• How Has Belize Preserved its Barrier Reef?

How Has Belize Preserved its Barrier Reef?

Jul 16 2018 Read 1504 Times

The World Heritage Committee last month took the momentous decision to remove the Belize Barrier Reef from its list of world heritage sites that are under threat of destruction. The move came in recognition of the excellent work done by the Belize government to safeguard this beautiful natural asset.

The decision was reached by the committee in their meeting in Bahrain on June 26th and comes nine years after the Reef was first listed as endangered. Commentators at the scene said that members of the UNESCO council said the country’s "visionary plan to manage the coastline" was behind their verdict.

“The most remarkable reef in the West Indies”

The Belize Barrier Reef makes up almost 80% of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), which is the second biggest reef in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is home to a vast array of flora and fauna.

The Belize Barrier Reef is made up of more than 400 islands and three atolls, as well as several lagoons, estuaries and mangroves. It is 185 miles in length and hosts such diverse lifeforms as the West Indian manatee and the American marine crocodile, both of which are listed as “threatened”.

Visiting the country in the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin was so impressed with the site that he called it “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”. In 1996, UNESCO recognised its unique beauty by adding it to its list of World Heritage sites.

Under threat

Unfortunately, like many of the world’s most beautiful underwater sites, the Belize Barrier Reef has come under increasing threat of destruction via manmade causes. In addition to the ubiquitous problem of microplastic pollution, the region was also adversely affected by industrial activity, deforestation and offshore oil drilling.

This prompted UNESCO to add the site to its List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009 and sparked a national debate in the country about how to approach the problem. Due to intense lobbying, including a 2012 referendum in which over 90% of respondents called for a moratorium on offshore oil drilling, the government responded. In December last year, a total ban on drilling in Belize waters was introduced, making it one of only a few countries in the world to have done so.

The country has also worked to discourage deforestation and implemented seven protected marine reserves. Despite the fact that these areas only cover about 12% of the total reef, it has worked to preserve the natural beauty and ensure the ongoing survival of this precious natural resource.

An example for others

The actions of the Belize government are commendable in not only prioritising the safety of natural landmarks above the dollar signs promised by oil drilling, but also for serving as an example to other endangered hotspots around the globe.

The biggest coral reef on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia, has been undergoing its own ordeal of late. Suffering from the biggest bleaching event in history, the reef was further battered by El Niño and its troubles have been compounded by an Australian government who appear to value the economic merits of coal more highly than one of their principal tourist attractions.

Despite the widespread concern about the ability of the reef to recover, UNESCO decided not to include the Great Barrier Reef on the endangered list, claiming it believed the government had the problem in hand. Environmentalists are not convinced, and want the Australian authorities to take a leaf out of Belize’s book when it comes to looking after the coral.

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