Belmopan, Belize, 20 October 2017 – The government of Belize has today introduced landmark legislation to establish a permanent moratorium on offshore oil activity in and around the Belize Barrier Reef. The legislation comes a year after oil seismic testing near the reef was stopped following a public outcry.
WWF welcomes the move to stop damaging oil exploration in Belize’s territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone as a landmark step forward in safeguarding the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, and for marine conservation globally.
Home to almost 1,400 species, the Belize Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. It also serves as a critical source of livelihood for over half of Belize’s population. However, since 2009, the site has languished on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger due to industrial threats and the absence of a solid regulatory framework to ensure the reef’s protection.
Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International, said:
“At a time when nature is under increasing pressure and being lost at an unprecedented and accelerating rate, we are beginning to realise its irreplaceable contribution to our own economy and welfare. The Belize government’s introduction of legislation to protect the Belize Barrier Reef sets an example for the kind of leadership we urgently need to protect our planet’s oceans and some of its most productive, outstanding - and yet, extremely vulnerable – places.”
Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist at WWF in Belize, said:
“The Belize Barrier Reef isn’t just irreplaceable, it’s vital to Belize’s future. We are heartened by the introduction of this legislation, which will help protect both wildlife and livelihoods. Coming just a year after oil testing near the reef was stopped due to public outcry, it shows Belize’s government is listening to its people.
“However, the reef remains at risk. We urge the government to continue this encouraging progress by introducing legislation to ban the sale of public lands in the World Heritage site and regulation to protect its mangroves. Both are still urgently needed to safeguard this unique site for marine life and future generations.”
Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s Vice President in Belize, said:
“In many ways this bill is ‘The People’s Law’ because it recognizes that Belizeans have remained steadfast in their position on this issue and their enduring participation has meant that this issue has survived time and all the traditional divisive tactics. Belizeans understand their dependence on marine resources for food, jobs and way of life. That’s why Belizeans have consistently clamored for this legislation for more than six years.”
In October 2016, a decision to allow seismic testing for oil barely one kilometre away from the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site caused national and global outcry over concerns on the potential impact on the site and its unique ecosystems.
Together with Oceana and other members of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, WWF has called on Belize’s government to put in the place the necessary protections to stop the reef suffering irreparable damage, and to enable the World Heritage site’s removal from UNESCO’s In Danger list.
A WWF assessment, published in June this year, found that legislation to limit the sale of public lands in the World Heritage site, and regulation to protect its mangroves, are both still urgently needed to secure the site’s future.
A WWF report, published earlier this week, revealed the central role of reef-generated tourism to Belize’s economy.
WWF’s campaign, Together Saving Our Shared Heritage, is working to strengthen the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and reinforce the OECD guidelines that protect these sites. To date, over 450,000 people have expressed their support for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site through WWF’s campaign.