Belize is proud to have the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. But in 2010, the tiny country faced a huge problem — the potential loss of the reef’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Already under threat from coastal development, pollution and climate change, the reef’s species were being depleted by bottom-dragging fish trawlers.
Local fishermen operating from small boats complained they were being prevented form making a living by what many critics call the maritime equivalent of strip mining or clear-cut logging. With miles-long nets that scrape the ocean bottom, a trawling fleet can strip the ocean bare, making no distinction between food fish and any other species of plant and animal.
A report revealed that 60 per cent of the reef, which is vital habitat for fish, was in poor to critical condition – and only eight per cent was in good condition. This highly destructive form of fishing also jeopardised a major source of revenue from tourism – the country’s number one foreign exchange earner. More than 200,000 tourists visit the Caribbean country each year, mainly to dive or fish.
In December 2010, Belize became one of the world’s first nations to ban trawling in its waters. Forgoing the revenues from fees and taxes provided by trawling fleets, political and business leaders decided that long-term economic prospects were better served by protecting the barrier reef and other coastal waters by making sure that fish stocks remained healthy.
The ban had the support of local fishermen, who now practice a low-impact form of fish harvesting to supply markets. Resort owners also hailed the move, recognising that the ban would protect local jobs. Since the ban was enforced an environmental organisation, Oceana, has helped to purchase two idled trawlers docked in Belize, which will be re-purposed.
For this segment of earthrise, Sharita Hutton travels to Belize to meet some of the people involved in campaigning for the ban, which, it is hoped, will encourage other countries to take bolder steps towards protecting their marine environments.
Watch the full video below: