Last week’s landmark decision to nullify offshore drilling contracts along Belize’s Great Barrier Reef and Caribbean coastline is being celebrated as a great victory by environmentalists throughout the Central American country, according to Belize Natural History Centre assistant manager Brion Young.
Mr Young, who is also a licensed naturalist guide at the Lodge at Chaa Creek, which maintains the Centre, said that the decision was the result of a suit brought about by Oceana, Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage.
“This is a great victory not only for Belize, but for the world, as the Belize Barrier Reef is part of our collective natural heritage,” Mr Young said. “It also shows what can be achieved through effective partnerships between global and local environmental groups,” he added.
The court, with Justice Oswell Legall presiding, overturned the contracts, which were issued in 2004 and 2007, after determining that the then Government of Belize failed to assess the environmental impact of drilling for oil on Belize’s waters, as required by law, before approving the contracts.
The court also found that contracts were given to companies that did not show a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise to drill safely.
In his ruling, Justice Legall argued, that “allowing oil exploration before any assessment of its effects on the environment is not only irresponsible, but reckless, especially in a situation where Belize may not be fully capable of handling effectively an oil spill.”
Mr Young had particular praise for Oceana, which has been campaigning against offshore drilling in Belize for more than two years, and was instrumental, along with the and the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, in organising a February 2012 “People’s Referendum” which saw 29,235 of Belize’s 350,000 people vote to ban offshore drilling along the Belizean reef.
Founded by US television actor Ted Danson in 2001, Oceana is the world’s largest ocean conservation organisation and has been active in other successful Belizean conservation efforts, including halting the destructive commercial fishing practice of bottom trawling along the reef and Belize’s pristine Caribbean waters.
While celebrating the win, Mr Young emphasised that much still needed to be done to secure the future of Belize’s fragile ecosystem
“Chaa Creek’s Rainforest to Reef vacation packages introduce many people each year to the beauty of Belize’s Caribbean coast, with the Belize Great Barrier Reef and it’s hundreds of small islands, so we have a deep appreciation and understanding of what an important asset this stunning part of the world is, and of the need for constant vigilance to protect it,” he said.