Belize Gets the Hollywood Treatment
Leonardo DiCaprio wants more than an oscar. He wants to save the world.Belize is ripe for exploration, with the heart of a Central American country, and the soul of a Caribbean isle. Pristine cerulean waters surround the tremendous biodiversity tucked away in mammoth coral reefs, which comprise the second largest coral reef system in the world. (The Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, Australia comes in first.) Like many natural treasures across the globe, the waters of Belize have been under attack by the usual suspects: trash and chemical dumping, the stripping away of mangroves, overfishing, and rising sea temperature.
Enter Leonardo DiCaprio, well-known for his passion for environmental conservation. In 2009, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named him a Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change, and the actor takes this role seriously. The star of a highly diverse set of films including Catch Me If You Can, Titanic, The Great Gatsby, and The Wolf of Wall Street also plays a leading role on the board of directors of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
“I’m equally as passionate about the environment as I am about being an artist,” says DiCaprio. “As a teenager, I was interested in becoming a biologist or working in the environmental sciences.”
Now, it appears that DiCaprio is fulfilling that teenage dream and taking conservation efforts into his own hands, donating much more than just money. With Jeff Gram, owner of Belize’s private island Cayo Espanto, he recently purchased Blackadore Caye, an unpopulated, wild area that spans 104 acres about forty-five minutes by boat from Belize City. There, he plans to build an eco-conscious resort. The lavish plans, designed by environmental advocate and architect Jason F. McLennan, include sprawling villas, infinity pools, and unspoiled beachfront views.
When “Blackadore Caye, a Restorative Island” opens in 2018, its main focus will be to restore the entire ecosystem of the area to a healthy state. This doesn’t mean a decree for low or no-impact operations on the surrounding natural environment, but rather to heal it. Both DiCaprio and Gram consider this restoration their primary focus for the project. The resort exists to serve this purpose, and in order to stay here guests will have to commit to completing an ecology orientation program, the exact details of which are yet to be revealed.
“People think that because we don’t have to face up to catastrophic threats today, that somehow the future will be OK,” says DiCaprio. “That’s a terrible and cynical kind of attitude, and we have to work together and take steps to protect our environment now and not when it will be impossible to make a difference.”
The restoration work at Blackadore Caye will include the construction of new reef structures and fish shelters to replace the ones that have been destroyed by pollution, support to the manatee conservation area with an on-island nursery that grows indigenous marine grasses, and planting new mangroves in place of invasive species.
The construction of Blackadore Caye isn’t a one-and-done effort. A rock-star team of conservationists, engineers, scientists, and designers has invested a year-and-a-half studying the local ecosystem. They will closely monitor the resort’s efforts, assess its impact, as well as plan and implement future improvements. The hope is that Blackadore Caye will serve as a model of what’s possible at the intersection of land development and environmental conservation, and attract research scientists from all over the world for conferences and continued study.
Of all the celebrities to lead a movement, engage with and support world-class research scientists, DiCaprio is at the top of the list. Most recently, in partnership with Netflix, he plans to produce a series of documentaries highlighting the state of our planet by pairing filmmakers with leading scientists.
“Through this partnership with Netflix, I hope to give documentary filmmakers doing urgent and important work the chance to have their films seen immediately by audiences all around the world,” says DiCaprio.
It’s an inspiring thing to see a celebrity put all of his artistic, financial, and influential assets toward a single social cause. Instead of resting on the laurels of his highly successful career, DiCaprio is working harder than ever to be a part of creating a brighter future for all of us.
“I have no problems admitting that I have a good life and I like to have fun,” DiCaprio says. “But I can also say that I’m going to be taking more time off from making movies to try to do my part to help the world and do some good for the environment.”
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