Belize: Hold the Oil – We’ll Have The Reef Instead, Thanks!

Belize: Hold the Oil – We’ll Have The Reef Instead, Thanks!

We all know that oil and water don’t mix, and nowhere does this simple saying sound sweeter than in environmentally friendly Belize, with the little country having just won huge worldwide praise for indefinitely suspending any oil drilling off its beautiful Caribbean coastline and World Heritage-listed Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

belize barrier reef

And sweeter still is the fact that the decision to not “drill, baby, drill” was the result of people power, starting with a 2012 “People’s Referendum” that saw over 30,000 Belizeans vote at a dozen polling stations around the country. And their voice was loud, clear and unified – with ninety-six percent of the voters saying they were opposed to offshore drilling.

The government took notice, and after the moratorium was implemented on December 29 2017, so did global media.

We particularly enjoyed a January 4, 2018, article in Quartz, an international news website whose founders hail from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Economist and other respected news outlets.

Under the headline, “As Trump Opens More Water for Oil Exploration, The Tiny Nation of Belize Shows A Better Way,” the authors reported on protests over a recent US proposal to open up over one billion square kilometres to the oil industry, and then followed with:

 “Among the Hullaballoo, one piece of good news didn’t get the attention it deserves. On December 29, the Belize government voted to implement an indefinite moratorium on all new oil exploration in its waters.”

“Belize produces some 3,000 barrels of oil per day, a miniscule amount compared to more than 1.5 million barrels per day that the US produces in the Gulf of Mexico alone. And yet, Belize’s announcement is an important one.

“Like most developing countries, Belize relies on its natural resources for its economy. Oil constitutes more than a quarter of its exports. And yet, thanks to grassroots campaigns, Belizeans were convinced that protecting its coral reefs will be more important to the country, economically, in the long-term.”

Amen to that.

And Quartz wasn’t the only media house singing Belize’s praises. For example, we also liked a piece in the popular diving website, “Underwater 360°” that goes into even greater detail about the Reef and the local and international efforts to protect it.

Adding to the chorus were the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Oceana, whose Belize branch was instrumental in generating awareness and support, and groups and individuals around the world.

Belize banned offshore oil drilling
Photo courtesy Flickr user Roi

There was also plenty of praise for the role Belizeans played in showing the world how to safeguard the environment. “Ending oil activities will encourage other countries to follow suit and take the urgent action that is needed to protect our planet’s oceans,” WWF campaigner Chris Gee said  – a sentiment that was echoed by The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s founding co-owners Mick and Lucy Fleming.

“Mick and I have always seen Chaa Creek, and indeed Belize, as models for sustainable development. If you can show that protecting the environment is not only ethical, but makes good business sense as well, the world will take notice.


“We like to think Belize proves that protecting the environment, wildlife, communities and cultures is an investment that pays off, and pays off handsomely, in both the short and long terms,” Lucy said.

And word is getting around. As Nadia Bood, a reef scientist with the WWF, put it, “Belize is a small country making a mighty commitment to putting the environment first.”

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