PLACENCIA, BELIZE—Ray Caye is a small (20-unit) island resort with a very large focus on sustainability. The property is 17 miles off the coast of Belize and a short flight from Belize City, then a boat ride. It has been open for eight years but is reopening in January as Ray Caye. This is a decidedly upscale resort but there has been as much investment in environmental elements as in accommodations, according to Dasha Shivers, the resort’s General Manager.
On the solar front, the resort has a solar array of 100 KW (total of all installed solar panels); a solar energy harvest of 15,000 KWH/month (the amount of energy the panels will collect on an average month); and a fuel cost savings of $8,250 a month (compared to using a diesel fuel generator)—all preventing 14,820 pounds of toxic fumes monthly. These numbers are expected to double with full solar installation early next year. In addition, Tesla lithium-ion energy pods have a 500 KWH capacity for nighttime or cloudy weather use.
The solar system can be broken down into three sections; energy harvest, energy storage and power distribution. The energy harvest consists of large solar panels spread throughout the island—currently around 500 panels. These panels soak up the sun’s powerful rays and connect to a Tesla Powerwall, the first in Belize, for energy storage and power distribution, and allow for a sustained power supply during the day or night. The initial investment in the system was $1.5 million.
Through the Tesla Powerwall, the resort is able to see exactly how much energy it is generating through its power grids, monitor real-time energy usage and feel confident in how much energy is stored for backup, or for those rare times when the sun isn’t shining. In addition, the Powerwall has eliminated the need for the bulky diesel generators that used to serve as a back-up energy source for the island.
Watching Water Use
The resort uses special showerheads to limit the amount of water guests use in an effort to conserve it. Ray Caye also makes its own fresh water. The resort has four reverse osmosis desalinator plants that each produce up to 3,600 gallons of sweet water per day. There is also 90,000 gallons of rainwater storage. These two bodies of water are usually mixed and run through UV filters and are drinkable.
Wastewater is treated with anoxic and aerobic reactors. The water then goes into a clarification process after which it is used for gardening and irrigation around the island. The treatment is enough for safe discharge. The sludge is dehydrated and used for nutrient recovery in the garden.
The Organic Island Garden itself grows several vegetables, salad leaves, and a multitude of herbs such as basil, mint and cilantro. The garden is just one of the many ways the resort tries to stay self-sufficient. All the home-grown produce is used in the resort’s restaurants and guests can even stop by for a gardening lesson from the knowledgeable gardener, Damiano.
Connecting with the Community
Ray Caye, said Shivers, sees the preservation and sustainable use of Belize’s marine environment as central to its ability to provide visitors an opportunity to see much of what Belize has to offer. The resort partners with Fragments of Hope (FoH), a Belize and U.S. not-for-profit organization that has two primary goals:
- Restoration of the Belize reef with genetically robust, diverse and resilient corals; and
- Building capacity, education and knowledge sharing for local communities.
The proprietors of Ray Caye created the Getch Foundation, a private foundation that focuses on ocean conservation as well as mental health. The foundation has transformed a deep passion for ocean conservation into action in recent years working alongside Ocean Unite, a program started in 2015 by Sir Richard Branson; and the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, which emerged from the One Planet Summit in Paris in December 2017 and is dedicated to helping the Caribbean become a beacon of climate-smart development.
Promoting Plastic Free Reefs
Tanya McNab, the resort’s Marketing Manager, has established Plastic Free Reefs, a movement to help encourage and bring awareness to removing plastics from the ocean. The long-term goal is to continue to create and promote alternative uses to plastics. For now, it’s straws, but later it will also incorporate
paper bags and then plastic-free hotel room amenities, etc. The Getch Foundation has been the sole sponsor to date gifting the first 500,000 straws to distribute around Belize so people can try them and learn a bit about why PLA and BioPlastics are not the answer.
Sustainable Yes, But Not at the Cost of Comfort
With all its environmental efforts, Ray Caye, said Shivers, is a luxury, family-friendly resort that aims to emulate visiting a wealthy friend on a private island. Previously known as Hatchet Caye, the island was purchased in 2018 and rebranded in January of 2019. It is currently finishing up a yearlong transformation with an official relaunch set for January.
Guests, said Shivers, will not be affected by the sustainability initiatives, except perhaps in a positive way. A stay will include all the luxuries travelers would expect from a private island vacation—warm showers, electricity to charge devices, great food, and lighting whenever its needed. In fact, said Shivers, the solar energy enhances a stay. She asked: “How many other private islands can you escape to and feel confident in knowing that you’ve made a truly eco-conscious decision without sacrificing any comfort?”