Belize’s Barrier Reef Off Endangered List After Banning Oil Exploration

July 19, 2018 at 8:43 pm

The Belize Barrier Reef world heritage site has been removed from UNESCO’s list of endangered areas 6 months after Belize banned all oil activity in the area

In January, Belize’s passed bold legislation to halt and ban all oil activity in the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world after Australia’s and and a UNESCO world heritage site.

The rapid recovery of bleaching coral and threatened marine life in the area prompted UNESCO to remove the reef from its list of endangered sites just five months later.

Over a decade of oil exploration has caused some permanent damage to the reef, but much of it is reversible.

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second-largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s home to 1,400 species, including endangered green sea turtles, manatees, rays and six threatened species of shark.

Nearly half of the citizens of Belize rely on the reef for survival, while tourism, fishing and other recreational reef activities make up 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

“The reef is critical not only for the tourism industry, which employs one in every four Belizeans, but it also serves as a ‘barrier’ against storm surge and beach erosion, which will only increase with climate change,” Dana Krauskopf, owner of Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, told The Guardian.

Instead of letting it disintegrate, hundreds of thousands campaigned to raise awareness of the dangers of oil exploration near the fragile reef ecosystem.

Belize is the third country in the world to completely ban offshore drilling.

Environmental groups have been campaigning to eliminate offshore drilling in Belize since 2006. The practice creates 3,000 barrels per day, representing a quarter of the country’s exports. But drilling opponents argued protecting the barrier reef would ultimately be more economically beneficial than oil profits.

“At time when we are seeing numerous threats to World Heritage sites, Belize’s government has taken real action to protect one of the world’s most special places,” Marco Lambertini, general director of WWF International, told EcoWatch.

“We’ve seen an incredible turnaround from when the reef was being threatened by seismic testing for oil just eighteen months ago.”