The Belize barrier reef is officially no longer in danger

The Belize coral reef was threatened by oil drills, but the population mobilised and the government listened. UNESCO has now removed it from the list of world heritage in danger.

After 10 years, the Belize barrier reef has been removed from the List of World Heritage in danger. The official decision was made on 26 June during a UNESCO World Heritage committee meeting held in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf. It’s a victory for environmentalists who have been fighting to defend it for years, for the government that approved an ad hoc law, for Belize’s citizens who live off fishing and tourism and whose subsistence is bound to the territory’s health. But most of all, it is a victory for the Planet, that finally witnesses the safeguard of one of the most precious cradles of its biodiversity.

The Belize barrier reef is a unique place on the Planet

Belize is a small state in central America, with a surface area equal to that of Tuscany. It is home to a 300 kilometre long coral reef, the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier reef. It is the habitat of approximately 1,400 animal and plant species, including some endangered species like the hawksbill turtle, the manatee and at least six species of sharks. This is why it was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1996. It is also a vital economic resource, since around 190,000 people live off fishing and tourism according to the estimates of WWF. All of this is found in a state that has just under 370,000 inhabitants and is not yet fully industrialised.

Belize barrier reef
The Belize coral reef is the second largest in the world after the one found in Australia © Seann McAuliffe / Flickr

Campaigning for the environment was crucial

In 2009, the Belize barrier reef was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in danger due to a series of complications, including the “selling of land to private buyers, the destruction of mangroves and offshore oil explorations”. Many decisive steps forward were taken since then. In 2016 tens of thousands of people responded to the WWF’s plea asking the government to halt all oil exploration activities in territorial water. The government answered at the beginning of this year, with a revolutionary law that says “no more” oil, transforming this tiny Central American nation into a pioneer of ocean protection.

This path convinced UNESCO experts to declare the Belize coral reef safe, for now. According to Mechtild Rossler, leader of the UNESCO world heritage centre, this result “shows the power of the collective action of governments, UNESCO, IUCN and civil society, and it sets a god example for the rest of the world”.


Featured Image ©  Thierry Caro / Wikimedia Commons

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