Belize to ban all oil drilling to protect its barrier reef

Belize to ban all oil drilling to protect its barrier reef

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Thousands of species of wildlife will be protected, as will one of the best diving spots in the world

Belize has announced a permanent ban on oil production to protect its rare barrier reef — Shutterstock Belize has announced a permanent ban on oil production to protect its barrier reef — Shutterstock

In a major step forward for the protection of oceans, Belize has announced that it will permanently suspend all oil activity in its ocean waters to protect the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere.

The move is being described as “an enormous win for the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site, the wildlife that live there, and the hundreds of thousands of Belizeans who rely on the reef for survival.”

The Belize Barrier reef is home to 1,400 different species of wildlife including manatees, rays, marine turtles, six threatened shark species and the American marine crocodile.


It also provides livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of Belizeans who work in reef-related tourism. The WWF estimates that tourism brings in between $182 million to $237 million per year to the small Central American nation’s tourism industry.

Belize will implement an indefinite moratorium on oil exploration and extraction. It is the first country in the world to do so. The reef’s ecosystems have already been damaged by coastal construction and drilling would have had a significant impact.

The reef is a 300-kilometre-long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, and was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996. Only the Great Barrier Reef is larger. It is said to be one of the best diving locations in the world.

“The World Heritage Committee has always taken a strong position that oil and gas exploration or exploitation activities are incompatible with World Heritage status. This moratorium is fully in line with this,” Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, said in a statement.

“I would like to congratulate the Belize Government for its leadership and thank both civil society and the government for working tirelessly hand-in-hand to safeguard this site for future generations. This demonstrates that by working together, we can take powerful action to protect our irreplaceable marine sites.”

“Today is a great day for Belize,” said Nadia Bood, a Mesoamerican reef scientist at WWF.

“Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only last year 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.”

“By acting to remove a major threat to the reef, Belize is safeguarding its future prosperity,” Bood said. “We hope today’s announcement will encourage other countries to follow suit and take urgent actions needed to protect our planet’s oceans.”

More than 450,000 people from around the world joined WWF’s campaign to end oil exploration and other harmful activities in the reef.

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