The World Wildlife Fund took a victory lap last Friday after Belize declared a suspension of oil exploration and extraction to protect the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site, the western hemisphere’s biggest barrier reef.
The legislation makes Belize the first developing country to ban fossil fuel activity to protect ocean resources.
“Today is a great day for Belize,” said WWF Mesoamerican reef scientist Nadia Bood. “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.”
Hundreds of thousands of Belizeans “rely on the reef for survival,” WWF notes in a post on EcoWatch. “Tourism alone is estimated to bring in between US$182 million to $237 million per year, with reef-related tourism and fisheries supporting about 190,000 people.”
But “ecosystems in the reef have already been damaged by coastal construction, and potential oil drilling posed a major threat. Harmful industrial activities would impact Belize’s economy, natural resources, and the 1,400 species found in the reef system.”
In addition to mangrove forests and “vibrant corals”, the barrier reef is home to the endangered hawksbill turtle, manatees, and six threatened species of shark.
WWF says 450,000 people around the world signed on to the campaign to end oil-related activity on the reef.
Belize first explored for oil in 2002, and began producing about 5,000 barrels per day in 2005, according to Auburn University geologist David King. Output was down to 1,000 barrels per day as of July, 2017, amid predictions that the country’s reserves would be depleted by 2021.