What do Australia and Belize and have in common?
More than you might think, actually, and not the least of which is a pressing need to protect their stunning great barrier reefs; the world’s largest and second largest, respectively.
And according to environmentalist Brion Young of the Belize Natural History Centre (NHC) at Chaa Creek in western Belize, the good news is that findings from this week’s (May 7 to 9 2013) three day workshop held in Belize City for representatives of both countries will help mitigate the damage being done to these national and global treasures.
“From both an environmental and tourism standpoint, all of us here at Chaa Creek have a real appreciation of the beauty and the fragility of the Belize Great Barrier Reef, so it’s gratifying to see Belize and Australia working together to tackle many of the crucial issues we’re both facing,” he said.
The workshops charted a new course of action using biodiversity offsets as a mitigation strategy and in designing future projects aimed at stopping the overall loss of biodiversity on the reefs, which are important natural and economic assets for the two countries.
“Biodiversity offsets are emerging as an important strategy internationally, but most of the work to date has focused on land-based biodiversity”, explains Minister Lisel Alamila, Minister with responsibility for the environment. “This workshop will not only help chart a more sustainable path for Belize, but will also make a valuable contribution to international best practice. “
Her Australian colleague, Dr Paul Marshall from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Australia, agrees.
“We are currently tackling similar issues in Australia”, Dr Marshall said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and collaborate on an issue of such importance to the future of coral reefs and coastal communities.”
“We’re exchanging experiences and expertise between Australia and Belize to look more closely at a concept called biodiversity offsetting … to allow development to occur that is truly sustainable in a conservation biodiversity sense. Australia and Belize share many things despite many differences and one of them is that we look after barrier reefs,” he said
“Of course, Australia has the largest barrier reef and Belize has the second largest and many of the challenges we face are the same. When it comes to concepts like biodiversity offsettings, how do we protect biodiversity while facilitating development? Australia and Belize are in the same situation; we’re both exploring this concept of biodiversity offsets and in that way this is a true partnership between Australia and Belize,” Dr Marshall added.
Biodiversity offsetting, also known as biodiversity banking or biodiversity trading, is part of a global strategy that requires developers to compensate for any unavoidable environmental damage their projects cause. It has become a hot topic lately as environmentalists seek to use it as a tool to protect the environment, while developers devise strategies to reduce the costs of their projects by reducing the damage they cause, or compensating for damage by contributing to initiatives that have a positive effect on the environment.
It’s a long and complicated strategy, but welcomed as a step in the right direction.
While applying biodiversity offsets to protecting reef is a relatively new concept, it has taken on urgency as nations scramble to protect their marine assets against the effects of climate change and development. The Caribbean region is economically dependent upon coral reefs, with tourism, fishing and shoreline protection coral reefs generating over $4 billion to the economy.
In Belize alone the value of reef and mangrove-related fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection services is estimated to be US$395-$559 million a year.
Mr Young said that Chaa Creek has been guiding guests to the Belize Great Barrier Reef for over 30 years and has a deep stake in its health that runs beyond economic considerations.
“It’s not just financial. After you spend enough time out on the reef and the beautiful atolls, cayes and Caribbean coastline, you can’t help but become attached to it all, and to feel a responsibility to protect it. I think that’s natural.
“We’re fortunate to have one of the most breathtaking, pristine maritime environments on earth for our backyard, and we’re committed to helping preserve it.
“Having Australia as a partner is good news, and personally makes me optimistic about the future,” Mr Young said.
Or, to quote Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in the classic film, Casablanca, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”