The Government of Belize has just announced the implementation of a permanent moratorium that suspends any oil exploration activity. WWF, which has largely mobilized itself on the subject via its campaign Together, protect our common heritage, welcomes this decision.
The coastal region of Belize encompasses the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, boreal atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. These are essential natural habitats for endangered species such as sea turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile. With its famous “blue hole”, a submarine cave more than 124 meters deep, this extraordinary ecosystem is also a true paradise for diving enthusiasts. Yet, despite its inclusion in Unesco World Heritage in 1996, the site is extremely threatened by tourism and pollution. Constructions on the coast were right in a mangrove forest area corresponding to the area of 6500 football fields. Another threat is the attraction of oil: in 2002, Belize granted concessions for offshore drilling. However, the oil extraction zones overlap the classified sites, jeopardizing an exceptional heritage!
In April 2016, WWF is launching a global campaign, Together, Protect Our Common Heritage, urging governments to ban any industrial activity that may have a negative impact on the universal value of UNESCO’s heritage sites. According to the report Protecting Men and Preserving Nature, 114 of the 229 natural and mixed World Heritage sites are threatened by adverse industrial activities. Oil, mining or gas concessions, overfishing, illegal logging, overexploitation of water resources, transport or tourism infrastructure: threats are numerous. To date, more than 1.3 million supporters have already mobilized to support iconic emblematic sites such as the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, the Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, the Doñana National Park in Spain and of course, the coral reef of Belize.
In October 2016, the decision to authorize seismic tests for petroleum exploration, just one kilometer from the Barreera Arrecifal Reserve, had aroused indignation and unprecedented mobilization.
400,000 people signed a petition to demand protection of the Belize coral reef.
Today, it seems that the appeal was heard by the government, since it has just established an ad vitam aeternam moratorium on petroleum activity.
While we welcome this news, which represents a real breakthrough for the protection of this exceptional natural site and, more generally, for global maritime conservation, we hope that, beyond the announcement, the decision to suspend all petroleum exploration will be adopted at the next parliamentary session to be held in November.