Belize Celebrates Reef Week!

Belize Celebrates Reef Week!


What country has the second largest reef in the World?

The largest in the Western Hemisphere?
The World’s largest atolls?

Surprise, surprise, it’s that tiny Caribbean/Central American jewel, Belize.

And what country has the huge responsibility to ensure the long-term survival of said reef?

Got it.

And what a responsibility it is. The 186-mile reef system is increasingly under attack by overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change

Hence “Reef Week”, an awareness-raising, fun, aquatic celebration (and warning) of all things Reef, which is one entertaining manifestation of this massive responsibility of all Belizeans, was held March 9 to 19.

Imagine some truly nasty space aliens coming down to destroy one of the worlds most diverse and wonderful habitats?

Well, we have met the enemy, and they are we…

Fortunately, there is an army of defenders. The people of Belize have been looking after their own patch of turf since 1798 when they repelled a Spanish naval invasion at St Georges Caye, and haven’t let up.

When you have something this precious every Gordon Geko and greed head on Earth wants it, and this is a sad reality the people of Belize know all about.

Also fortunately, this Belizean army of volunteer ecologists has internationally allies, and some very powerful ones, such as Oceana, the world’s largest organisation devoted solely to protecting the world’s sea, and they have been one the best friends Belize has.

Since 2009, Oceana has been working in Belize helping to protect the coral reef system from the northeast tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to Amatique Bay, Guatemala. That’s a lot of coral, and a lot of marine life needing protecting from things like commercial fishing bottom trawling, offshore oil drilling and other nasty yet lucrative practices.

So, as part of the overall effort, Oceana in Belize has dedicated Reef Week to cast the global spotlight on one of Belize’s greatest natural wonders, The Belize Barrier Reef.

Although the 186-mile reef system is a spectacular sight and home to many rare species of aquatic creatures, it is increasingly threatened by overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change, hence Oceana’s involvement.

Oceana Belize branch’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona, said this was the 2nd Annual Reef Week and a growing opportunity for all Belizeans to not only acknowledge the value of our reef, but get out and support efforts to protect and preserve it.

We’re talking a full-on week of activities aimed at honouring the existence and benefits of Belize’s reef as well as encouraging Belizeans to take responsibility in protecting something so marvellous, precious yet fragile.

Last Sunday, there was a ‘Ride to the Reef’ bike ride in which 98 cyclists rode from the steps of the National Assembly in Belmopan to the BTL Park in Belize City to simulate the way that toxic debris usually runs down through the river to the open sea.

Also on Sunday, there was a harbor regatta off the coast of Belize City in which young sailors got to sail small yachts to have an enjoyable time and hopefully develop a personal connection with the sea.

It’s also in honour of our nautical patron Baron Bliss, who loved Belize’s reef and waters, and he was confined to a wheelchair on his boat.

When the regatta culminated, a Reef Fair was conducted at the BTL Park at which conservation groups such as the Audubon Society, the Healthy Reefs Initiative, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, and Oceana worked with the Belize City Council and Grace Kennedy (Belize) Ltd., to educate the public about what’s being done to the protect the reef.

There was also a photograph competition won by Andrew Roe, and on Saturday, there will a one and a half mile swim challenge across the English Caye channel.

And on Sunday evening all city residents were invited out to the Belize City coastline to take part in the Sea Carnival which will feature different boats cruising along the coastline of the Old Capital from the Radisson Dock, passing the BTL Park, going around to Haulover Creek to the Port of Belize, and finally concluding back at the Radisson dock.

Belize has a nautical history and some pretty cool craft, so it was a “don’t miss” the entire family could enjoy, old salts and landlubbers alike.

Ms Chanona, who recently took on the important job with Oceana, is known for being passionate about the sea and emphasised Belizeans need to do more than just proudly say we have the second largest reef in the world.

We need to put that pride in action by being active about protecting The Belize Great Barrier Reef.

All Belizeans need to get involved to protect, preserve and celebrate our reef. Nature bestowed upon us something wonderful. It has been supporting us since the early days of fishing (and let’s face it, the odd bit of buccaneering) and is increasingly a BIG earner of foreign exchange through the tourist dollar.

And we’re just seeing the very tip of the financial iceberg, folks. One hates to be crass, because we should protect the reef for its intrinsic beauty, but as the world becomes more industrialised and toxic, things like the Belize Great Barrier Reef only become more valuable. Your children’s children’s children will be making a living off this wonderful gift from nature – but only if we take care of it now.

Like right now.

Reefs are amazing delicate things, and once they’re gone they’re just ugly stretches of rock no one is going out of their way to see. It’s already happened around the world.

But right now? Ask anyone about the Belize Barrier Reef.

So c’mon, let’s all get involved in reef week and beyond and learn what we can do. It’s truly important work.

Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

Ms Chanona said that anyone who would like to become part of Oceana or its ‘Wavemakers’ volunteer group can either visit the office at 62 Bella Vista off the Philip Goldson Highway or go to Oceana’s Facebook page and sign up.

We have a feeling you’ll find it a lot of fun, and can’t really think of work that’s more important. The future just doesn’t get made any more – we make it. Let’s make it a good one.

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