In a world where more and more species seem to become endangered or more and more locations around the globe seem to become threatened, good news can be a rarity. Late last month the conservation world got some much-needed good news when, at a World Heritage Committee meeting, it was announced that the Belize Barrier Reef has been removed from UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Belize Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, has been on the list of endangered World Heritage sites for nearly a decade because of coastal deterioration and oil drilling. There were no regulatory measures in place, which resulted in an abundance of seismic oil exploration. An outcry soon followed from the local community, as well as organizations like the Belize Tourism Industry, the Belize Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, the Audubon Society, Oceana and the World Wildlife Fund.
The Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef system, the second largest in the world (Australia’s Great Barrier reef takes the top spot). It was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1996, and it’s home to many species of marine life, not to mention a source of income for nearly 190,000 people that rely on reef-related tourism and fishing activities.
Beginning late in 2016, the Belize government has worked to put measures in place to protect the Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site. One of the biggest victories in the fight for protecting the reef system was the institution of a complete prohibition of oil exploration in the waters off Belize. Only three countries in the world can make such a claim. Other regulations include protective actions for the mangroves throughout the country, as well as a ban on selling public lands that fall within the World Heritage site.
The Coordinator of the Marine Program at the World Heritage Center, Fanny Douvere, said the following in a statement regarding the removal of the site from the danger list:
“The removal of the Belize World Heritage Site from the in danger list is the result of Belize putting in place the necessary protections for the Belize Barrier Reef. Working together with international organizations and civil society, it was able to identify and take the actions needed to secure this incredible site from immediate threats, and create a collaborative model that others can follow.”