The reign of fossil fuels is coming to an end in Belize. In a colossal attempt to save the world's second largest barrier reef, the Central American nation has officially decided to end all oil exploration and extraction in its waters.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometer-long (186-mile-long) strip of gorgeous coral reefs, stunning clear waters, offshore atolls, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries that lie within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.
It’s often described as one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, serving as home to around 100 different species of coral, hundreds of invertebrate species, and over 500 fish species. As such, the Belize Barrier Reef was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 1996.
Ever since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, when 4.9 million barrels of oil flooded into the Gulf of Mexico, the people of Belize and environmental groups have been pushing for their government to make this decision. The country first proposed this idea in late-2015 and they finally managed to pass the bill in the last week of 2017.
"This is truly 'The People’s Law,'" Oceana’s Vice President for Belize Janelle Chanona said in a statement. "Belizeans have remained steadfast in their opposition to offshore oil since they became aware that marine assets were at risk of irreversible damage from the offshore oil industry."
Although environmentalism is a huge driving force behind the bill, Belize does have some other big incentives to protect their wondrous reefs. The Belize Barrier Reef is the country’s biggest tourist attraction, contributing up to $237 million a year to its economy. Not only that, the reef also acts as a fishery, providing food and employment for nearly 190,000 people.
"Today is a great day for Belize," Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican reef scientist at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said in a statement. "Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only last year 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."
Chris Gee, WWF-UK’s #SaveOurHeritage lead campaigner, added: “Like the Belize Barrier Reef, nearly half of natural World Heritage sites worldwide are threatened by industrial pressures, if we don’t put an end to this, their unique wildlife and landscapes could be damaged forever.”
Meanwhile, back in the US, the Trump administration has recently announced plans to release the largest number of offshore oil and gas lease sales in US history, including protected areas in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Two steps forward and one step back, I suppose.