Belmopan, Belize, 28 June 2017 – The Belizean government has failed to implement promised protections for the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site, according to a WWF assessment published today, leaving the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere under threat from offshore oil drilling and damaging coastal construction. Seismic testing for oil was attempted just one kilometre from the World Heritage site as recently as October 2016.
Coming less than a week before the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee begins in Krakow, WWF, as part of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, assessed progress on a number of protections identified by UNESCO as essential to the reef’s long-term survival. The Belizean government committed to UNESCO in 2015 that the necessary measures to ensure the reef’s protection would be implemented by December 2016.
“Seven months on, Belize has not delivered on its promise to protect the Belize Barrier Reef. Instead this remarkable ecosystem – vital to both wildlife and the country’s economy – remains under threat. We urge Belize’s government to act immediately to safeguard the reef for future generations,” said Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist at WWF in Belize.
Home to almost 1,400 species, the Belize Barrier Reef’s outstanding universal value has been recognized by UNESCO since 1996. Concerns over the development of mangrove islands and the absence of a solid regulatory framework to ensure the reef’s protection have seen the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2009.
Key concerns identified in the WWF assessment include a lack of progress over the last year on legislation to ban offshore oil exploration and production within the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site and buffer areas, despite a government announcement of a ban in 2015, and a lack of legislation to prohibit the sale of public land in the World Heritage site.
“Both the Belize Barrier Reef and the people of Belize deserve actions, not words. The government needs to show it is serious about protecting the Belize Barrier Reef by legislating to ban offshore oil exploration and the sale of public land in the World Heritage site,” said Bood.
More than half of Belize’s population (about 190,000 people) are supported by incomes generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries. The annual economic contribution of reef-related tourism, fisheries and scientific research is estimated to be around 15 per cent of Belize’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“With Belize’s economy heavily reliant on tourism and fishing, safeguarding the Belize Barrier Reef is crucial to protecting livelihoods. The government needs to listen to both Belize’s people and the 400,000 individuals who have signed a petition calling for greater protections for the reef.
“Right now, Belize’s only World Heritage site is at a crossroads. Unless urgent action is taken, it risks suffering irreversible damage. At the World Heritage Committee session next week, we expect the Committee to demand that Belize follows through with its commitments to the site,” said Elena Khishchenko, Global Campaigns Manager at WWF International.
Nearly half of natural World Heritage sites are facing industrial pressures to their unique values, putting the livelihoods and well-being of communities who depend on them at risk and threatening their long-term viability. WWF’s campaign, Together Saving Our Shared Heritage, is working to increase respect for the World Heritage Convention and to strengthen the OECD guidelines that protect these sites.