Tuesday, December 1st, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: A late evening press release from the Government of Belize announces that at today’s Cabinet meeting, an approved policy will legally ban offshore exploration for petroleum in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef system and specifically within the seven World Heritage Sites that make up the Barrier Reef System, the second longest in the world.
According to the release, quote, This decision by Cabinet demonstrates government’s resolve in ensuring the continued protection of Belize’s Barrier Reef System and its seven World Heritage Sites. End quote.
Those seven sites are the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park; the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park; the Lighthouse Reef Natural Monument; the South Water Caye, Glovers Reef and Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserves; and the Laughing Bird Caye National Park.
Together, these cover 448 square miles of Belizean marine territory.
A further 868 square miles, covering one kilometer on either side of the Barrier Reef system, are also covered by the ban, for a total of 1,316 square miles, or just under 15% of all Belizean territory.
But what happens to the rest? Cabinet says it further agreed that those areas outside of the sites covered by the ban would not automatically allow for seismic activities and exploration drilling without conducting the existing stringent environmental studies to determine critical habits and sensitive zones.
These studies would provide guidance on how to act in the areas outside the ban, and scientifically determine the type and nature of exploration that can occur in these explorable areas.
We intend to seek comment from the authorities regarding the exact acreage covered by the explorable areas, as well as progress on the policy for petroleum exploration that attracted widespread criticism earlier this year.
The production sharing agreements with several petroleum exploring companies working offshore Belize have lapsed except for U.S. Capital Energy, whose area of exploration is mostly inland in the Sarstoon Temash National Park but also includes an offshore portion.
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