The government of Belize in the eastern coast of Central America has recently passed legislation banning offshore oil and gas activities in territorial waters, in a bid to protect its barrier reef, currently the largest in the western hemisphere.
The Belize Barrier Reef, extending to approximately 300 kilometers, is home to unique Caribbean atolls, and over 1,000 species, such as various endangered turtles, manatees and sharks. The area has also been a significant source of tourist attraction, bringing about USD 182 to 237 millions per year, therefore an important aspect of the state’s economy.
Its biodiversity is at risk from offshore oil exploration and the reef has been on UNESCO’s endangered list since 2009.
The legislation, which was signed into law on 29 December 2017, marks the first time that a developing country has taken such a major step to protect its oceans from oil exploration and extraction, and places Belize in a tiny minority of countries with similar laws, according to WWF.
“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. This is a ground-breaking move for a country with a struggling economy,” said Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican reef scientist at WWF in Belize.
In 2016, WWF and Oceana led a coalition that successfully campaigned against seismic testing close to the reef. WWF’s campaign to put an end to oil exploration and other harmful activities in the World Heritage site has gained support from 450,000 people from around the world.
“Moving forward, we will support continued vigilance on this issue to ensure that if any future parliament is minded to lift this moratorium, it would do so transparently and only in the context of the express consent of the Belizean people,” added Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana Belize.