Belize bans oil explorations completely to protect its coral reef

Belize has passed legislation to put an end to all oil activity in its waters to protect the largest barrier reef in the Northern hemisphere and boost sustainable tourism.

Oil isn’t attractive anymore. The coral reef and the ocean are worth more protecting instead. This is the historic decision made by Belize, small Central American country on the border with Mexico and Guatemala that has banned all future oil explorations within its territorial water in order to protect its great barrier reef. The Belize Barrier Reef, which is the world’s second-largest reef after Australia’s, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to over 1,400 species, many of which are threatened with extinction.

Aerial photo of Belize’s mangrove forest © Antonio Busiello/Wwf

“Belize is a small country making a mighty commitment to putting the environment first. By acting to remove a major threat to the reef, Belize is safeguarding its future prosperity,” said Nadia Bood, reef scientist at WWF Belize. “We hope this bold step will encourage other countries to follow suit and take the urgent actions needed to protect our planet’s oceans”.

Belize protects the ocean and promotes sustainable tourism

“This is great news for Belize. Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only a year ago was under threat from seismic oil exploration, it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection by ending all oil activity in its waters,” Bood added. “This is a ground-breaking move for a country with a struggling economy.

The Belize Barrier Reef provides livelihoods to most of its population (about 350,000 people) thanks to fishery (directly) and tourism (indirectly). According to Fanny Douvere, UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme coordinator, “Belize’s economy relies on tourism, which generates 182 to 237 million dollars each year thanks to the barrier reef. This legislation is a major milestone toward removing the second largest reef system in the world from the in danger list. The World Heritage Committee is expected to take its decision on this matter at its next session in June-July 2018”.

Belize Barrier Reef is home to 1,400 different species  © Wwf

The Belize Barrier Reef

World Heritage Site since 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef is home to atolls, hundreds of sandbanks, mangrove forests, and coastal lagoons. It’s a unique place that gives shelter to endangered species, including the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the manatee (Trichecus manatus) and at least six species of sharks. “This is truly ‘The People’s Law’,” said Oceana’s Vice President for Belize Janelle Chanona. Belizeans have remained steadfast in their opposition to offshore oil since they became aware that marine assets were at risk of irreversible damage from the offshore oil industry”.

The world’s reefs are at risk

This is one of the effects of climate change and the subsequent increase in global temperatures, including ocean temperature. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which extends for 2,400 square kilometres, is bleaching at unprecedented rate. This means that corals will die if temperatures don’t decrease and normal conditions aren’t restored. Belize’s decision marks a crucial step in protecting these fragile environments, demonstrating that the economy and nature protection can coexist in harmony.

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