water to a Mayan ruin
surrounded by lush rainforest (Figure 1-1). In the span of 5 minutes, one can overhear
conversation in English, Spanish, Creole, and Garifuna. The abundance of environmental
and cultural diversity in Belize has made it an ideal country for the development of
ecotourism (Cutlack 1993).
Figure 1-1. Tourist Destinations in Belize. A) Half Moon Caye National Monument. B)
Mayan ruin, Lamanai.
In many parts of Belize, ecotourism has developed as a byproduct of the creation
of parks and protected areas. Good examples of this include Cockscomb Basin Wildlife
Sanctuary, Half Moon Caye National Monument, and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
(Johnson 1998, Lindberg et al. 1996). In an effort to provide economic growth while
simultaneously protecting the environment, the government of Belize has promoted and
fostered ecotourism. According to the Belize Tourism Board,
The strength of tourism in Belize lies with the diversity of natural and cultural
attractions. The tourism strategy plan for Belize has been prepared with the
expectation of stimulating economic growth, while protecting the country's
environmental and heritage resources, and ensuring benefits to the local people.1
Ecotourism has flourished in Belize. From 1985 to 2003, tourist arrivals have almost
tripled from 87,843 to 220,574 per year.2 However, tourist numbers alone cannot reflect
whether ecotourism has been a successful conservation and development strategy for
Belize. Studies that analyze the impacts of ecotourism on local communities are needed
(Wall 1997). Also, it is necessary to investigate the success of ecotourism as an ICDP by
1 Quote obtained from the Belize Tourism Board webpage at www.belizetourism.org.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all tourism statistics for Belize were obtained from the Belize Tourism Board
webpage during October 2004.
conducting research to understand how communities perceive the protected areas
My study focused on the case of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary located in the
Belize district of Belize. Crooked Tree is one of the oldest ecotourism ventures in Belize
and is managed by the Belize Audubon Society to protect the Jabiru stork (Mycteria
mycteria). The sanctuary encompasses a traditional Creole village that has been
significantly affected by the development of community-based ecotourism and the
Statement of Purpose
I began my study to help refine the process of incorporating ecotourism into
conservation and development goals within communities. Every new case study has the
potential to help form a framework that can guide future development projects.
However, they must investigate how communities view ecotourism and examine the
conflicts that arise from trying to implement it within the borders of protected areas.
Many studies look at the impacts of ecotourism without critically examining how those
impacts may affect communities' views toward conservation and protected areas (Farrell
and Marion 2001, Lindberg et al. 1996, Walpole and Goodwin 2000). Without this
understanding, it may be difficult to evaluate whether the conservation goals of
ecotourism are being met. Furthermore, by mediating the conflicts that arise between
communities and protected areas management and understanding how these are
connected to ecotourism, we can foster empowerment in local communities. The role of
communities in conservation and ecotourism development is extremely important
(Akama 1996, Brown 2002, Sheyvens 1999). Communities directly impact the protected
areas that surround them and can either hinder or advance conservation goals (Brown
2002). In addition, communities are directly impacted by the restrictions on using natural
resources in protected areas. To benefit from ecotourism as an alternative income
generator, communities must have some control over ecotourism development
(Scheyvens 1999). Therefore, my main incentive for undertaking my study is to
contribute to improving practice in the field of community-based conservation and
development, especially where it pertains to ecotourism and collaborative management of
The purpose of my study was to characterize the impacts of ecotourism and the
issues surrounding conservation in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS) as
perceived by residents of the local community. Specific objectives were as follows.
* Specific objective 1: assess the environmental, economic, and social impacts of
ecotourism based on villagers' perceptions and my own observations.
* Specific objective 2: identify villagers' perceptions of the wildlife sanctuary and
their understanding and views of conservation.
* Specific objective 3: evaluate the relationship between BAS and the community to
improve management practice in CTWS.
The success of ecotourism depends both on the acceptance of ecotourism as a valid
income generator and the stability of the relationship between wildlife sanctuary
management and the villagers of Crooked Tree.
Contribution to Interdisciplinary Ecology
Interdisciplinary Ecology as a field of academic study is relatively new and has
grown out of the need to understand how human interactions with the environment can
affect the overall ecology of our world. Even the smallest political decision within a
country can affect the environment of countries thousands of miles across the ocean.
Interdisciplinary Ecology tries to make sense of these links, so that past environmental
mistakes will not become future environmental mistakes. Necessarily, it encompasses
many fields within the social and life sciences. Further, its creation is an attempt to find a
balance between theory and practice in environmental studies.
My study focused on the human side of Interdisciplinary Ecology. My hope was
that by understanding how to successfully integrate communities into conservation and
development, the integrity of exceptional ecosystems could be upheld for future
generations. The wetlands of CTWS are an extremely important ecosystem for the
country of Belize. The lagoons provide habitat for numerous endangered species, such as
the Jabiru stork and the green iguana, relief for flooded rivers during the rainy season,
and food for the village of Crooked Tree. The preservation of this area is vital not just
for the people of Crooked Tree but for the whole of Belize. However, the fate of the
wetlands lies in the decisions of many peoples, most importantly, the community of
Crooked Tree and the BAS. Ecotourism has been a strategy for utilizing the area without
depleting its resources, but it has not stopped conflicts from arising between the
community and the management of CTWS. Therefore, my study attempts to understand
this human dimension so that the wetlands in Crooked Tree will continue to function in a
healthy manner. This is just as necessary as understanding the nesting habits of the
Jabiru stork or the affects of agricultural run-off on water quality in the lagoons.
However, all of these studies combine to form a holistic picture of ecology in Crooked
Tree and each contributes in a different way to Interdisciplinary Ecology.
Although I feel that my study is an accurate representation of the situation in
Crooked Tree, I was working under a few limitations. My time in Crooked Tree was
limited to 3 months. The short study time may have inhibited my ability to gain complete
trust of the community. Therefore, wary residents may have chosen not to reveal certain
information pertinent to my study. Due to time constraints, I reduced my sample size
from 100 to 60 households. Out of the 60, only 43 households agreed to participate. In
addition, a couple key employees of BAS declined interviews. Lastly, I was unable to
sample more isolated areas of the village due a lack of transportation and time. More
isolated villagers may have different views regarding ecotourism and conservation in
Crooked Tree. Despite these limitations, my study is a beginning to understanding how
communities in Belize perceive ecotourism development. For the most part, the villagers
that I came in contact with were open and friendly, and despite initial shyness regarding
interviews, most residents warmed up to the interviews and were answering questions
freely after a few minutes.
Perhaps one of the largest limitations of my study is its focus on one community
in one country at one snapshot in time. Although case studies are necessary to
understand what strategies are successful in developing ecotourism and promoting
conservation in developing countries, they do not represent all cases in the world.
Instead, my study should be analyzed with other studies to begin to understand the
impacts of ecotourism on Belize and other countries throughout the world. How does it
reflect and contradict other ecotourism developments, and what lessons can be learned
from mistakes made in Crooked Tree?
The remainder of this thesis will explore in more depth the issues surrounding
ecotourism and protected areas, specifically as they apply to Crooked Tree, Belize.
Chapter 2 is a summary of literature as it pertains to ecotourism, communities, and
protected areas. It explores the theory of ecotourism, issues surrounding communities
and protected areas, the connection between ecotourism and protected areas, and
problems with developing ecotourism destinations. Chapter 3 gives background on the
development of ecotourism in Belize and its connection to the international conservation
movement. It also explores my study site, Crooked Tree, Belize. I address the nature,
history, and culture of Crooked Tree with particular emphasis on how these are vital to
the development of ecotourism in the village. Chapter 4 discusses the methodology used
in my study. I collected a mix of qualitative and quantitative data by using a triangulated
approach. Chapter 5 relates the major findings of my study in terms of the development
of ecotourism, impacts from it, views of conservation as defined by the community,
impacts of the wildlife sanctuary, the community's perception of the wildlife sanctuary,
and their relationship with BAS. Chapter 6 evaluates whether the goals of ecotourism
have been met in Crooked Tree and whether the community has indeed been empowered
by the development of ecotourism. Moreover, recommendations are given for improving
the relationship between the community and Belize Audubon Society. Overall, my thesis
will take a critical look at the issues that surround ecotourism and its implications for
conservation and community development. Although the situation in Crooked Tree
cannot supply all the answers, it does provide an interesting case for exploring solutions
to the complex problem of unifying the goals conservation and development.
Ecotourism: A Description
Ecotourism is a buzzword that has been discussed within the conservation and
development community for a few decades. One of the first definitions is credited to
Ceballos-Lascurain (1987) and describes ecotourism as "traveling to relatively
undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objectives of studying,
admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any
existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas" (Blamey
2001, p. 5). Another definition from the International Ecotourism Society1 defines it as
"responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the
well-being of local people". The commonality running through both of these definitions
is that ecotourism focuses in some way on the natural environment. However, the
International Ecotourism Society's definition includes a sense of social and moral
responsibility to the communities that provide ecotourism as a service.
Often, ecotourism is used interchangeably with the concept of sustainable
tourism, but Ceballos-Lascurain (1998) argues that in actuality it is a branch of
sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism does not distinguish between mass tourism and
small-scale tourism. Sustainable tourism is an umbrella term that includes all types of
tourism that meet the definition of sustainability. Sustainability usually includes
'Quote obtained from the webpage of The International Ecotourism Society at www.ecotourism.org during
characteristics that allow for long-term use of natural resources, minimal environmental
impact, and provisions that satisfy human political, social, and economic needs (World
Commission on Environment and Development 1987). The World Commission on
Environment and Development (1987) defined sustainable development as "development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs" (p. 43). So, under the umbrella of sustainable tourism,
ecotourism is considered a nature-based subset of small-scale tourism (Cater and
Lowman 1994). In addition, nature-based tourism, even though it centers on the natural
environment, is distinguished from ecotourism in that it tends to be on a much larger
scale and focuses less on benefiting local communities (Blamey 2001).
Most researchers agree that when broken down ecotourism should encompass
certain principles. Honey (1999) provides seven characteristics that ecotourism should
include: involves travel to natural destinations, minimizes impact, builds environmental
awareness, provides direct financial benefits for conservation, provides financial benefits
and empowerment for local people, respects local culture, and supports human rights and
democratic movements. All of these points are common throughout most definitions of
ecotourism (Butler 1992, Ceballos-Lascurain 1996, Ross and Wall 1999) except the point
that ecotourism should support human rights and democratic movements. Honey (1999)
is alone in including this as a requirement for responsible ecotourism. Although she
makes a strong case for including it, this paper will focus on the first six characteristics of
According to Ross and Wall (1999), the application of ecotourism should lead to
the realization of a sustainable conservation and development program (Figure 2-1).
Ecotourism seeks to utilize the natural environment without permanently damaging it,
and though change is inevitable, ecotourism strives to sustain valuable natural areas to
facilitate the enjoyment of tourists and local communities alike. It is unrealistic to expect
the natural environment and local communities to remain static in time, but development
strategies such as ecotourism can facilitate change in a manner that is healthy and
beneficial to both. Additionally, if implemented successfully, ecotourism can aid in
sustaining an improved quality of life and economic development in communities.
Figure 2-1. Framework for Ecotourism.2
Implementating ecotourism can be challenging, and some researchers call into
question whether ecotourism in its purest form is even possible (Wall 1997). Ecotourism
2 Adapted from Ross and Wall (1999).
contains more core principles that must be adhered to in order for it to be considered
successful and meeting all of the objectives can be difficult. One of the more recent
approaches to implementing ecotourism aims to give local communities a high level of
control in management. The goal of community-based ecotourism is to attempt to give
local communities some incentive for changing their practices by giving them a high
degree of control over the activities taking place (Akama 1996, Brandon and Wells
1992). In turn, a significant proportion of benefits will be invested back into the
community instead of being distributed to outside operators or the government (Akama
1996, Ceballos-Lascurain 1996). Scheyvens (1999) suggests that economic,
psychological, social, and political empowerment of communities is needed (Table 2-1).
Importance of Ecotourism Research
A vast majority of ecotourism projects are connected to protected areas. Often,
ecotourism is offered up as a substitute for traditional subsistence strategies practiced by
communities within or adjacent to protected areas, because the local community's
activities have been deemed to be in conflict with conservation goals (Brandon and Wells
1992). Conflicts between communities and protect areas' management are evident
globally, but ecotourism has played a role in providing an alternative for communities.
People and Protected Areas
As defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), "A
protected area is an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection of
biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed
through legal or other effective means" (McNeely 1993). The IUCN identifies six
* Category I: Strict Nature Reserve/Wilderness Area. Protected area managed
mainly for science or wilderness protection.
* Category II: National Park. Protected area managed mainly for ecosystem
protection and recreation.
* Category III: Natural Monument/Natural Landmark. Protected area managed
mainly for conservation of a specific natural feature.
* Category IV: Habitat and Species Management Area. Protected area mainly for
conservation through management intervention.
* Category V: Protected Landscape/Seascape. Protected area managed mainly for
Landscape/Seascape protection and recreation.
* Category VI: Managed Resource Protected Area. Protected area managed
mainly for the sustainable use of natural resources.
Only Category VI allows for any type of resource use other than recreation. Most
protected areas are first and foremost dedicated to conservation and only if the activities
of local communities do not interfere with conservation goals are they allowed to
continue traditional resource use (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). Therefore, historically,
many residents located within areas deemed as protected areas have been displaced or cut
off from the use of their traditional resources in the name of conservation (Ghimire and
Pimbert 1997, Gurung 1995, Nepal & Weber 1995).
Impacts from this type of exclusion are numerous. Often times, local communities
are completely cut off from their resources without viable income alternatives, or they are
restricted from such activities as the harvest of medicinal plants, grazing, fishing,
hunting, and the collection of wood or other products from the forest (Ghimire 1994,
West and Brechin 1991). Local communities may not only be forced to find other means
of subsistence or be considered poachers on their own land, but traditional
ethnobiological knowledge may slowly erode. Traditional natural resource management
systems that have evolved over centuries may be lost and cause a disincentive for local
communities to conserve their resources (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). In some cases, the
exclusion of local communities from resource management has been linked to a steady
decline in biological diversity and ecosystem function (Wood 1995). Although not all
communities are necessarily conserving biodiversity, many communities may already
have their own social institutions in place for promoting conservation of resources.
Table 2-1. Signs of Community Empowerment.3
Signs of empowerment Signs of disempowerment
Economic empowerment Cash earned by many Small, spasmodic cash gains.
households. Profits to local elites, outside
Infrastructure improvements, operators, government
Other visible economic agencies, etc.
improvements. Some excluded from
economic benefits due to
lack capital and/or capacity.
Psychological Self-esteem of many Hardships due to reduced
empowerment community members is access to the resources of a
enhanced, protected area.
Increasing confidence of Some are confused,
community members raises frustrated, disinterested or
capacity. disillusioned with the
Increase in status for initiative.
Social empowerment Community's equilibrium Disharmony and social
Community cohesion is Loss of respect for traditional
Funds for community Competition instead of
Resentment and jealousy are
Political empowerment Community's political The community has self-
structure provides a forum to interested leadership.
raise questions regarding Community members treated
ecotourism. as passive beneficiaries.
Opinions of community taken Community has little or no
into account, control of ecotourism
Community members on venture.
3 Adapted from Sheyvens (1999).
For these reasons, protected areas have been and in some cases continue to be
major sources of rural tension in developing countries. In part, this is due to a lack of
communication with communities at the time of establishment. There are very few
instances where communities are consulted before creation of a protected area or fully-
involved in the decision-making process. Ghimire and Pimbert (1997) contend that
"from the outset, the definition of what constitutes a protected area, how it should be
managed, and for whom, needs to be based on interactive dialogue to understand both
how local livelihoods are constructed and people's own definitions of well-being" (p. 36).
In the absence of this initial dialogue, it may be difficult to develop any trust between
communities and protected areas management (Porkony et al. 2004), and as a result,
many countries have experienced social conflict connected to the establishment of
protected areas (Akama 1996, McNeely 1989, Negi & Nautiyal 2003, Weladji &
Negi and Nautiyal (2003) offer a framework for helping to resolve some of the
conflicts between communities and protected areas management. First and foremost, the
problem should be acknowledged and the rights of local communities to own and manage
their own territories should be respected in developing a conservation plan. Some other
strategies are as follows.
* Local communities' involvement in planning from inception.
* The recognition of indigenous representative institutions.
* The evolution of mechanisms of marginal sectors in ways that do not undermine
* The development of an unambiguous contract to establish mutual obligations.
* Cross-cultural training to sensitize all those involved.
* Provide subsidies to locals for the retention and conservation of natural areas.
* The payment of royalties on the use of genetic material conserved by a country or
* The utilization of the conserved living resources for non-consumptive purposes
with a view to earning income (i.e. ecotourism).
* Permit the use of natural areas for economic activities that do not threaten
biodiversity and in some circumstances may be favorable to its maintenance (i.e.
non-timber forest products).
* The funding or provision of finance on concessionary terms for development
projects outside of nature reserves, thereby raising the incomes of locals and
reducing the economic pressure to exploit nature reserves.
Perhaps one of the most common strategies for attempting to resolve the conflicts that
arise due to the differing objectives of communities and conservation organizations is
Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs).
Role of Ecotourism in Protected Areas
ICDPs attempt to link conservation in protected areas with the social and economic
development of communities that surround those protected areas. Instead of isolating
local communities from their resources, ICDPs try to introduce sustainable activities to
allow continued access to resources or try to provide alternative strategies for income.
Key strategies of ICDPs include improving park management and buffer zones,
compensation and substitution, and local social and economic development (Brandon and
Wells 1992). Effectively, ecotourism is an ICDP. Many ecotourism projects attempt to
operationalize the last two strategies, and some ecotourism ventures are connected to
protected areas and park management.
The idea for ICDPs grew out of an increasing disillusionment with the traditional
protected areas approach. In the 1970s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) founded the Man and Biosphere program, a project
integrating conservation and community development (Batisse 1982). Conservation
discourse in the 1980s continued to focus on the finding ways to integrate communities
into conservation programs. In particular, it was argued that environmental protection
programs could not succeed without focusing on poverty alleviation in developing
countries (Leonard 1989). Consequently, in the mid-1980s, these various ideas
culminated into the creation of ICDPs, and by the 1990s, community-based conservation
and development had become the leading paradigm among conservation organizations.
Today, many governments, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), and
INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organizations) are attracted to ICDPs and have
adopted ecotourism as a major conservation and development strategy. For example, in
1986, legislation was passed in Nepal to create the Annapurna Conservation Area, a
multiple-use area allowing hunting, the collection of forest products, the use of visitors'
fees for local development, and the delegation of management authority to the village
level. The main focus of the legislation was to improve tourist development while
protecting the environment. A local NGO, King Mahendra Trust for Nature
Conservation, was put in charge of the project. Training courses for lodge owners were
offered, and lodges were required to use kerosene in order to limit the amount of
fuelwood collection to subsistence levels. According to Brandon and Wells (1992), the
project has been successful at motivating communities to take natural resource
management into their own hands.
Not only are governments in developing nations jumping on the ecotourism
bandwagon, but a large number of INGO's have adopted ecotourism as a key
conservation and development strategy. Some of these INGOs include the National
Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Earthwatch Institute, the Sierra
Club, the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Conservation International (CI). CI has
ecotourism projects in more than 20 Latin American, African, and Asian countries. Some
examples are Madidi National Park in Bolivia, Kakum National Park in Ghana, and the
Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. CI claims that through these projects they have
reinforced the idea that people able to earn a living from ecotourism will in turn be
stewards of the environment and support future conservation efforts.4
However, some recent literature looking at three large INGOs (WWF, CI, TNC)
indicates that they may be moving away from incorporating local communities into their
conservation plans due to failure of their ICDP projects. Chapin (2004) indicates that the
attempts at ICDPs tended to be paternalistic, lacking in expertise, and biased toward the
knowledge of conservationists with little input from locals. Additionally, the different
agendas of conservationists and communities resulted in conflicts. The conservationists
were focused on conserving biodiversity, but local communities wanted legal rights to
their land and to find ways to utilize their resources without destroying them. INGOs
have also become increasingly dependent on large amounts of money from the very
corporations and governments that are encroaching on valuable ecosystems and the lands
of indigenous people (Chapin 2004). Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to
understand the factors that make ICDPs, specifically ecotourism as an ICDP, successful
so that communities can continue to be included in conservation and development plans.
It is crucial to take a more critical look at ecotourism's goals and the possible
environmental, social, and economic impacts that it can have on communities (Wall
4 Information obtained from the Conservation International website at www.conservation.org during
1997). According to Honey (1999), "there are, in fact, pressing issues surrounding
ecotourism that are crying out for deeper investigation" (p. 83). Therefore, a closer look
at some of the negative impacts is necessary.
Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism
One of the main goals of ecotourism is to protect and conserve valuable ecosystems
(Honey 1999). However, visitation to these sometimes fragile natural areas can cause
significant environmental impacts. Although ecotourists attempt to minimize their
impact, many of these places are so sensitive that it is difficult not to leave some
footprint. Impacts such as overcrowding, pollution, and wildlife disturbance can be
amplified in such ecosystems (Page and Dowling 2002). Additionally, Wall (1997)
points out that visitation may take place at sensitive times, such as breeding seasons or
during predator-prey interactions. The relationship between the amount of use and
associated impacts on an ecotourism site is most likely curvilinear or step-like, and even
the smallest numbers of tourists still have an impact (Cole 1989). Another point of
consideration is that even though on-site impacts may be minimal, there is still a
substantial en route impact. Ecotourists tend to travel long distances to reach their
destinations consuming larger amounts of energy per capital than the average mass
tourists (Wall 1997).
Many studies have identified possible negative environmental impacts. For
instance, tourists visiting Point Peele National Park in Ontario, Canada disrupted birds
during their spring migration. Despite being warned against it, tourists strayed from
designated paths to photograph the birds in their natural setting (Deming 1996). In
Belize and Costa Rica, Farrell and Marion (2001) observed significant trail degradation
and tour guides feeding howler monkeys to allow tourists a closer look. A lack of
training and resources contributed to these negative impacts. In Nepal, deforestation has
increased due to a higher demand for firewood and timber for cooking and building
tourist lodges. Further, ecotourism areas in Nepal have seen an increase in litter and
inadequate sanitation and solid waste disposal (Nyaupane and Thapa 2004).
Social Impacts of Ecotourism
Ecotourism can also have a significant impact on local communities. During the
development of ecotourism, communities should be consulted in order to obtain their
approval and cooperation. Without this, the development may be heading toward an
unsustainable future (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). In Thailand, many protests by local
communities have been provoked due to the expulsion of locals and the development of
hotels, bungalows, golf courses and resorts to support tourism (Handley 1994). Further,
hostile actions toward parks have been seen in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe,
Uganda, Kenya, and other West and Central African countries as well as many countries
in Central and South America (Koch 1997). Clearly, these types of situations are
unhealthy for the development of a successful ecotourism operation.
Studies assessing socio-cultural impacts of ecotourism have also shown that
resource disputes and commodification of the host community are widely reported (King
and Stewart 1996, Vandergeest 1996, Wall 1997). In Thailand, conflict between local
people and managers of protected areas over property rights and resources has hindered
conservation goals (Vandergeest 1996). A similar example can be found in China's
Wolong reserve where local people were either removed or severely restricted from
traditional resource extraction causing uncertainty for local livelihoods (Ghimire 1997).
Further, commodification of host culture and environment is a widely reported social
impact of ecotourism that can aggravate pre-existing power differentials between local
people and other groups (King and Stewart 1996). For example, park managers for
Negril and Montego Bay in Jamaica were forced to create an area that would appeal to
ecotourists. Although fishing was allowed within the park boundaries, pressure was put
on the park managers to keep the area clear of fishermen in order to fulfill the tourist
ideal of who and what activities should be allowed on the park waters (West and Carrier
2004). Additionally, in Nepal, some residents along the Annapurna Sanctuary Trail
reported an increase of crime in the area due to tourism (Nyaupane and Thapa 2004).
Clearly, these types of social impacts are undesirable and must be considered in the
development of an ecotourism operation.
Economic Impacts of Ecotourism
The generation of income for local communities is cited as one of the key benefits
of ecotourism. New jobs are created and the economy is diversified allowing for greater
entrepreneurial activity. However, some costs can be associated with ecotourism
development, as well. Residents may find themselves relying too heavily on income
from ecotourism as opposed to diversifying their economic activities. Often, ecotourism
is a seasonal activity, and locals may find themselves struggling to make ends meet
during the off-season. Land prices may increase, and commonly, there are large leakages
of tourism expenditures from the local economy (Lindberg 2001, Page and Dowling
2002). In Nepal, inflation of land, houses, goods and services, and cost of labor were less
likely to occur in small-scale community-owned ecotourism developments. However,
residents in areas with smaller ecotourism developments perceived that more jobs were
open to outsiders than to community members (Nyaupane & Thapa 2004).
Many studies have evaluated the economic sustainability of ecotourism. Studies
have shown an increase of income over time from ecotourism in most local communities
(Alderman 1994, Brennan and Allen 2001, Kangas et al. 1995, Lindberg et al. 1996). In
South Africa, the number of tourists and the amount of money that ecotourism
contributes to the local economy increased annually from 1990 to 1998 (Brennan and
Allen 2001). Alderman (1994) showed that private nature reserves catering to
ecotourism generated substantial local employment. Specifically in Belize, studies
indicated that the number of tourists and the economic benefits to certain local
communities have grown with time but have generated little income for conservation
(Kangas et al. 1995, Lindberg et al. 1996). All of these cases indicate that ecotourism is
generating money for local communities. However, this increase of income does not
necessarily translate into sustainable ecotourism. First, if little money is generated for
conservation, ecotourism ventures in protected areas and parks may not be generating the
resources to cover operating costs. Second, competing interests within communities can
lead to disputes over equitable distribution of income and a lack of participation by some
community members (Belsky 1999, Brennan and Allen 2001). In Belize, Belsky (1999)
concludes that attention to interests and identities within a rural community and their
relationships with outside players are extremely important to understanding social
challenges facing ecotourism. A study in South Africa further supports this point by
calling for models of ecotourism based on notions of self-interest and diversity within
communities (Brennan and Allen 2001).
Ecotourism focuses on tourism to natural areas that protects the environment and
provides empowerment opportunities to local communities. Ideally, sustainability is
achieved by simultaneously providing financial benefits and environmental education to
communities. As a result, communities will be empowered to take on stewardship of
their own natural resources. Due to the increasing interest in incorporating communities
into conservation initiatives, many governments and NGOs have adopted ecotourism as
an ICDP option. The popularity of ecotourism has amplified the need for research of
how communities are being impacted by its development, especially in communities
where ecotourism is connected to a protected area. By studying ecotourism destinations,
protected areas, and the communities within them, researchers can identify problem areas
and begin to develop solutions to make ecotourism a stronger and more viable ICDP
RESEARCH CONTEXT AND STUDY SITE
Ecotourism in Belize
"Belize's vision is to develop the tourism sector as a national priority, with a
primary focus on responsible tourism, aimed at marine activities, natural history,
and adventure markets. Development and promotion of the industry will be carried
out to encourage a strong "eco-ethic" to ensure environmental and socio-cultural
sustainability, to promote equitable distribution of economic benefits, and to
develop a strong, positive image for Belize. As a lead sector of our economy, a
competitive tourism industry will be a major force with respect to the future
economic development efforts of the Government of Belize."
Belize Tourism Board (BTB)
The above policy clearly indicates that tourism is a high priority for economic
development in Belize. In fact, although the policy does not specifically mention
ecotourism, many of its goals correspond with those of ecotourism. Why has Belize
chosen ecotourism as a development route? Belize is a small Central American country
(Figure 3-1) with a population of approximately 238,500 people (Belize Central
Statistical Office 2000). Partly due to its low population density of 10 persons per km2
(Belize Central Statistical Office 2000), many ecosystems in Belize, marine and
terrestrial, are maintained in a relatively undisturbed state (Lindberg et al. 1996). About
70% of the total area in Belize consists of forest cover, and close to 50% of the land in
Belize is under some form of protected status such as forest reserves, national parks,
wildlife sanctuaries, marine reserves, etc (Belize Central Statistical Office 2000).
Belize's natural beauty as well as its unique blend of ethnic groups contributes to its
popularity as an ecotourism destination.
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Figure 3-1. Map of Belize.1
Belize has a wide variety of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The main tourist
attractions are its cayes, offshore atolls, and the barrier reef. At 185 miles long, the
barrier reef is the longest in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world.
The mangrove cayes offer excellent habitat for birds, fish, shellfish, and other marine
1 Map courtesy of the University of Texas.
organisms. The island cayes and atolls are the basis for resort development to serve
tourists interested in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, sailboarding,
and sea kayaking. The northern half of the mainland supports scrub vegetation and dense
hardwood rainforests. The coast is swampy with a mix of mangroves and grasses
bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore. Central Belize is characterized by
large grasslands that rise into the Mountain Pine Ridge Area and the Maya Mountains.
With abundant rainfall, the southern half of Belize is a true tropical rain forest rich in
ferns, palms, lianas, and tropical hardwoods (Cutlack 1993).
Belize has a subtropical climate with a minimum mean annual temperature of
23.7C and a maximum of 30.7C. The rainy season ranges from June to August, and the
dry season ranges from February to May. Annual rainfall is variable depending on
elevation and geology and ranges from 1,500 mm in the North to 3,500 mm in the South
(Belize Central Statistical Office 2000).
The culture and people of Belize reflect a long history. The most prominent
ethnic group, the Creoles, represents 30% of the population in Belize. The Creoles are
descended from British settlers and African slaves. Yucatec, Mopan and Q'eqchi
Mayans as well as Mestizos of Spanish and Mayan descent make up 52% of the
population. The Garifuna represent 7% of the people of Belize and are descended from
African slaves, Carib, and Arawak Indians. The rest of the population consists of East
Indians, Chinese, Mennonites, and other ethnic groups (Belize Central Statistical Office
Tourism in Belize: Early Beginnings
The development of tourism did not take off in Belize until a few years following
independence in the late 1980s (Pattullo 1996). During the years before independence,
tourist numbers were relatively low and reflected a poorly developed tourism industry
(Himan 1970). However, early studies indicated that the potential for tourism
development was extremely high (Collar and Collar 1972, Himan 1970). During the
1970s, the largest draws for tourists were for recreational activities such as fishing,
diving, and sport hunting. For instance, according to Collar and Collar (1972), "Hunting,
much to the displeasure of a few conservationists, goes on with few restrictions. Jaguar
is the main attraction and, for such an exotic animal, they would have to be described as
plentiful" (p. 35). However, the tourism dynamic began to change after Belizean
independence, as international interests and conservationists put pressure on the new
government to heed the growing global interest in the environment and conservation
(Johnson 1998). Tourism development in Belize is inextricably tied to the conservation
Conservation Initiatives in Belize
The two earliest pieces of legislation regarding conservation were the Crown Lands
Ordinance of 1924 and the Forest Ordinance of 1926. According to Johnson (1998), the
basis for this legislation came from a report issued by Hummel, Belize's first colonial
forester. They also formed the basis for a more extensive forest conservation effort in
1958 with the passing of the Forest Act (McCalla 1995). The Forest Act provided
authority for the establishment of forest reserves and the regulation of forest resources.
Still, the Forest Act was aimed at regulating industry, not just as a conservation effort.
Other conservation legislation enacted before independence was also aimed at industry
regulation. For example, Section 13 of the Fisheries Act gives the Minister power to
regulate the fishing industry in such ways as restricting the size of nets used or the size of
fish that were allowed to be caught.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the possibility of creating national parks was explored as
a way to bolster tourism development. The Belizean government was further encouraged
to create national parks by the United Nations and a team of tourism consultants from
New York in the mid-1960s. Also arriving on the scene at this time was Dora Weyer, a
U.S tropical biologist. Besides being a major contributor to the founding of the Belize
Audubon Society (the country's first conservation NGO), she further worked to revise the
wildlife legislation in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1981, immediately following independence and largely due to efforts by Weyer
(Johnson 1998), Belize passed two key pieces of legislation, the Wildlife Protection Act
and the National Parks System Act (McCalla 1995). Most notably, the National Parks
System Act paved the way for the establishment of the first protected areas that were to
become prominent ecotourism destinations, such as Half Moon Caye National Monument
(1982), Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (1984), and Crooked Tree Wildlife
Sanctuary (1984) (Lindberg et al. 1996). In an unprecedented step, the government of
Belize handed management of many protected areas over to NGOs like Belize Audubon
Society (BAS). Although this gave the BAS control over a large portion of land in
Belize, it freed the government from the responsibility of funding the development of
national parks. This rare situation still exists today, and the BAS has managed to fund
research and education efforts in eight protected areas for over 20 years.
Following 1981, major steps were taken by the Belizean government to continue
promoting a conservation ethic. In 1992, the Environmental Protection Act was passed to
establish the Department of the Environment (McCalla 1995). The Department of the
Environment was given the power to oversee environmental protection, management of
natural resources, and environmental impact assessments. Moreover, the Government of
Belize took another key step toward conservation by establishing the Protected Areas
Conservation Trust (PACT)2 in 1995. PACT is a fund set up to raise revenues that will
then be redistributed to support "the management and sustainable development of the
different protected areas in Belize." The three chief sources of revenue for PACT are a
conservation fee collected from every departing visitor, 20% of all concession fees,
recreation related license fees, cruise ship passenger fees, permit fees collected in
conjunction with the public protected areas of Belize, and donations. PACT provides
funding for projects such as eco-cultural tourism development, improvements at
archaeological sites, and community participation in conservation and is crucial support
for NGO's and other local organizations working on these projects.
Ecotourism in Belize
Major development of the tourism industry in Belize began after independence.
However, by 1982, the government was in an economic crisis as an international
recession and Belize's narrow export base contributed to the decline of the economy
(Enriquez 1993). Based on previous recommendations by the United Nations and U.S
tourism consultants, Belizean officials felt that tourism would be a feasible diversification
option, and accordingly, policy was formulated to focus on modernizing and expanding
the tourism industry. In the late 1980s, Belize's economy experienced rapid growth and
tourist arrivals increased substantially (Figure 3-2). Tourism became the fastest growing
industry and was second to agriculture as a foreign exchange earner.
2 Information on PACT was obtained from the PACT website at www.pactbelize.org during January 2005.
The 1980s saw a shift in the tourist market from mass packaged holidays to
ecotourism and archaeo-tourism (Belsky 1999). Tourists were looking for a more
"authentic" experience; one that was more environmentally and culturally sensitive
(Belsky 1999). This shift in tourist demand coincided with the expansion of protected
areas in Belize and the move toward increased tourism development for economic
diversification. Belize fit into this new niche and offered up its biological and cultural
29,897 25,197 20720
0 4 1
1961 1965 1969 1975 1980 1985 1990
Figure 3-2. Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1961-1990.3
Ecotourism continued to develop and gain prominence in the 1990s with the help
of foreign and national NGOs. These NGOs helped to encourage international tourists to
3 Arrivals in the 1960s indicate total arrivals, not just tourist arrivals. Residents would be recounted each
time they reentered their home country. Tourist statistics from 1961-1969 were obtained from Himan
(1970). Tourist statistics for 1975-1990 were obtained from the Belize Tourism Board.
experience the inland tropical forests, wildlife, archaeological ruins, and Creole,
Garifuna, and Maya communities. The idea was that tourists would contribute to the
local economy and less tourist dollars would be lost through leakages to foreign tour
operators. Thus, community-based ecotourism gained prominence in Belize as a
conservation and development strategy.
Today, tourism is the leading industry in Belize. Since the construction of Belize
International Airport in 1989, tourist numbers have remained fairly steady (Figure 3-3).
The government of Belize is still focused on promoting ecotourism, as indicated by Mark
Espat, the former Minister of Tourism and the Environment:
Belize's commitment to ecotourism is a joint effort of the public and private sector.
Much of Belize is untouched by man, as it has been for the last thousand years -
more than one-fifth of its total land mass is dedicated to nature reserves. Myriad
public programs, including the recently launched PACT are forming a national
infrastructure that fosters preservation and management of Belize's unique natural
and cultural resources.4
Belize Tourist Board's slogan, Belize is "mother nature's best kept secret" continues to
attract tourists searching for unique ecosystems and cultures. However, another aspect of
tourism, cruise tourism, has also gained prominence.
Cruise Ship Tourism
Until recently, Belize was focused on ecotourism as their major tourism strategy.
Nevertheless, in 2001, the government of Belize signed a contract with Carnival
Corporation to allow cruise ships to anchor offshore and ferry mass amounts of tourists
into Belize City. Since the introduction of major cruise lines onto Belize's shores, the
number of cruise tourist arrivals has increased exponentially from 14,183 in 1998 to
4 Quote obtained from the Belize Tourism Board during October 2004.
575,196 in 2003 (Belize Tourism Board 2004). It is projected that in 2004 this number
will increase to 813,782 (CZMIA 2004; Figure 3-4).
In 2003, an agreement was reached between Belize Ports Limited and Carnival
Corporation to begin construction of a new cruise tourism terminal facility. The project
will include a pier that can accommodate two cruise ships and a welcome center. A
transportation hub will be built to accommodate hundreds of buses and taxis
simultaneously. In the agreement, Carnival committed to regular ship calls for a 25 year
period, which is likely to contribute to a positive growth trend over the next few years.
200,000 195,765 195,995 199,521
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Figure 3-3. Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1998-2003.5
Currently, key tourist attractions in Belize are experiencing increasing pressure
from cruise tourist visitation. For instance, Altun Ha, the closest Mayan ruin to Belize
5 These numbers do not include cruise ship arrivals.
City and easily accessible by bus, has seen a 450% increase in tourist arrivals since 1998
(Belize Tourism Board 2004). Lamanai, a much more remote Mayan ruin, is also
beginning to see an increase in tourists from cruise ships. Indian Church, the community
located adjacent to Lamanai, is just now receiving electricity and barely has the
infrastructure to support large amounts of tourists. Nonetheless, with continued
improvement of infrastructure, cruise tourists will be able to access more remote areas of
Belize that have traditionally been ecotourism destinations. Certainly, the change in
tourism types and the sharp increase in tourist numbers in such a short period of time
could cause substantial positive and negative economic, social, and environmental
impacts on Belizean communities. My study, however, does not directly address these
issues, but only introduces the issue as it may, in the near future, pertain to tourism
development in my study site, Crooked Tree, Belize.
Study Site: Crooked Tree, Belize
Crooked Tree is located about 33 miles northwest of the capital, Belize City,
along the Northern Highway (Figure 3-5). The wetlands surrounding Crooked Tree are
approximately 16,400 acres comprised of waterways, logwood swamps, and lagoons.
However, only about 4,500 acres of the wetland area is under the protection of Crooked
Tree Wildlife Sanctuary which was established in 1984. The area was only accessible by
boat until a three mile causeway was constructed across the Northern Lagoon. The
causeway connected Crooked Tree to the Northern Highway and allowed for greater
infrastructure and tourism development.
100,000 58,131 48,116
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Figure 3-4. Cruise Tourist Arrivals in Belize, 1998-2004.6
Crooked Tree: Physical Environment
Crooked Tree, a subtropical moist environment, is classified as a Tropical Humid
Forest Biome in the Campechean Province. Elevation in Crooked Tree is about three to
fourteen meters above sea level. The climate in Crooked Tree has distinct wet and dry
seasons. During the rainy season (June to December), Crooked Tree receives the
majority of its annual rainfall (1200-2000 mm). The dry season usually falls between
January and May with an extra dry period occurring in August. The temperature is mild
with a range of 16C to 28C during the winter and 24C to 33 C during the summer
(Mackler and Salas 1994).
6 The figure for arrivals in 2004 is a projected number.
Figure 3-5. Crooked Tree, Belize.
Seasonality in Crooked Tree is an extremely important factor in maintaining the
biodiversity of the wetland. During the wet season, the flow of water is continuous, and
the lagoons receive water from all sides. Black Creek flows from south to north to
relieve the flooded Belize River and fills the Northern and Southern Crooked Tree
Lagoons to levels that can get as high as 9 feet. During unusually high flood events, the
flow may drain into the New River through swamp and marsh areas to the northwest of
the wetland system. Dry season results in the reversed flow of Black Creek from north to
south as the lagoons drain into the Belize River (Figure 3-5). During the dry season,
Map courtesy of Belize District Maps at www.belizedistrict.com/maps.
much of the wetland becomes dry and brittle providing habitat for numerous migratory
birds. As the lagoon shrinks, food resources become abundant and more easily
obtainable. Most wading birds and fish spend the dry season in Spanish Creek, Northern
Lagoon, Southern Lagoon, and Black Creek (Saqui and Boles 2003).
Table 3-1. Dominant vegetative covers found in Crooked Tree and the surrounding
Forest Type Characteristics and Dominant Species
Broadleaf Forests Limestone soils of higher elevation.
or High Ridge Forests Typical species do not tolerate extensive root inundation:
Sapodilla (Manilkara zapota)
Cedar (Cedrela mexicana)
Allspice (Pimenta dioica)
Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).
Pine Savanna Well-drained, acidic sandy soils.
or Pine Ridge Relatively low tree diversity and more open canopies.
Caribbean pine (Pinus caribea)
Palmetto palms (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii)
Cocoplum (( Ii '.'*ll ,m, icaco)
Pimenta palm (Paurotis wrightii)
Craboo (Byrsonima crassifolia)
Cashew (Anacardium occidentale)
Understory species are dominated by grasses and sedges.
Fire prone vegetation cover.
Heavily exploited for many years for lumber (pine), charcoal (oak), fence
posts and crab pots (palmetto and pimenta).
Rush/Sedge Lands Primarily herbaceous.
or Savanna Lacking most of the woody species typical of Pine Savanna.
Usually inundated by water for about six months out of the year.
Cohune Palm Forest or Along creek and lagoon banks where soils are rich and well drained.
Cohune Ridge Species include:
Cohune palm (Orbigyna cohune)
Guanacaste or Tubroos (Enterolobium cyclocarpum)
Gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba)
Freshwater Swamp Along the littoral zones of lagoons and ponds and along the edges of creeks.
Forests Flooded during the wet season.
Dominated by those trees that can tolerate cycles of exposure and
Logwood (Haemotoxylon campechianum)
Bribri (Inga edulis)
Cohune palm (Orbigyna cohune)
Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum)
Figs (Ficus spp.)
_Pokenoboy (Bactris sp.)
8 Adapted from Saqui and Boles (2003).
Water quality in the Northern Lagoon appears to be at acceptable levels, as the
water is alkaline with a high measure of hardness and dissolved oxygen content (Mackler
and Salas 1994, Saqui and Boles 2003). However, over the past decade, villagers have
expressed concerns about agricultural pollution originating from a closed agribusiness
development northeast of the lagoon, but empirical studies have not been conducted to
validate this claim. Other sources of pollution such as pesticide use, washing of vehicles
in the lagoon, deep-pit outhouses and garbage dumps have become more of an issue with
the growth of human population in Crooked Tree. In addition, the construction of the
causeway served to impound water in the northern half of Crooked Tree Lagoon and has
resulted in negative impacts such as murky water and the backup of dead vegetation.
However, in 1992, the Government of Belize constructed two culverts to restore natural
drainage of the lagoon during the dry season (Johnson 1998). Vegetation cover in
Crooked Tree consists of five main types: Broadleaf Forests (High Ridge Forests), Pine
Savanna (Pine Ridge), Rush/Sedge Lands (Savanna), Cohune Palm Forest (Cohune
Ridge), and Freshwater Swamp Forests (Table 3-1). Crooked Tree island is dominated
mostly by Pine Savanna interspersed with stands of wild cashew trees. The most
agriculturally productive soils are located on the Cohune Palm Forest, which is also
utilized as cattle pastures. In addition, the thickest stands of logwood are found in the
Freshwater Swamp Forests.
The variety of habitat in Crooked Tree leads to an abundance of wildlife. CTWS
was originally created with the impetus to protect birds in the area (Table 3-2), especially
the endangered Jabiru stork (Mycteria mycteria) and their nesting sites. However,
besides Jabiru storks, 406 bird species have been documented in CTWS (Saqui and Boles
2003). Among these are a variety of migratory birds that flock to the lagoons during the
dry season in search of food. Fish are much easier to catch when the lagoons are low,
and the littoral zones offer wading birds easy access to aquatic insects, small fishes,
frogs, snails, clams and aquatic plants (Johnson 1998).
Table 3-2. Common species of birds found in Crooked Tree.
Common Name Scientific Name
Snowy egrets Egretta thula
Great egrets Egretta alba
Tricolored herons Hydranasa tricolor
Black crowned night herons Nycticorax sp.
Limpkins Aramus guaraauna
Bare-throated tiger herons Tigrisoma mexicanum
Boat-billed herons Cochclearius cochclearius
Green herons Butorides striatus
Snail kites Rostrhamus sociabilis
Roseate spoonbills Ajaja ajaja
Wood stork Mycteria Americana
Red-lored parrot Amazonia autumnalis
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Northernjacana Jacana spinosa
Belted kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Currasow Crax rubra
Crested guan Penelope purpurascens
Fulvous tree-duck Dendrocygma bicolor
Besides bird life, Crooked Tree harbors a wide variety of other animal life (Table
3-3), some of it listed as endangered by CITES (Conference on International Trade in
Endangered Species). Among the endangered animals are the tapir (Tapirus bairdii),
jaguar (Panthera onca), Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreleti), green iguana (Iguana
iguana), and Central American River Turtle (Dermtemys mawii). In addition, some
animals are important food sources for the residents of Crooked Tree. These include the
collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), white-tailed deer (Odocileus virginianus), paca
(Agouti paca), armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), and ornate terrapin (Trachymys
scripta. Fish are also important to the residents, as food and as a source of income. The
dominant species offish are "crana" (Cichlisoma urpothalmus), "bay snook" (Petenia
splendida, "tuba" (Cichlisomafi ii, i, hlihaitli), and "baca" (Ictalurusfurcatus). In 1996
and 1997, two new species, Tilapia mussambicus and Tilapia niloticus, escaped from a
nearby aquaculture pond into the Crooked Tree lagoon system. Tilapia are an aggressive
fish species, and villagers and fish experts in Belize worry that they may begin to replace
the other dominant fish species in the lagoon.
Table 3-3. Common animal species found in Crooked Tree.
Common name Scientific Name
Mountain lion Felis concolor
Ocelot Felis pardalis
Margay Felis wiedi
Jaguarundi Felis yagouaroundi
Gray fox Urocyon cinereoargenteus
White-lipped peccary Tayassu pecari
Brocket deer Mazama americana
Howler monkey Alouatta pigra
Spider monkey Ateles ,.. ,, ,i sspp.
Agouti Dasyprocta punctata
Coatimundi Nasua narica
Raccoon Procyon lotor
Skunk Mephitis mephitis
Tamandua Tamandua mexicana
Tayra Eira Barbara
Squirrel Sciurus yucatensis
Fer-de-lance Bothrops asper
Coral snakes Micurus diastoma
Rattlesnakes Crotalus durissus
Boas Boa constrictor
Loggerhead Stauriotypus triporcatus
Crooked Tree Village: History
The first settlers of Crooked Tree were probably the Maya. Ruins such as Altun
Ha and Lamanai attest to the existence of large networks of Maya settlements throughout
the region surrounding Crooked Tree. Located near the village is a ruin named "Indian
Hill" by villagers and Chau Hiix by archaeologists (Enriquez 1993). The landscape
surrounding the pyramid-shaped structures of Chau Hiix indicates that some agricultural
activity with the use of irrigation canals may have been conducted in the area. Much of
the ruins are found in the Western Lagoon, but pottery shards have been found in the area
of the village. This evidence indicates that the wetland in Crooked Tree has probably
been utilized by humans since at least 1200 BC (Saqui and Boles 2003).
The British began to settle in Belize in the mid-twentieth century. Their initial
motivation was to hide in the cayes off-shore and raid Spanish ships carrying logwood
and other merchandise bound for Europe. With the growth of the logwood industry
around 1650, they developed interest in harvesting logwood and marketing it to the
textile businesses in Great Britain. The waterways of Crooked Tree were ideally suited
for establishing logging settlements and became one of the most important logwood sites
in Belize. Crooked Tree Village was established as a British logging camp and formally
became a village around 1750 (Saqui and Boles 2003). According to oral history, the
first settlers in the area were people of Scottish/English decent and their slaves. Common
surnames still include Tillett, Gillett, Cadles, Jones, Rhaburn, and Crawford (Enriquez
Logwood was an important commodity on the British market due to its heavy,
dense wood and red heartwood that was used to make aniline dyes. Logwood is located
in heavy swamp areas where its roots can be flooded in the summer and left dry and
exposed during the winter. During the dry season, settlers would penetrate into swamp
areas that were unreachable in the summer and make camps to cut logwood. The logs
would then be floated down trenches, into the lagoon, and to the Belize River during the
rainy season (Saqui and Boles 2003). At this time, the logwood business was extremely
profitable, and logwood cutters would utilize slaves to help with the harvest. However,
in the late 1700s, synthetic dyes were invented and the need for logwood was no longer
there. Prices plummeted. Crooked Tree did not have large stands of mahogany that
replaced logwood as a principal forestry export, and it is conjectured that the wealthier
settlers moved on leaving behind free coloreds, free blacks, and poor, disenfranchised
whites. The remoteness of the area and the abundant fish, game, and fruit made an ideal
location for these people. By 1841, twenty households were established in Crooked Tree
(Johnson 1998). Over the next 150 years, Crooked Tree continued to develop slowly.
Small quantities of logwood were still harvested for cash income, but for the most part,
villagers relied on farming, fishing, and hunting.
In the 1940s, the government built a school and a police station in the village. Also
around this time, an expanding market for crocodile and large cat skins in the United
States added to the income of Crooked Tree hunters. For instance, a U.S. investor
established a lodge in the Revenge area (west of Crooked Tree) for trophy hunters
interested in hunting jaguar. Men from Crooked Tree were hired to provide guide
services (Johnson 1998). The villagers began to petition the government for an access
road to connect Crooked Tree with the Northern Highway in 1951. They continued to
petition, and in 1984, the causeway was built across Crooked Tree lagoon. The causeway
was a project of the Ministry of Works and funded in part by the World Bank and the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (Saqui and Boles 2003).
Before the causeway, the chief means to access the village was by crossing the lagoon in
a dory (canoe). This limited the amount of goods that could be brought into Crooked
Tree and left the village fairly isolated from the rest of Belize.
The causeway changed life in Crooked Tree considerably. It allowed for much
easier access to and from the village resulting in much-appreciated benefits to residents.
The most apparent benefit of the causeway was the increase in commerce and
transportation across the lagoon, whereby different types of food were introduced into the
village. The result was less dependency on subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing.
Additionally, building supplies such as steel, sand, gravel, and cement were also brought
in to aid in housing construction. Consistent electricity provided light at night, fans for
comfort from the heat and biting flies, refrigeration for storage of food, and television.
Also, villagers were able to hold jobs outside of Crooked Tree and return home each day.
In addition, tourism has increased since the construction of the causeway (Saqui and
Boles 2003). The added development and prosperity in Crooked Tree allowed many
villagers to immigrate to the United States and send money back to the village. Early
immigrates have since retired from work in the U.S. and returned to build homes and
invest in businesses in Crooked Tree (Johnson 1998).
Crooked Tree Village: Today
The 19.3 mi2 island is home to approximately 650 residents making up 144
households (Johnson 1998).The center of Crooked Tree Village makes up about 2.5 mi2,
with some households scattered on the outskirts (Saqui and Boles 2003). Most villagers
are of Creole descent (West African, Scottish), with a few Garifuna and immigrants from
other areas in Central America. There is a strong kinship network within the village, and
most residents are related, by blood and/or marriage. Religion is extremely important as
the village houses seven churches, the most prominent being Baptist, Nazarene,
Wesleyan, and Seventh Day Adventist. The Village Council, which is composed of
seven elected councilors and headed up by the Village Chairman, is the governing body
in Crooked Tree. Council members deal with community development and any other
issues that affect the entire community.
The inhabitants of Crooked Tree practice a wide variety of subsistence strategies,
such as farming, fishing, construction, cattle, charcoal production, etc. Cattle and horses
within the village are free-range and can be found in residents' yards as well as in the
surrounding savannas. Very few households have only once source of income or even a
steady source of income. For instance, one household may rent rooms to tourists, own
some cattle, sell cashews, and have a small garden, or a pastor might supplement his
income by running a small grocery shop. Some men support their families by working
temporary jobs in construction or with Belize Electric Limited, and for them, income is
not always consistent. Some families have relatives in the United States and Europe who
send money home.
Cashews are central to the culture of Crooked Tree and a noticeable draw for
tourists. Cashew trees grow naturally in the Crooked Tree area (Figure 3-6). At the end
of April and beginning of May, the cashew harvest begins and often lasts through the end
of summer (Figure 3-7). In May, the community gathers for its annual Cashew Festival
where many tourists, especially Belizeans, come to enjoy a celebration filled with
dancing and sampling of cashew products, such as wine and jam (Figure 3-8).
Fishing is another central subsistence and commercial activity. The principal
methods utilized for fishing are hand lines, rods, long seines, and cast nets. Rod fishing
is the method used by most fishermen, but seine nets can yield large numbers of fish.
During the dry season, fishermen are allowed to fish more intensively to reduce the
amount of dead fish due to drying of the lagoon. For each net haul, the fishermen are
expected to pay US$10.00 to the Belize Audubon Society. The harvested fish are
consumed locally or sold to markets in Belize City or Orange Walk. The most preferred
fish for the market are "bay snook" and "tuba," but tilapia is becoming more marketable.
Filleted tilapia can be sold for about US$2.00 to US$3.00 per pound (Saqui and Boles
Figure 3-6. Ripe Cashew Fruit. This fruit is hanging from a cashew tree located in the
yard of a Crooked Tree resident.
Crooked Tree Village offers a unique blend of natural and cultural resources which
has attracted tourists. Tourism has remained steady and offers financial opportunities to
village residents. However, without the wildlife sanctuary, tourism may not have been as
successful as it is today.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: Establishment
The establishment of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary spanned a decade from the
mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. During the early 1970s, Dora Weyer led small groups of
birders, Belizean and American, on tours of the lagoon (Johnson 1998). She partnered
with John Jex, a Crooked Tree resident, who received tourists in his boat (pre-causeway)
and took them on birding tours of the Crooked Tree lagoon. The partnership was ideal as
John Jex had knowledge of the area while Dora Weyer was a birding specialist. As a
central founder of Belize Audubon Society, Weyer appreciated Crooked Tree for its
biodiversity, especially waterfowl, and initiated funding mechanisms to create the
Figure 3-7. Local Family Harvesting Cashew Fruits. Harvest involves picking the ripe
fruits from the tree and ground and then separating the nut from the fruit for
From the perspective of BAS, the early meetings with villagers about the wildlife
sanctuary were well-attended and positive. The villagers welcomed the establishment of
a wildlife sanctuary to protect waterfowl and wanted plans to be drawn up quickly. It
was made clear to villagers early on that CTWS would only regulate the hunting of
waterfowl and not put restrictions on the commercial fishing activities. As cited from
Johnson (1998), a document prepared by a wildlife management specialist in Belize
It is recommended that the area should be established as a National Reserve to be
managed as a bird sanctuary with provision to permit THE CONTINUANCE OF
THE ESTABLISHED COMMERCIAL FISHING PRACTICE (Deshler 1978, his
Therefore, the village seemed favorable to the idea of the sanctuary with the provision
that fishing would not be regulated or interrupted. However, villagers' perceptions of
these meetings reflected a different type of dialogue. The village chairman at that time
recounts that meetings were confrontational, and he was forced to convince other
community members that the wildlife sanctuary would be beneficial (Johnson 1998). He
worked hard to show how the sanctuary would promote tourism and generate foreign
exchange. However, many residents of Crooked Tree do not specifically recall these
meetings (Johnson 1998).
Figure 3-8. Cashew Wine Production in Crooked Tree. The residents above are
squeezing juice from the cashew fruit in preparation for fermentation.
The funds to create the sanctuary were procured from the international conservation
organization known as Wild Wings. The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was officially
established in 1984 by the Minister of Natural Resources as Statutory Instrument No. 95
under the National Parks Systems Act of 1981 (Johnson 1998). Management of the
sanctuary was given to Belize Audubon Society (BAS) due to limited government
staffing, funding, and trained personnel in the government sector (Enriquez 1993). The
BAS is responsible for raising funds for maintenance and development and for
enforcement of the rules and regulations of the sanctuary. To date, most funds for
operational costs have been procured from international conservation agencies (Dada
Under the Act, it is illegal to hunt, kill, or remove any wild animal within the
boundaries of the wildlife sanctuary. Initially, fishing was prohibited, but limited fishing
by residents of Crooked Tree was permitted as it is not considered destructive to the
sanctuary or its values. Plant collection and any destruction of natural or cultural
resources are also prohibited by the Act. Penalties ranging from BZ$200 to BZ$500 or
up to six months in prison can be levied if caught conducting any of the above activities
(Enriquez 1993). Such regulations have large impacts on villagers who are dependent on
the natural resources for subsistence and cash. However, for villagers, there is very little
enforcement of hunting regulations. Fishing, to some extent, is regulated and for that
reason, is a concern for the villagers who base their livelihood on commercial fishing.
Issues over fishing have been a thorn in the relationship between the village and the BAS
since the establishment of CTWS (Johnson 1998). However, CTWS spurred the growth
of ecotourism as an alternative source of income for some Crooked Tree residents.
Ecotourism in Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Ecotourism in Crooked Tree was at a small scale before the wildlife sanctuary
was created. Only avid birders or dedicated students too the long trek and dory ride
across the lagoon. As was mentioned above, Dora Weyer began bringing tourists for
tours of the lagoon in the early 1970s. Since John Jex was already involved in providing
transportation across the lagoon, he was the natural choice to conduct lagoon tours, which
were the first guided wildlife tours.
In terms of lodging, one villager explained, "we (he and his wife) were the first
people in the village that people began to come and stay with." His first guests were
students studying sociology. They contacted a local church in order to find homestays.
After his first guests, he was inspired to invest in renovating his home to make room for
tourists and students who were interested in visiting Crooked Tree. One of his old guest
books contains entries dating back to 1975. Certainly, ecotourism developed before
CTWS, but with the construction of the causeway and the establishment of a protected
area, ecotourism was given momentum to grow and expand in the community.
Tourist numbers were recorded in Crooked Tree with the establishment of CTWS
and the construction of a visitors center. Some early numbers indicate that ecotourism
steadily grew from the late 1980s until the early 1990s (Figure 3-9). Recently, the
number of visitors to CTWS has leveled out. According to local sources, the tourism
industry in Belize was negatively affected during the first Gulf War and post September
11, 2001. Current statistics indicate that visitor arrivals in Crooked Tree have declined
slightly compared to those of the early 1990s (Figure 3-9). However, it is necessary to
note that in many cases tourists do not sign the guest book at the visitors center, and this
leads to undercounts. Furthermore, as local lodge owners have expanded their
businesses, they have invested in their own transportation for bringing tourists in from the
Belize City Airport. Often times, these tourists bypass the CTWS Visitors Center and are
not officially recorded as visitors to the sanctuary. In 1993, Enriquez (1993) estimated
that close to three for every ten foreign visitors did not sign the book. This number may
be even higher now.
150 1,29 1,483 1,440
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Figure 3-9. Tourist Arrivals to CTWS, 1987-2003.9
Why do tourists visit Crooked Tree and what do they do while they are there?
Tourists learn about Crooked Tree and the wildlife sanctuary by reading Belize guide
books and sometimes from the recommendations of local Belizeans. The majority of
visitors come to view wildlife or specifically to bird watch. Some are interested in
learning about the local culture and interacting with community members. Crooked Tree
offers a diverse array of activities such as lagoon boat tours, walks along the lagoon
boardwalk (Figure 3-10) and community trail, or horseback rides through the community
9 Tourist statistics from Enriquez (1993) and the Belize Tourist Board.
and to the Western Lagoon. However, for some low budget tourists, boat tours are not
feasible as they cost around US$75.00.
Figure 3-10. CTWS Boardwalk. A) The boardwalk extends through swampy areas
located to the northwest of Crooked Tree island. B) The observatory tower
at the end of the boardwalk provides views of the Western Lagoon.
Many tourists visit Crooked Tree as a part of a group. During the Belize school
year, local high schools conduct field trips to CTWS and participate in environmental
education programs with wardens. During the summer, many school groups visit
Crooked Tree on summer study-abroad opportunities. Most lodge owners have regular
groups that return to Crooked Tree each year.
Tourism in CTWS is marked by a distinct seasonality. Most visitors, especially
those interested in bird watching visit during the peak of the dry season (December to
May). Tourist numbers are low during the summer months due largely to the rain and
heat (Figure 3-11). Most visitors to Crooked Tree are foreigners and are largely from the
United States. The second largest group of visitors to CTWS from July 2003 to June
2004 was Belizean (Figure 3-12). This is largely due to high school groups traveling to
CTWS for environmental education field trips.
Winter Spring Summer Fall
Figure 3-11. Tourist Arrivals by Season (n=1,280), July 2003 to June 2004.
USA Belize Canada Europe UK
Countries of Origin
Central Unknown Other
Figure 3-12. Tourist Arrivals by Nationality (n=1280),
July 2003 to June 2004.
When tourists visit Crooked Tree for overnight stays, they have a choice among
three larger lodges offering guide operations and a few small bed and breakfasts. The
bed and breakfasts are targeted toward low-budget students and backpackers. The lodges
are equipped for larger groups and offer guiding services. The lodges, Bird's Eye View,
Sam Tillett's Hotel, and Paradise Inn, were all established in the 1990s and are relatively
new (Figure 3-13). A couple of the lodges offer guided trips to areas outside of Crooked
Tree. For example, Sam Tillett's Hotel offers day trips to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai or
cave tubing and overnight trips to the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. Costs for rooms in
larger lodges are around US$50 per night, and bed and breakfast accommodations are
US$20 per night.
Figure 3-13. Lodges in Crooked Tree. A) Bird's Eye View Lodge. B) Dining Room at
Upon entering CTWS, tourists are required to sign in at the CTWS Visitor's
Center (though this does not always happen) and pay a park fee of US$1.00 for nationals
and US$4.00 for non-nationals (Figure 3-14). The visitors center offers an interpretive
display of the wildlife and culture that can be found in Crooked Tree. In addition, the
wardens are available to answer questions and help tourists locate a place to stay or eat.
They provide CTWS brochures and a map of the community with information about the
various lodges, bed and breakfasts, and the three restaurants within the community, Trees
and Vees, Three J's, and Nor's Restaurant (Appendix A).
Figure 3-14. Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Visitors Center. A) The Center is located
at the entrance of the wildlife sanctuary. B)The interpretive display of
wildlife and culture is located inside the CTWS Visitors Center.
From the description above, it is evident that ecotourism is established in Crooked
Tree, and many residents actively participate in it. The creation of Crooked Tree Wildlife
Sanctuary may have helped to spur the growth of ecotourism and may be viewed in a
more positive light by residents earning income from ecotourism. Nonetheless, the
nature, history, and culture of Crooked Tree presented above demonstrate that ecotourism
may not be enough to convince villagers of the importance of CTWS. The community is
still struggling with the introduction of conservation ideas and even ecotourism cannot
replace traditional subsistence strategies. Many communities globally are confronted
with the same struggle as Crooked Tree (conservation organizations vs. residents), and
each new case study helps to shed light on innovative strategies to ease this struggle.
The overall methodology of my study was to collect a mixture of qualitative and
quantitative data. The qualitative data was used to supplement and help explain the
quantitative data. Further, a triangulated approach was employed. Triangulation allows
for comparisons among different methods to correct for biases inherent in specific
methods of data collection (Sobo and Munck 1998). In my study, I used participant
observation and key informant interviews to check the validity and reliability of answers
given by community members during semistructured interviews.
Semistructured Household Interviews
The main method used in my study was a semistructured household interview
including four sections designed to elicit information regarding villagers' involvement in
ecotourism and their perceptions of the impact of ecotourism in their area, to understand
feelings residents hold toward conservation, the wildlife sanctuary and Belize Audubon
Society, to discover how residents feel about the future of ecotourism in their community
and how they would like to see it changed or improved, and to gather relevant
I chose participants for household interviews based on stratified random sampling.
This ensured that hotel owners, restaurant owners, and other residents involved as well as
members of the community not involved in tourism were represented. Since there was no
list or map of households available for the community, I made note of households
involved and not involved in tourism during my initial community walks. I used a trail
map provided by the CTWS Visitors Center as a guide to the roads in Crooked Tree
(Appendix A). I chose a stratified random sample of 60 households from a population of
approximately 150 households allowing me to conduct one interview per day for two
Of the 60 households included in the stratified sample, I was able to conduct
interviews with 43 households. The response rate was 72%. Only one household
outright refused to be included in the interview. The other households subtly indicated
that they were not interested in being interviewed. After repeated follow-up visits where
either no one was home or I was asked me to come back at another time, I moved onto
another household in the sample.
For most interviews, there was a general sense of openness. However, some
residents expressed that they did not know anything about ecotourism or the wildlife
sanctuary. Their answers were short and direct with very little elaboration. Some
residents were very interested in being interviewed and spent a large amount of time with
me. They were thorough in answering questions, and some discussion was conducted
after the interview was completed.
The interview included a mixture of 39 closed-ended and open-ended questions
(Appendix B). Closed-ended questions were used to get an idea of demographic
characteristics of each interviewee and also to determine their involvement in ecotourism.
Open-ended questions included some free-listing and were aimed at eliciting further
explanation of ecotourism activities and perceptions of ecotourism impacts, conservation,
the wildlife sanctuary, and the BAS. Questions were adapted from previous ecotourism
studies (Enriquez 1993, O'Donnell Sills 1998). Enriquez (1993) conducted similar
research in Crooked Tree, and I adapted a selection of questions pertinent to my study
from his structured interview to fit a semistructured format. Some questions were also
adapted from O'Donnell Sills (1998) since her study analyzed the success of ecotourism
as an ICDP option in developing countries.
In order to more accurately describe household wealth in Crooked Tree, I employed
Guttman scaling in interviews and observation. Guttman scaling is used in wealth
analysis by assigning a series of items that households might own to a level of wealth.
The level of wealth is determined by which items the household owns. For example, in a
community even the least wealthy households will always own shoes, but the wealthiest
will own shoes, a well, a gas stove, a TV, and a car. Other households within the
community will fall somewhere in between owning shoes and all the objects in the
Guttman scale. This technique is especially helpful in areas where income is not
documented and wage labor is uncommon (Guest 2000). In Crooked Tree, residents are
not usually solely dependent on one activity for income, but instead, for example, they
may use tourism, cashews, and farming as income generators (Johnson 1998).
The scale for Crooked Tree was established based on observation of wealth within
the community during my introductory community walks. The scale I constructed is
based on six items (1 least wealthy, 6 most wealthy):
2 and running water (pump for well)
3 and a washing machine
4 and a concrete house
5 and a car
6 and a hotel
I did not ask direct questions regarding wealth but used observation during interviews to
establish how the household ranked on the scale.
Interviews were administered face-to-face with either the head of the household or
the member of the household most willing to participate in the interview. All interviews
were conducted by me. The first few interviews were conducted with a paper copy of the
interview protocol, and a digital recorder was used to record all interviews with the
permission of residents. I discovered that the paper copy of interview questions tended to
make villagers feel more formal and less comfortable with the interview. Therefore, I
memorized the interview and conducted all other interviews without the hindrance of
paper copies. The interviews were always recorded and transcribed immediately
following the interview. After being transcribed, all recorded interviews were erased. If
questions were not understood, I attempted to rephrase questions in a manner that
remained neutral but helped residents to understand the meaning of the question. For the
most part, language was not a problem, since residents were proficient in standard
Interview Schedule and Constraints
All interviews were conducted in Crooked Tree from May 2004 to August 2004.
During my first two weeks in Crooked Tree, I spent the majority of time conducting
community walks and introducing myself to residents. I felt that it was important to
become oriented in Crooked Tree before beginning interviews. The interviews lasted
from 15 minutes to 1 12 hours depending on the resident and their knowledge on the
subjects addressed in the interview.
At first approach, residents were noticeably wary of participating in the study.
Many times residents rescheduled for a time when it would be more convenient for them
to participate in an interview. However, even after rescheduling, sometimes residents
were not home or were still not interested in participating in the interview. Most
interviews were only conducted after consistently revisiting a household. Due to the
sprawl of the village, I spent a majority of my time walking from household to household
to solicit interviews. Further, with only two months to complete interviews, these
constraints interfered with my ability to obtain the desired sample size of 60 households.
The wariness of villagers may have been due to the large amount of past
researchers offering little in return. Additionally, the fear of being negatively affected by
giving controversial answers to questions may have caused residents to decline giving
interviews. For example, one resident expressed his concern that researchers come to
Crooked Tree and take information but do not leave anything for the community.
Another resident maintained that other researchers had unknowingly caused trouble for
some villagers by reporting interview responses to certain authorities. Before conducting
interviews, I reassured residents that the interview was entirely confidential and that I
would not share names or specific comments from the interviews with any other person.
Further, I plan to conduct a follow-up visit with the community in the summer of 2005 to
report my results and conclusions and leave a copy of my thesis with the Village Council.
Participant observation was used to supplement quantitative and qualitative data
gathered from other methods (Bernard 2002, de Munck 1998, Russell and Harshbarger
2003). Participant observation has three distinct advantages: "1) It allows access to
backstage culture; 2) It allows for a thick description of a society or group; and 3) It
provides opportunities and a means to report on unscheduled sorts of behaviors and
events" (de Munck 1998, p.43).
As a resident of Crooked Tree during the summer of 2004, I was able to meet and
interact with residents on a daily basis. Most interactions with villagers were informal,
and I was able to observe routine activities and interactions. Further, as my proficiency
in Creole increased, I was able to understand conversations that were pertinent to
ecotourism and conservation issues in the wildlife sanctuary. By using conversation
analysis, I discovered opinions from villagers that were not picked up in formal
interviews or contradicted views expressed during interviews. In addition, I participated
in informal discussions with tourists regarding their reasons for visiting Crooked Tree,
their experiences in the wildlife sanctuary, and their overall impressions. I did not
conduct participant observation in any systematic manner, but I remained open to
participating in activities that could supplement my interviews as they occurred within
There were many other situations where the use of participant observation was
especially helpful. Observation of interactions between community members and tourists
was possible. I participated in many events where tourists experienced the ecotourism
services provided by villagers. For example, I was often invited by a lodge owner to eat
dinner with a group of tourists, and I accompanied a school group on a night trip in
search of crocodiles. In addition, I was also able to observe situations where service
could be improved by villagers to increase tourist satisfaction. On one occasion, I
observed an American couple step off the bus and look around in bewilderment for a few
minutes before they were directed to their lodge. The lodge employees were busy
shelling cashews and were in no hurry to help the couple. Another example was my
participation in other conservation and development activities managed by the Belize
Audubon Society (BAS). I was invited to help BAS in a clean-up of Half Moon Caye
National Monument. During the trip, I was able to observe interactions between office
management staff and field staff and how other protected areas are managed as compared
with Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Lastly, I was able to sit in on some small
community meetings that involved tourism planning activities and environmental
education activities. In this way, I was able to see how some community members
cooperate with each other to contribute to the success of community sponsored
Notes were taken as needed during participant observation activities and were
written up daily as field notes. Field notes were coded to allow for organization of
observations and easy access when information regarding particular activities was
needed. The coding procedures also contributed to a framework that enabled me to
organize and critically think about the data (Sobo and de Munck 1998).
Key Informant Interviews
Key informant interviews were conducted, because a good relationship with a key
informant can yield vital information regarding the local community and provide clarity
on issues that contribute to the success of a study (Russell and Harshbarger 2003). Upon
entering the community, a key informant was chosen based on knowledge of the
community's culture and political situation, ecotourism, and the wildlife sanctuary.
Other significant characteristics of the key informant were their ability to communicate
ideas, their level of mutual respect and understanding with me, and their neutrality in
community politics (Bernard 2002). My key informant was identified during my
preliminary walks in the community through informal conversations. Key informant
interviews were conducted periodically as clarification on issues and advice regarding
approaching community members was needed. All key informant interviews were
unstructured and incorporated into field notes.
Interviews with Belize Audubon Society
Two interviews were conducted with Belize Audubon Society representatives.
For the first interview, I formed a few initial questions based on research conducted
before entering the field, but the overall format of these interviews was unstructured to
allow for a free flow of information and to build rapport with Crooked Tree Wildlife
Sanctuary management staff. The first interview was conducted with the advocacy
officer and was conducted prior to entering the community. The manager of Crooked
Tree was not available for an interview at this time. However, this interview was able to
serve as a method of introduction to the key issues in Crooked Tree from a managerial
perspective. For instance, the advocacy officer was able to provide me with information
regarding tourism workshops conducted in the community, tourism leaders in the
community, and the current political situation of Crooked Tree. The second short
interview was conducted by phone following the completion of research in the
community with the manager of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. In this interview, the
future management plan for Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was discussed, and a few
preliminary results and impressions were shared with the Belize Audubon Society. Due
to time constraints, she was unable to meet before my departure from Belize.
Secondary data was used to supplement information gathered from field methods
and provide essential baseline information for my study. The Belize Audubon Society
was crucial in providing unpublished information regarding tourism workshops
conducted in Crooked Tree. Also, the wardens at the visitor center provided me with
brochures, maps, and information made available to tourists. I was allowed to peruse the
visitors center logbook and record data regarding the numbers and origin of tourists
visiting Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary from July 2003 to June 2004. Other secondary
data used were newspaper articles and tourist magazines.
Field Notes and Semistructured Household Interviews
I entered field notes and transcribed household interviews into Microsoft Office
Word 2003 (Microsoft Corporation 2003). In order to code them, I copied and pasted
notes for each day and answers to each question into separate database created in CDC
EZText Version 3.06c (Carey et al. 1997). For each interview question, I printed a list of
answers from all interviewees. I was then able to visually look for similarities in answers
and code based on these similarities. For example, if a resident responded that the
community benefited from tourism through the creation of jobs, I gave the answer the
code "JOB." The codes were then entered into database for both field notes and
interviews. For interviews, I counted the occurrence of codes for each question and
created bar graphs in Microsoft Excel based on frequencies of answers. In addition, I
used field notes to help explain frequencies by searching in CDC EXText for codes
corresponding to a specific question or answer. For instance, if I wanted to see what I
had observed of villagers' opinions of the BAS in informal conversations, I searched for
the code "BAS."
I entered information on tourist arrivals from the CTWS Guest Book into Microsoft
Office Excel 2003 (Microsoft Corporation 2003). I calculated numbers of tourist arrivals
by season and country of origin and converted them to percentages. Then, I graphed
these percentages as bar graphs in Microsoft Excel.
The situation in Crooked Tree is not necessarily unique in that there are many
communities around the world located within the boundaries of protected areas and are
struggling to maintain control over their resources (Ghimire and Pimbert 1997). Crooked
Tree is an interesting case study considering the relative isolation that the community
lived in before 1984. Since the development of ecotourism has occurred rapidly in
Crooked Tree, it is crucial to consider its impacts on the community and how it affects
their views of conservation and their relationship with Belize Audubon Society (BAS).
Perhaps understanding Crooked Tree's challenges and successes can contribute to other
conservation and development projects in Belize and the world.
In this chapter, I will cover the major results collected from my field work in
Crooked Tree. I begin with a description of the demographics of my sample and move
through a discussion of the beginnings of resident involvement in ecotourism and its
impacts, the villagers' perceptions of conservation and the wildlife sanctuary, and their
relationship with Belize Audubon Society (BAS). The last section will tie together
ecotourism, the wildlife sanctuary, and BAS.
Demographic Profile of Residents
Due to stratification, the sample was divided almost evenly between residents
involved (47%) and not involved (53%) in ecotourism (Table 5-1). However, in reality
there are a smaller percentage of residents that are directly involved in ecotourism. Since
I was specifically targeting hotel and restaurant workers to get a clearer picture of
ecotourism in Crooked Tree, the sample is biased toward households involved in
Table 5-1. Summary of Demographic Profile of Respondents (n=43).
Demographics N Percent
Involved 20 47%
Not involved 23 53%
Under 30 2 5%
30-39 14 33%
40-49 10 23%
50-59 7 16%
Over 60 10 23%
Male 20 47%
Female 23 53%
Crooked Tree 34 79%
Other 9 21%
Primary School 43 100%
High School 17 40%
Post High School 12 30%
University 4 9%
Post University 1 2%
1 shoes 1 2%
2 running water 3 7%
3 washing machine 11 26%
4 concrete house 19 44%
5 car 6 14%
6 hotel 3 7%
The majority of those interviewed were between the ages of 30 and 49 and
comprised 56% of the sample, while 39% were older than 50 years of age. Only 5% of
those surveyed were under the age of 30 (Table 5-1). There were two reasons for the
lack of younger participants. First, my sample unit was the household, and on
approaching households, the heads of the household were more likely to be the
individuals that volunteered to answer questions. Second, younger residents were less
likely to take an interview seriously and felt they did not know enough about my research
topic to be able to answer the questions. Therefore, my sample is skewed toward older
individuals and heads of households.
The sample was split almost evenly between males and females with the majority
of individuals interviewed being females at 54% (Table 5-1). In my interviews, women
were less likely to elaborate on issues and discuss more controversial topics in depth, but
a few women were very sharp and opinionated. Most men were more informed than
women, or they were more willing to share their views.
Seventy-nine percent of individuals interviewed were born in Crooked Tree, and
58% have lived in the community their entire lives (Table 5-1). Although there are
divisions within the community, most people either stay settled in Crooked Tree or, for
those that move away, come back and retire in the community. Eighteen percent of the
sample had lived away from Crooked Tree for at least 5 years and had come back to the
community to build a permanent home.
All of the individuals interviewed attended primary school. Forty percent
graduated from high school; 28% obtained some sort of continuing education after high
school (i.e. teachers, nurses, and pastors); 9% graduated from a university; and 2%
obtained some form of continuing education after university (Table 5-1). The
distribution of education in the sample is an artifact of the age distribution of the sample.
Since most of the sample contains individuals over thirty, all were able to attend primary
school in Crooked Tree, but a limited number had the opportunity to go on to high
school. However, with continued development, the number of residents graduating from
high school and university may be much higher in the future.
The mean measure of wealth was 3.81 (Table 5-1). Over half the sample had
enough income to afford to replace older wood houses with concrete homes. Most had
some form of running water such as a motorized pump for their wells. Many households
had running water inside of their houses. All households were able to provide shoes and
clothing for family members, but those with less income did not have the luxury of
running water and either had to haul it from a well or collect from a pump located
centrally in the village. Households with the most wealth owned at least one car and
sometimes more than two, and those that owned hotels were able to earn a much higher
income, especially during the peak of the tourist season. The sample could be biased
toward wealthier households. Households with a higher income were clustered toward
the center of Crooked Tree, and households with less income were more likely to be
found on the outskirts of the community. Therefore, I was limited by the distance to
households and my knowledge of the community.
Residents' Involvement in Ecotourism: Early Beginnings
Each household has a different story for their early involvement in ecotourism.
However, a few themes emerged among the households. Fifty percent of those
interviewed were convinced by friends or family members to either invest in ecotourism
or become directly involved. For example, one lodge owner was inspired because his son
was involved in ecotourism as a wildlife guide. Although it is likely that the residents
involved in ecotourism were motivated by the prospect of extra money, only 28% of
those interviewed expressed wanting more income as their primary reason for
participating in ecotourism. Twenty-eight percent of residents interviewed became
involved with ecotourism because of their knowledge of the birds, wildlife, and the
jungle around Crooked Tree (Figure 5-1). Other reasons for involvement included going
to school for tourism and the desire to stay close to home. Although not all are involved
in ecotourism, some have invested in it and have been very successful. Sam Tillet, the
owner and founder of Sam Tillett's Hotel, is an example of a success story (Box 5-1).
30% 28% 28%
Friends Money Wildlife knowledge Other
Reasons for involvement in ecotourism
Figure 5-1. Reasons for Crooked Tree residents Becoming Involved in Ecotourism
So, based on this description of tourism in Crooked Tree, can it be considered
ecotourism? Tourism in Crooked Tree is small-scale and centered around the Crooked
Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Most tourists come specifically to watch birds and enjoy a
wetland ecosystem teeming with life. There are three lodges equipped with guides that
are locally-owned by community members of Crooked Tree. The CTWS Visitors Center
collects a park fee to help support sanctuary projects and provides an interpretive display
for environmental education. From the outside, Crooked Tree demonstrates a good
example of ecotourism. But, are the goals of ecotourism being met in Crooked Tree?
Box 5-1. The Story of Sam Tillett's Hotel
In the beginning, Sam Tillett had no intention of becoming involved in tourism. In 1989, he
was working for the government of Belize mapping the country as a member of the British
Survey Team. Sam was 27 years old. Then, one day, when he was visiting Caye Caulker, he
met an American girl, Nancy. She was involved in tourism and asked Sam if he might like to
do some birding for her with tourists. Sam responded, "Are you kidding?!" But, Nancy was
persistent. She pointed out that Crooked Tree was home to a large variety of birds that
tourists wanted to view. Sam thought to himself, "Well, yes, we do have lots of birds, but all I
know is how to shoot them and eat them...And, that's all I really want to know." Nancy
continued to insist on bringing tourists, and Sam finally caved. He started in a dugout canoe.
He paddled the guests to the back lagoon and pointed out the birds as he saw them. At that
time, Sam only knew the local Creole names for the wildlife. After that first tour, Sam joined
with five other Crooked Tree residents and built the first real lodge, Crooked Tree Resort,
along the shoreline of the Northern Lagoon. The land for the lodge was Sam's, but although
he had lots of land, he had no money. Risky though it was, Sam took a loan from the bank to
build the resort. Crooked Tree Resort's first year in business was a success. Sam loved it.
But, the next year, a flood came and closed the resort down. The next year was the same, a
flood six feet over the causeway. The floods continued for a few years until finally the bank
repossessed Crooked Tree Resort. Sam was reoffered his job with the government, but he
turned it down. He wanted to continue with tourism. All Sam had was a little brown car that
he loaned to his brother-in-law, and to add to Sam's bad luck, the car was wrecked. But, Sam
received BZ$5000 to compensate for the loss, and in the middle of the night, Sam had an idea.
He would build his own hotel with the money! And, the next day, he started
building... everyone thought he was crazy, but this time, Sam did not build on the lagoon
shore. Instead, he began building in his front yard. Sam started selling rooms before it was
finished. With his pay from his first guests, Sam bought a wheelbarrow to haul the engine for
his boat down to the lagoon to take tourists on boat tours. Despite more floods, Sam
continued to build his business. He added a cabana for a restaurant with a porch and
hammocks. Now, Sam has nine rooms, a Trooper for tours, and a van to pick tourists up from
the airport. He is doing extremely well and is known as one of the best naturalists and birding
guides in Belize.
Impacts from Ecotourism
Of the 88% of households that believed that they benefit directly from ecotourism,
87% cited money as a benefit, 29% noted the flow of money through the community,
13% noted making new friends, 6% indicated a better education, and 3% cited
conservation (Figure 5-2). These results indicate that ecotourism has definitely resulted
in positive economic impacts and, to a lesser extent, positive social impacts. Not
surprisingly, the villagers seem most interested in the financial aspects of ecotourism.
Therefore, those not involved in ecotourism may not perceive benefits, because they do
not receive direct income. In fact, 70% of the residents interviewed felt that the lodge
owners benefited the most from ecotourism. However, a few villagers expressed an
understanding that they benefit indirectly from ecotourism as tourist expenditures
circulate through the local economy and help to create new employment opportunities.
One community member explained, "We benefit because it causes more money to flow in
the village. The people who actually directly interact with tourists (i.e. lodge owners,
tour guides), they get the money, and then, they give it to other people."
Additionally, 98% of households believed that the community as a whole has
benefited from ecotourism. Community benefits include money and jobs (69%),
infrastructure and roads (26%), education (12%), proceeds from the park fee (7%), and
international recognition (7%) (Figure 5-3). Once again, ecotourism is recognized to
have financially benefited the community by bringing in more money and creating new
jobs. Examples of jobs that have been created to support ecotourism are lodge owners,
tour guides, lodge employees (cooks, cleaners, drivers, and receptionists), and restaurant
owners and employees. Additionally, since the construction of the causeway in 1984 and
subsequently an increase in ecotourism, the community has received electricity, phone
service (land lines and cellular), and a much improved system of roads through the
community. Therefore, the community may partly connect the construction of the
causeway to ecotourism. Even though community leaders had been petitioning for a road
joining the Northern Highway since 1951, the government was most likely motivated to
finally construct the causeway as a result of the creation of Crooked Tree Wildlife
Sanctuary (CTWS) and the hope that tourism would grow in the region.
10% 6% 3%
Money Indirect benefits Made new friends Better education Conservation
Figure 5-2. Ecotourism Benefits to Households as Perceived by Residents (n=35).
Overall, households did not perceive negative impacts from ecotourism. Only 26%
believed that the community had been negatively impacted. A couple of households cited
unequal distribution of income and too much reliance on ecotourism for income as
negative impacts, but the most commonly cited negative impact (83%) was the
interruption of traditional subsistence strategies such as fishing, hunting, and livestock
raising (Figure 5-4). However, the regulations on fishing and hunting do not arise
directly from ecotourism but are incorporated into the wildlife sanctuary. For example,
one villager clarified that, "he feels that the Belize Audubon Society is connected to
tourism. And, that because of tourism, people that used to make a living from fishing and
hunting are no longer able to do that." However, in my observations, it was clear that
most Crooked Tree residents still participated in fishing and hunting, and there is very
little enforcement of regulations. The perception that traditional subsistence strategies
are being affected may stem from the few examples where fishing regulations have been
enforced. For example, one villager explained to me that he had been falsely arrested for
using an illegal net. Although he was cleared of charges, such instances may breed
resentment and distrust of BAS in the community and, by extension, some resentment of
One resident cited the concern that some villagers were becoming too dependent on
ecotourism as an economic activity and were not prepared for the inherent variability in
tourism. For example, tourism declined world-wide after the events of September 11,
2001. Additionally, it is necessary to note that based on recorded tourist arrivals an
average of four tourists a day visit Crooked Tree. Certainly, during the peak tourist
season, there are many more visitors per day, and some lodge owners indicated that on
some days they were so busy that they directed business to other lodges in the
community. However, the seasonality of ecotourism in Crooked Tree forces those
directly involved to save for off-peak times or to invest in other economic activities, such
as cattle ranching.
Money/Jobs Infrastructure/ Education
Park Fee International
Figure 5-3. Ecotourism Benefits to Community as Perceived by Residents (n=42).
Community Support of Ecotourism and Future Directions
Despite the view that to some degree ecotourism impedes traditional lifestyles,
86% of households believed that the community as a whole supports ecotourism, and
98% of households wanted to see more tourism in Crooked Tree. All households had
various ideas for increasing ecotourism in Crooked Tree. The most commonly cited
strategies were more advertising by the BAS and Belize Tourist Board (BTB), attraction
development by BAS and community members, such as a park with a covered picnic area
or a coffee shop, clean-up of the village, and the removal of cows to fenced areas (Figure
Unequal distribution of
All eggs in tourism basket
Figure 5-4. Negative Impacts from Ecotourism to Community as Perceived by Residents
H H I ll2%
More Attraction Better Removal of Better roads Clean up More crafts
advertising development marketing cows village
Residents' Suggestions for Increasing Ecotourism
Figure 5-5. Residents' Suggesting for Improving Ecotourism in Crooked Tree (n=43).
One of the most ambitious suggestions for improving ecotourism in Crooked Tree
was the construction of a road connecting Crooked Tree to the Maya ruin, Lamanai. This
strategy was mentioned by a couple villagers in informal conversations. Lamanai is
seven miles west of Crooked Tree. However, in order for tourists to travel to Lamanai
now, they must travel 20 miles north of Crooked Tree up the Northern Highway to
Orange Walk and then come back down south on a rough dirt road. The travel time is
close to three hours. If a connector was constructed between Crooked Tree and Lamanai,
the travel time would be cut in half and both destinations would undoubtedly receive
increased tourism. However, an impact assessment would be an imperative first step to
implementing such a large-scale project.
Another possibility for increasing tourism in the community is to bus in cruise
tourists. Cruise tourism in Belize was first introduced in 2001. Only 25% of households
interviewed indicated that they had seen an increase in tourists due to cruise ships. The
majority of households indicated that they either did not know or had not seen an increase
in tourism. I did not observe any tourists from cruise ships in Crooked Tree during my
stay. However, I heard a rumor among some residents that the Belize Tourist Board was
considering developing cruise tourism in the community. Eighty-one percent of residents
interviewed indicated that they feel cruise ship tourism would benefit the community and
would like to see Crooked Tree promoted to cruise tourists. However, a few members
(12%) of the community were adamantly opposed to the idea. One resident vehemently
stated, "I don't want them!" Another, "The cruise owners benefit, but not the people of
Crooked Tree." Currently, cruise tourists still are not visiting Crooked Tree, and whether
they will in the future is unknown. However, the development of cruise tourism may not
be as beneficial to the community as ecotourism. Though a larger number of tourists will
visit the community, they will not stay overnight and will not have enough time to shop
in the community. It is likely that only a few would receive direct benefits from cruise
tourism. Therefore, before developing cruise tourism, the community may want to weigh
the long-term negative impacts against the benefits.
Conservation Awareness and the Wildlife Sanctuary
Perceptions of Conservation
When asked to define conservation, 33% of the villagers did not know or chose not
to answer. However, there seemed to be a consensus among those that did answer. Their
definition included two concepts: to protect the environment (50%) and to preserve
natural resources for the future (67%). One villager defined conservation as "not
hunting," but for the most part, those interviewed had a good understanding of the goals
of conservation. In addition, the interviews reflect that the village supports protecting the
forest (95%) and wildlife (98%), but 26% only wanted to protect some wildlife. Jaguars
and crocodiles were cited as animals that should not be given protection. From my
experience, there seemed to be a deep rooted fear of these animals, especially jaguars,
among the people of Crooked Tree. According to Johnson (1998), the fear of the jaguar
is used to prevent children from wandering too far from home. This fear does not
diminish with age, and most villagers would not hesitate to shoot a jaguar on sight.
Further, many villagers raided the nests of yellow-head parrots to keep them as pets. The
yellow-head parrot is endangered, and it is illegal to keep them as pets or trade them
Although the community seems interested in conservation and may have their own
social institutions in place to achieve this goal, their interests do not necessarily align
with those of Western conservationists or the BAS. In fact, one resident indicated that,
"they (residents) have always been protecting the land." He went on to explain that as
children, if they were caught destroying bird nests, they were punished. I witnessed a
couple of incidences where children destroyed bird nests and the eggs or chicks in them
and were lightly punished.
Figure 5-6. Two Parrots Kept as Pets by a Crooked Tree Resident.
Impacts of the Wildlife Sanctuary
Interestingly, all the households that felt they had benefited from the wildlife
sanctuary (56%) cited conservation as a benefit. Other perceived benefits include the
attraction of tourists (42%), creation of jobs (21%), education (12%), and the park fee
(8%) (Figure 5-7). Seventy-nine percent of households interviewed claimed to support
the sanctuary, and 60% believed that the community as a whole supported the sanctuary.
However, 35% thought that the community did not support the sanctuary. In my
observations, the villagers, especially fisherman, who do not support the sanctuary are
extremely vocal about their disapproval and portray the impression that a larger than
actual proportion of the village is against it. Another possibility may be that some
households were not comfortable vocalizing their problems with the sanctuary to me, and
therefore, my results could be skewed toward a more favorable view of it. Households
that declined interviews may be less supportive of the sanctuary, and for that reason, they
may not have been comfortable speaking with me. In my conversations with some
villagers, they expressed a distrust of researchers and cited occasions where researchers
had unintentionally caused trouble for individuals by sharing answers with authorities.
Certainly, if the community viewed me as being connected with BAS, they might be less
inclined to share controversial views.
Conservation Attracts tourists
Jobs Education Park Fee
Figure 5-7. Wildlife Sanctuary Benefits as Perceived by Residents (n=24).
Belize Audubon Society (BAS) and the Community
Of the households interviewed 72% claimed to support the Belize Audubon Society
(BAS), and 63% believed that the village harbored at least some support for the BAS.
However, in my observations and daily conversations, I detected a frustration with the
management practices of the BAS. This may be due to a few of the following reasons or
a combination of these reasons. First, as managers of the wildlife sanctuary, the BAS is
often seen as synonymous with the sanctuary. Many villagers seem to be under the
misimpression that BAS is responsible for creating wildlife regulations, but the
government created the sanctuary and the regulations and gave the BAS authority to
enforce these regulations. In addition, this confusion may have been fueled by the CTWS
director serving a term as the Village Council Chairman. During his stint as chairman,
the director enacted a system by which fisherman would have to pay a set fee to take fish
out of the lagoon. The actual amount of this fee is unknown as those interviewed stated
conflicting figures, but it was approximately US$10. There was also confusion as to
whether the fee went to the BAS or the Village Council. Some felt the BAS was enacting
more regulations and pocketing the fee for personal use. As one villager expressed, "You
can't play two sides." The role of the CTWS director as Village Chairman was confusing
to villagers and opened him and BAS up to more suspicion and scrutiny. Furthermore,
during my stay in Crooked Tree, the BAS was without an executive director and
undergoing reorganization. There have been at least four different executive directors in
the last 10 years. Some villagers indicated that every change in executive directors
causes an interruption in communication. Policies and administration differ from one
executive director to another and can contribute to confusion among the community.
Lastly, there may still be some lingering resentment from the original founding of the
wildlife sanctuary. Considering that 30% of those interviewed do not know why the
sanctuary was founded, it is possible that a lack of knowledge is creating suspicion
toward the BAS. In summary, there is a long history of conflict between Crooked Tree
and the BAS (Johnson 1998). In 1993, Johnson perceived "a nervous village and a
nervous Audubon Society." My research and observations reflect that, over 10 years
later, this may still be the case.
The villagers expressed a need for improved communication from the BAS. One
villager explained, "I would like to see meetings with the villagers. They need a little
newspaper that they drop off at shops, schools, and churches with what they are doing for
the community or what their agenda is for the community and the wildlife sanctuary.
Things happen here that we don't even know." Two examples illustrate this point. First,
in 2002, BAS held a sustainable tourism workshop for Crooked Tree and other
communities surrounding Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. The only villagers with
knowledge of and that participated in the workshop were lodge owners. No other
community members were aware of a tourism workshop. Second, a recent project of the
BAS was to create a tilapia farm in Crooked Tree. The goals of the fish farm were to
address the needs of the people, especially fishermen, and to relieve pressure on the fish
population in the lagoon (Dada 2000). Certainly, this is a good effort by the BAS to
provide the community with alternatives, but according to villagers, there was no
consultation with the community before beginning the project. In the words of one
villager, "I am a paying member of Audubon...I didn't even know." Furthermore,
because the site of the fish ponds was located on heavy swamp, it was assumed that
plenty of water would be available for the farm. No outside consultation was conducted
to determine whether the water table would be sufficient to fill the ponds. Now, the
ponds have been dug but sit empty of water and fish (Figure 5-8). However, according
to BAS, they have been in contact with the Village Council during the entire process and
have also consulted with the fishermen of Crooked Tree. There was a series of meetings
with the Village Council in February 2005 to finalize the details of the fish farm, so
perhaps, it will soon become a reality.
Figure 5-8. Belize Audubon Society's Proposed Fish Farm Project. This is an effort by
BAS to provide an alternative to fishing in the lagoon for the people of
Tying Together Ecotourism, the Wildlife Sanctuary, and BAS
One of the major goals of ecotourism is to provide funds for conservation (Blamey
2001, Honey 1999, Ross and Wall 1999). Usually, this goal is achieved by charging
visitors a fee to enter the protected area. The BAS charges US$4.00 for non-nationals
and US$1.00 for nationals to enter Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS) (BAS
2005). Based on visitor numbers in 2003, CTWS made approximately US$5,046 on park
fees. However, the estimated cost of operations for 2003 was US$72,309.14 (Dada
2000). The majority of money to cover operational costs has come from international
donations which are supplemented by the Belizean government. However, funds from
the Belizean government were expected to decline, and at this point, may be non-existent
due to an economic decline in Belize. The BAS also figured in a large portion of support
coming from the Crooked Tree community in the form of volunteer labor (Figure 5-9). It
is important to note that the volunteer labor was more than likely included as a
justification for funding from international donor organizations. Further, international
donations and government support were expected to decrease while income from park
fees and community support were expected to increase. Still, visitor numbers have not
increased substantially, and from my observation and with the exception of the park
wardens who are residents of Crooked Tree, there is almost no involvement from the
community members in daily operations of the wildlife sanctuary. However, the wardens
are paid a salary and cannot be considered volunteer labor.
The success of ecotourism in Crooked Tree is directly related to the success of
CTWS. Tourists are attracted to the wildlife sanctuary, and it is likely that tourist arrivals
would drop without its existence. Despite efforts of the BAS, the CTWS is facing serious
funding problems. BAS may need to consider strategies for increasing revenues from
park fees and for cutting costs in the daily operations of CTWS. Currently, the BAS is
developing a new management plan that may address some of these problems. However,
it is not the BAS that attracts tourists but the wildlife sanctuary, and in my observations, I
detected an undercurrent among some villagers that indicates they may want to see BAS
out of CTWS and take over management of the sanctuary themselves. At this point, I am
unsure as to how feasible such a move would be for the village, but with the right amount
of motivation and a good advertising program it may be an option to consider for the
future. Furthermore, as ecotourism has developed in Crooked Tree a growing number of
tourists are attracted to Crooked Tree not because of the sanctuary but because of good
advertising by some villagers and word of mouth. During informal conversations with
tourists, most expressed that they enjoyed their stay in Crooked Tree and planned to visit
again in the future. Therefore, tourists have the motivation to describe Crooked Tree in a
favorable light, and word of mouth may bring in as many tourists or more than the
wildlife sanctuary. The villagers have shown that they are capable of attracting and
entertaining tourists without the help of BAS, but perhaps they are not aware of the
responsibilities that assuming management of the wildlife sanctuary would entail. This
issue will be explored deeper in the following chapter.
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
[E Self Generated 0 Belizean Government
E International Donations B Community Participation
Figure 5-9. Nature of Income for Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. This income is
necessary to cover the operating costs of the wildlife sanctuary (Dada 2000).