BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 3, 2017–Belize has been lauded for putting a large portion of its territory, and in particular its maritime spaces, under protected status, but even those protected areas would be threatened if Belize were to explore offshore oil and if something were to go wrong, as was the case with the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The threat of oil was the first red-flag raised in Belize’s 2017 Reef Scorecard, produced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Belize Audubon Society, Oceana, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), and the Belize Tourism Industry Association. Belize scored a 1 out of 3, which means that the country has made “no progress at all” on the issue of offshore oil. The Government has maintained a moratorium, but the lobbyists want a total ban of drilling in offshore Belize.
These partners have been prominent in a sustained lobby, under the banner of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, for Belize to ban offshore drilling, a commitment which environmentalists say will help to get the Belize Barrier Reef off UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
Tomorrow, at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC), the status of Belize’s reef is expected to be discussed, as well as the missed milestones of the Government of Belize, which has still not put actions into place, which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said are necessary for the reef’s protection.
In a press release issued in advance of the WHC session being held this week in Krakow, Poland, WWF, a member of the Coalition lobbying for a ban on offshore oil drilling, said, “The Belizean government has failed to implement promised protections for the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site…”, adding that, this leaves “…the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere under threat from offshore oil drilling and damaging coastal construction.”
The WWF recalled that seismic testing for oil was attempted just one kilometre from the World Heritage site as recently as October 2016. Protests from members of the tourism and fishing communities forced the recall of the operations.
The WWF said that, “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,” it noted.
Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist at WWF in Belize, who is in Poland for the WHC session, said: “We urge Belize’s government to act immediately to safeguard the reef for future generations.”
“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.
In the 2017 scorecard, Belize also scored a 1 out of 3 for environmental regulation, but it scored a 2, meaning that it has made some progress—though not enough—on sustainable finance for the World Heritage Site, the protection of mangroves, coastal development and tourism, and fisheries, as the partners say that the Government needs to revise current regulations to include greater protection of the World Heritage Site.
The Government has not responded to the WWF release, and we could not reach Dr. Omar Figueroa, the minister who holds the relevant portfolio, for comment.