Belize, home to the world’s second largest barrier reef and some of the most pristine waters in the Caribbean, and indeed the world, has been increasingly concerned with protecting its precious natural resources while still developing its economy and enhancing the quality of life for its citizens.
Recently, Belize was hailed internationally for becoming one of the first nations in the world to ban the environmentally destructive practice of fish trawling from its waters.
Oceana, the international environmental organisation that has been instrumental in assisting Belizeans in bringing a halt to fish trawling, hailed the referendum as “historic” and as an important step in preserving Belize’s pristine natural environment.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President of Oceana Belize who lobbied Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow to put the matter of offshore drilling to a public referendum, welcomed his response.
“It(the referendum) is going to be historic either way it goes because it will be the first time we will be testing our referendum legislation and that government has actually stepped back and give their mandate for the people,” Matura-Shepherd said. “For that I really applaud the government.”
The Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations(APAMO), the umbrella organization for non-government organizations involved in managing protected areas in Belize, has also called for a ban on offshore drilling.
APAMO Chairman Edilberto Romero recently stated that “The position of APAMO is to call on the government to put a complete ban on oil exploration on our offshore areas. The oil exploration activities offshore are too risky for our natural resources, too risky for the coral reefs, too risky for the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage System. APAMO members have agreed to put a resolution to call on the government to put a complete ban on oil exploration on the offshore.”
In the wake of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, which resulting in the largest oil spill in history and poured some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, offshore drilling has come under closer scrutiny around the world. According to an Oceana media release, “The question is not whether there will be another spill, but when.”
Recently, a group of internationally recognised scientists met in Belize City to discuss the status of Belize’s rich biodiversity and the potential impacts that oil exploration and drilling could have on the local marine ecology.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr Frank Kirkwood, a prominent petroleum engineer and economics consultant formerly employed by BP, said that while he was not rejecting the concept of offshore drilling itself, “In Belize, a lot of your economy, and a lot of the jobs, and a lot of everybody’s livelihood depends currently on your marine environment. And therefore, it’s very special – perhaps it’s the most special marine environment that I’ve ever sort of been in a country. And I think, to do off-shore drilling, and to take significant risks today with that marine environment, is not worth it for the long-term price.”
Dr Daniel Pauly, of the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre said that,”This marine biodiversity, from which Belize derives considerable benefits in the form of tourism and fisheries, is at risk… people should know that before they decide to encourage an industry that is risky, and that will not bring so many jobs as people think.”
The call for an offshore drilling ban is generating lively debate within Belize. The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize’s foremost eco-resort andlong-time proponent of environmental awareness and sustainable tourism has been closely monitoring the situation. Chaa Creek’s GM and Environmental Coordinator Mick Fleming recently described the referendum as, “an indication of Belize’s vibrant democracy and proof that we have an informed public that demands transparency from its government, and is willing to participate in important decisions that affect Belize, now and into the future.
“That’s the good news,” he said.
BAN ON OIL EXPLORATION AND DRILLING OFFSHORE AND IN PROTECTED AREAS INBELIZE – REFERENDUM PETITION.
Pursuant to Section 2(1)(b), 2 (3), 2(4) and Section 3 of the Referendum Act – CAP 10 Law of Belize .
To: Sir Colville Young
Governor General of Belize
cc. The Honourable Dean O. Barrow
Prime Minister of Belize
Belmopan City, Cayo District
We, the undersigned, Citizens of Belize and Registered Voters, acting in reliance on Sec. 2 (1) (b) of the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize call for a referendum to be held with regard to the issue of oil exploration and drilling offshore, in the territorial waters, and those maritime areas claimed by Belize as an exclusive economic zone, and in protected areas in Belize.
WHERE AS our marine resources and protected areas offer unequivocal economic value by providing jobs and income for some 3,000 fisherfolk and 20,000 tourism industry workers;
WHERE AS the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System has been designated a World Heritage Site and deemed as possessing outstanding universal value;
WHERE AS the invasive nature and the unwarranted risks involved in oil exploration and drilling offshore and in protected areas negatively impacts the economic, social and environmental benefits to the people of Belize;
WE, therefore believe that this matter is of sufficient national importance that it should be submitted to the electorate in the whole of Belize for their views through a referendum.
We, the undersigned, by affixing our personal information and signature, call on the Governor General of Belize to refer this petition, in accordance with Section 2 (3) of the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize, to the Chief Election Officer for verification and certification.
We call upon the Chief Election Officer, pursuant to Section 2 (4) of the Referendum Act, to proceed with due expedition to verify the signatures on this petition and return the petition to the Governor General of Belize as soon as practicable with the requisite certificate. We call upon the Governor General of Belize, to give the Belizean people an opportunity, via a referendum to vote on the matter of allowing oil exploration in the offshore and protected areas in Belize, pursuant to the provisions of Section 3 of the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize.