Our guests and online audience might notice the Chaa Creek Cares watermark appearing more frequently this year. Many people did not realise that 10% of all accommodation revenues at Chaa Creek go directly into social and environmental programs or contributions, and we’ve received comments suggesting that we let guests know how some of their money is used. It’s very gratifying that our guests appreciate Chaa Creek’s commitment to responsible travel, and that a significant portion of what they spend with us goes back into the local environment and communities. We are very happy that Chaa Creek continues to attract people who care, and we invite you to read on about some of our initiatives.
Chaa Creek developed organically, growing out of the exuberance and idealism of two young adventurers who started a small farm in the 1970s, and then began taking in guests to earn necessary extra income.
It’s been an amazing journey, and along the way we learned some valuable lessons that continue to define Chaa Creek today.
It’s a give and- take-relationship, and you take more than you give at your own peril. We learned what the Maya did millennia ago – the environment isn’t an endless resource that you can continually exploit without any sense of responsibility or stewardship. Humans and nature share a dynamic relationship. Look after the environment, and it will look after you.
As Chaa Creek developed, so did our sense of community. We received so much assistance from our neighbours we felt blessed to be able to give something back when our first tractor, an old beat up Massey Ferguson arrived from England and became a shared resource. Belize has one of the most culturally diverse populations on the planet, and we learned much about patience, tolerance, that coexistence doesn’t necessarily lead to conformity, and about appreciating diversity while sharing the positive attributes one’s own cultural background.
This ongoing give and take came to define Chaa Creek’s relationship with the environment and our neighbours, based on that old Belizean saying, “hand wash hand”.
Over three decades later, Chaa Creek has grown into much more than any of us could have imagined. The overgrown little citrus orchard has evolved into a 365 acre nature reserve, our staff of 125 people includes the sons and daughters of our original neighbours and townsfolk, and the interdependent nature of living “back a bush” is still very much alive.
Its small wonder that an ethos of contributing to both the land and society that nurtured us comes naturally.
The Chaa Creek Cares initiatives are a natural outgrowth of this development, and we invite you to take the time to learn more about them.
Community Outreach and Educational Programs, Conservation Stewardship, Sustainable Green Developments and Environmental Tourism Projects:
“The goal of Chaa Creek is to establish a model of low-impact, sustainable development. By stimulating interest in the environment, natural history and local culture we hope to demonstrate the long term benefits of ecotourism over other environmentally damaging options for development.”
This mission statement is still as valid as it was when we wrote it down years ago. We realise now, as then, that the things that sustain our business – the natural wonders of Belize, the rich legacy of the Maya and the harmonious, multicultural mix of Belizean society are all assets that not only support us but also entail certain responsibilities. We recognise the challenge to wisely use our common resources to ensure they remain viable and continue to provide benefits for future generations.
Chaa Creek operations are guided by the fundamental principles of ecotourism and fairness, and a harmonious relationship with the natural environment and local communities. Our full time staff is comprised entirely of over 125 Belizeans from the local towns and villages, and we acknowledge that their genuine warmth and friendliness are the foundation of our business and the source of constant praise from our guests.
We remain faithful to our original mission statement and sincerely – and humbly – hope that our efforts will be seen as a model for sustainable tourism development that will encourage others to follow a pathway of responsible travel and sustainable tourism.
Community Outreach and Educational Programs
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is wholly committed to responsible tourism and promoting natural history education. To be truly sustainable, tourism must respect and maintain its product – in our case the beautiful natural environment of Belize. While this may seem obvious, we have learned that careful attention must be paid to sustainability if protection is to keep up with growth. Our environmental education programs, delivered both internally and externally, are aimed at contributing to a pool of educated, aware Belizeans who respect their environment and have the skills to protect it. This represents our best hope for the future.
Sustainable, responsible tourism must also be firmly rooted within the local community, providing tangible, long lasting benefits to its people. If work is a source of pride with the promise of a real future, people will be engaged with every aspect of their work – to the benefit of visitors, the business, and the workers and their families. We have seen this proven time and time again at Chaa Creek.
This recognition is behind our commitment to continuously improve and expand our environmental education and community outreach programs.
- Our Environmental Education Outreach program takes environmental education directly to the schools and many special events throughout Belize
- We established the Belize Foundation for Conservation to “Promote environmental education, cultural awareness, and sustainable conservation practices”
- Financial assistance and community support programs benefit the Octavia Waight old folks centre, the Cayo Deaf Institute, and Marla House of Hope Orphanage
- Contingency reserves - Chaa Creek has in-house procedures and resources in place to respond in times of need. Whether from individual tragedy or natural disasters, Chaa Creek will always respond to calls for assistance
- Community Liaison - Chaa Creek supports and works with local organizations and groups conducting community based conservation and improvement projects such as anti-litter campaigns and development and maintenance of public parks
- Ecotourism and responsible travel education - Each year the Lodge hosts and educates hundreds of local and overseas students and sponsors internship positions in ecotourism and responsible travel through programs at our Natural History Centre, Blue Morpho Butterfly Breeding Centre, the Maya Medicinal Plant Trail and other Chaa Creek operations
- Educational field trips within the Chaa Creek Nature Reserve are offered to local and international schools, universities and community groups
- Summer Teachers Institute in Environmental Studies and Culture is a program delivered in partnership with the State University of New York to broaden the teaching skills of our local educators through teachers training workshops focused on sustainable use of our natural resources and enhancing an understanding of Belize’s heritage and culture
- The Teacher’s Resource Guide to Maya Archaeology, Ecology and Tourism of Western Belize, produced and published by Chaa Creek is a 113 page resource used in many local schools
- The Chaa Creek Scholarship Program annually provides 10 local students with full board educational scholarships at secondary and tertiary levels, paying for tuitions, fees, books and other necessities
- Share a Pound Program. We encourage our guests to share one pound of their luggage space for materials (pens, pencils, etc.) to be donated to a local school, craft items for the Octavia Waight Old Age Center, or pet care supplies to be donated to the Humane Society. Guests can also financially sponsor school books for a school child.
- The Eco-Kids Summer Camp gives 24 Belizean school children an opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Belize first hand while learning environmental responsibility during a fully sponsored weeklong summer camp at our Macal River Camp.
Our commitment to conservation stewardship includes:
Belize Foundation for Conservation:
The Belize Foundation for Conservation (BFC) is a legally registered Non-Governmental Organization that was established by Mick and Lucy Fleming and is based at the Chaa Creek Natural History Centre. The mission of the BFC is to “promote environmental education, cultural awareness and sustainable conservation practices” throughout Belize. The Foundation serves as the governing body for the many environmental and social projects and programs that are implemented and supported by Chaa Creek.
The Chaa Creek Natural History Centre:
The first of its kind in Belize, since 1993 the Natural History Centre and the adjoining 365 acre Chaa Creek Nature Reserve showcases the wonders of Belize’s natural world and fosters an understanding of its fragile tropical habitats and unique flora and fauna. To promote cross cultural experiences and understanding, the Centre’s exhibits cover a wide range of topics from anthropology to zoology, as well as providing an introduction to the history and culture of the ancient Maya civilisation of Mesoamerica. The Centre also administers our Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm and the Maya Medicinal Plant Trail which showcases the medical plants of the tropical forest. Each year thousands of local and international visitors tour the Centre and we are proud to be recognised as one of the premiere environmental educational facilities in Belize.
We acknowledge and respect that the unique flora and fauna and spectacular natural environment of Belize is the lifeblood of Chaa Creek and directly supports our staff and families. We continually remind ourselves and others that Belize’s rich yet fragile natural resources must be protected, conserved and used in the wisest manner possible, and always with an eye towards the future.
Over the years we have partnered with many local and international agencies, organizations and individuals in an effort to facilitate environmental conservation and research projects. Some of the more noteworthy projects are:
- Howler Monkey Reintroduction – in partnership with the Yerkes Primate Institute and the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation
- Birds Without Borders – conducts neotropical migratory bird research in partnership with the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County
- Vascular Plant Cataloguing – in partnership with the New York Botanical Gardens
- Agroforestry Research – in partnership with the New York Botanical Gardens
- Bay Palm Reforestation – an on-going Chaa Creek Natural History Centre project
- Archaeology Research – continuing research into the over 70 Maya sites within the Chaa Creek Nature Reserve assisted by Dr Samuel Connell of the University of California.
- Sustainable Green Developments and Environmental Tourism Projects
Best Management Practices:
Chaa Creek is fully committed to the implementation and utilisation of environmentally sound and sustainable Best Management Practices. All aspects of our operations and development adhere to these globally accepted methods. We were the first lodge in Belize to have been environmentally certified by the internationally recognized “Green Globe” program, and work within a memorandum of understanding with the Rainforest Alliance and their in-country counterpart, Program for Belize, to assist and promote tourism industry Best Management Practices throughout Belize. Upon arrival guests receive an orientation by our reception staff explaining Chaa Creek environmental policies as well as suggestions to encourage each guest to participate in our conservation efforts.
Environmental awareness is then gently reinforced through written conservation messages in each guest room and through interaction with our staff throughout the stay, and our Natural History Centre houses numerous informative conservation exhibits and displays. We believe that by demonstrating our own environmental and social practices we assist guests in better understanding the many environmental, social and economic benefits that can be achieved when development is tempered with sensible environmental and social practices.
Leading by example
- We also encourage our industry partners to further develop their own sustainable practices by setting benchmarks and sharing information in Green development and responsible tourism programs. For example:
- We adhere to the practice of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. All reusable and recyclable materials are separated from our waste stream
- We have a written Chaa Creek Environmental Policy available which guides daily operations in a sustainable manner
- Our written Chaa Creek Purchasing Policy requires our suppliers to provide environmentally safe products in reduced or bulk packaging
- We produce our own water using state-of-the-art high filtration systems and provide guests with hygienic water refilling stations and souvenir aluminum water bottles in an effort to reduce the use of plastic bottles
- We use only energy-efficient compact florescent lamps combined with automatic timers, motion detectors and photovoltaic switches and maximize the use of natural lighting to reduce energy consumption
- Our Macal River Camp facility runs completely on solar power
- Guests are politely asked to reuse their towels as much as possible so as to conserve water and energy
- We strictly enforce the protection of all wildlife in our 365 acres private nature reserve, minimise tree removal during construction and take all possible precautions and actions to preserve the local habitat
- Kitchen waste and other organic materials such as grass trimmings are composted and then used as fertilizers in our ornamental and vegetable gardens at the Maya Organic Farm
- Restaurant leftovers are given to a local farmer to use as pig feed
- Metal cans are crushed in a manual crusher that was designed for Chaa Creek. The crushed cans are then used as fill material in concrete building foundations
- All glass bottles and jars that are not returnable or reusable are crushed and used as additional aggregate when mixing cement
- In an effort to reduce our paper consumption, our administrative staff is encouraged to use both sides of paper when printing or copying and to use electronic media as much as possible
- We purchase recycled paper and our commercial printing is done on recycled paper
- Cardboard boxes are flattened and used as ground cover at our organic farm to control the growth of unwanted weeds around the vegetable plants. Remaining waste paper and cardboard are sent to a commercial recycling facility
- Water consumption is minimalized by low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads. Rainwater is also collected to supplement water consumption
- Waste water and sewage are treated with enzyme producing, digestive bacterium in properly designed septic tanks
Environmental & Social Sustainability Policy
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is fully committed and dedicated to:
- Achieving sound environmental best management practices throughout our entire operation
- Complying fully with relevant environmental legislation as well as internationally accepted best practices for sustainable tourism
- Conserving our use of energy, water and materials as well as minimizing all environmentally damaging emissions
- Reducing our pollution to an absolute minimum by minimising waste generation, by re-using materials and recycling as possible and ensuring that all effluent discharge has minimal negative effect on the environment
- Using cleaning products that are based on natural ingredients and have no adverse effects on the user or the environment
- Giving preference to employing Belizean nationals at all levels of operations
- Giving preference to and purchasing food and other operational supplies, goods, products and services that are produced locally and with minimal environmental impact
- Supporting the protection, conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment, historical sites, natural attractions and cultural assets of Belize
- Openly communicating our policies and practices to guests, interested parties, social groups and students
- Working with and supporting others in the tourism industry, in public associations, environmental groups, government departments and the broader community to foster wider environmental awareness and sustainability
- Providing all employees with the training and resources required to meet our objectives
- Making year-on-year improvements in all the GREEN GLOBE 21™ key environmental performance areas. This includes measuring, recording, setting targets and communicating our performance