And another victory for Mother Nature and people power…
When the first news report arrived in our inbox, we smiled. Then came another, and the smiles got bigger. After the next one, with the good news making the rounds, we began celebrating:
The Belize Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status is about to be secured!
Yes – reports have been coming in that UNESCO is about to take the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, aka the BBRRS, off its “World Heritage Sites In Danger” list.
Although the decision won’t be formalised until next month, in June, when UNESCO holds its 42nd confab in Bahrain, the organisation recently released a draft decision that reads, in part:
“The significant progress made by the State Party (Belize)… is commendable, particularly the enactment of a moratorium on oil exploration and other petroleum operations within the entire maritime zone of Belize, whereby Indicator 3… related to protection of the property from possible oil operations, has been fully met and exceeded.
Overall, it can be concluded that the DSOCR (process for removal from the danger list) has been achieved and it is therefore recommended that the Committee remove the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger…”
What UNESCO is saying, basically, is that after the BBRRS was put on the danger list in 2009, Belize began working with UNESCO and other agencies to address those factors that got the Reef put on the list in the first place – things like commercial and private development in sensitive mangrove areas and the granting of licences to explore for oil on the reef.
And, in a very real example of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, Belize now has one of the best ocean management plans in the world and a moratorium against oil exploration and drilling anywhere near the reef.
And the world sees, once again, how passionately Belizeans care about their environment.
Belizeans are by nature Green. It would be hard to grow up in a country so stunningly beautiful and not wish to preserve it. Environmental awareness and sustainability are also taught in schools, and through programs like Chaa Creek’s annual Eco-Kids summer camp.
There are enough environmentalists in Belize, and dedicated international NGOs like Oceana willing to work with our local heroes, so when word got out that the reef’s World Heritage status was in danger, people mobilised, organising public awareness campaigns, holding public referendums, engaging lawyers, scientists and lobbyists and demanding the government take action.
It did. In 2016 the Belize government adopted its first Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan – a blueprint that UNESCO called “one of the most forward-thinking ocean management plans in the world.”
And in December 2017, the Belize government announced a permanent ban for oil exploration in Belizean waters.
It became clear that positive steps were being taken to secure the long-term health of the reef, and that, in Belize, the environment outweighs commercial interests.
In all fairness, we should mention that the planet’s other Great Barrier Reef – Australia’s – has also been very close to being put on UNESCO’s danger list and Australian government met with UNESCO in March 2017 to plead for more time to rectify problems with their reef.
Maybe the Aussies should consult with Belize. It wouldn’t be the first time “the little country that could” acted as a model for environmental sustainability.