The eco-resort described by Leonardo DiCaprio as "groundbreaking in the environmental movement" is drawing concerns from local residents.
The 104-acre Blackadore Caye off the coast of Belize, purchased by the 41-year-old "Revenant" star in 2005, was announced last April as the future site of a world class sustainable resort.
"With the onset of climate change, there are huge challenges, so we want the structure to not only enhance and improve the environment, but to be a model for the future," DiCaprio told the New York Times. "That includes restoring the island, creating conservation areas where we can hold research conferences, and regenerating the entire ecosystem to bring it back to its original form and beyond."
Tentatively titled "Blackadore Caye: A Restorative Island," the resort will feature a variety of guest villas atop an arc-shaped platform on the water, as well as luxury estate homes built with sustainable and local materials. Renewable energy, electric vehicles, and innovative water and waste treatments systems (among many other green highlights) will also be integrated.
While the resort's ambitious sustainability has been widely praised, local residents — in particular the fishing community — are concerned that its approval will mean the end of access to critical fishing grounds. Another point of contention: the resort's arc-shaped platform encroaches on a designated section of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
“Sixty-six feet of all coastal waters are all considered Queen’s land because it belongs to the public," said one concerned resident during a discussion of the project's recently-completed 430 page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). "You may own land, but from high tide, sixty-six feet on to land is public access. And not only are you blocking that, but you are encroaching on the marine reserve and developing in that water."
Marissa Tellez-Kohlman, vice regional chair of Latin America for the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission, raised concerns with the Belizean Reporter that the EIA was conducted without input from local marine biologists.
"Why did they hire international marine and terrestrial biologists to perform surveys instead of Belizean scientists?" she said. "Given my expertise, I have been asked to travel to various countries in the world to provide my expertise. Yet, I never go into another country without consulting locals or local scientists."
In addition to taking all of these concerns into consideration, DiCaprio's developers are also doing what they can to create something that rehabilitates the island environment. Blackadore Caye over the years has experienced significant environmental degradation and erosion. In addition to regrowing lost mangroves and other natural species to improve marine habitat, the architecture of the over-water structures will feature biomimicry in its designs. The developers say this will not only improve marine life, but also conditions for the local fishing community.
“The idea at Blackadore Caye is to push the envelope for what sustainability means — moving the idea beyond environmental awareness into restoration,” developer Paul D. Scialla told the Times last year. “We don’t want to just do less harm or even have zero impact, but to actually help heal the island, to make it better than before.”
Barring any roadblocks, construction on Blackadore Caye is expected to begin next year, with an official launch sometime in 2018.