With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
Lisel Alamilla, former Executive Director of Ya’axché Conservation Trust (Ya’axché – Fauna & Flora International’s partner in Belize) has been announced as a winner at this year’s Whitley Awards.
The funds from the award will help Ya’axché continue its ongoing work to raise national awareness and support for protected areas throughout Belize.
Belize is home to a spectacular range of plant and animal species, from the sleek and beautiful jaguar to the much sought-after xaté palm. With the lowest human population density in Central America, the country currently boasts a comprehensive protected area network, which covers 45% of the country’s land surface.
However the discovery of oil, combined with a crippling national debt, rapid population growth and agricultural expansion, is putting increasing pressure on the government to open these areas up to development.
The Whitley Award funding will help Ya’axché tackle what it sees as the greatest threat to the integrity of Belize’s priority habitats: poorly planned and unsustainable development, compounded by public apathy towards (and a failure to comply with) laws governing Belize’s protected areas.
Ya’axché's is working to secure the future for Belizean wildlife, such as the jaguar (credit: "Wild Amazon" by Nick Gordon, Evans Mitchell Books).
To achieve this, Ya’axché will build on its extensive experience in conservation advocacy to increase community participation in the sustainable management of the Maya Golden Landscape – one of Central America’s last unbroken stretches of broadleaf forest.
Ya’axché is also working to involve private landowners in the planning and management of Belize’s protected area system, at a local and national level.
The ultimate aim is to strengthen public awareness of and support for protected areas, and ensure that all relevant stakeholders are involved at every step of the decision-making process.
In this way, Ya’axché hopes to counter any moves towards unsustainable development within protected areas, thus ensuring lasting protection for Belize’s natural resources.
Speaking at the awards ceremony in London, Lisel (now Belize’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development) said: “What I have learnt from [my experience] is the importance of being the voice of the voiceless and making the ‘invisible people’ visible. By definition wildlife does not have a voice. I want to give it a voice and make sure that it never becomes invisible.
“…I firmly believe that we cannot achieve conservation goals without creating a society that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity. A society that understands and values human rights. A society that recognises the dignity of every human being. Ya’axché Conservation Trust believes in this, practises it, and is passionate about it. And I ask all of you to learn from what we have done in Belize…if we can do it, so can you.”
The Whitley Awards are the flagship grants of the Whitley Fund for Nature, (WFN) a UK registered charity. WFN’s aim is to identify the world’s most dynamic conservation leaders and support them in practical work of benefit both to wildlife and local communities. The first Whitley Award was given in 1994 when a single winner received £15,000. Since then, the number and value of the prizes has grown and the awards are now acknowledged internationally as one of the most valuable accolades a conservationist can win.