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UNESCO praises Belize for ‘visionary’ steps to save coral reef as it removes the Belize Barrier Reef from the list of endangered World Heritage sites

Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2022. 5:25 pm CST.

Photo Credit: MBECA

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: On Tuesday, June 28, 2022, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting in Manama, Bahrain, removed the Belize Barrier Reef from its List of World Heritage in Danger after nine years.

The World Heritage Committee said that Belize’s Government had taken “visionary” steps to preserve the reef which is the second-largest in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

UNESCO had high words of praise for Belize’s “visionary plan to manage the coastline”, saying “the level of conservation we hoped for has been achieved”.

The Belize Barrier was included on the World Heritage List in 1996 but in 2009 the World Heritage Committee placed it on the List in Danger in 2009 due to the destruction of mangroves and marine ecosystems, offshore oil extraction, and the development of non-sustainable building projects.

At the beginning of June, the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Aviation (MBECA) celebrated the Belize Barrier Reef’s 10,000 birthday recognizing the importance of the reef and acknowledging that it is a World Heritage site that has universal value.

“The coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries,” said UNESCO in describing the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

The Belize Barrier Reef itself is home to many threatened species including marine turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile.

“The Committee considered that safeguarding measures taken by the country, notably the introduction of a moratorium on oil exploration in the entire maritime zone of Belize and the strengthening of forestry regulations allowing for better protection of mangroves, warranted the removal of the site from the World Heritage List in Danger,” said UNESCO.

At the time it included the Belize Barrier Reef in its endangered list, UNESCO called for Belize to protect what Charles Darwin, in 1842, described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”.

In 2012, environmentalists, led by Oceana, organized an independent referendum in which 96% of Belizeans who participated voted against offshore oil exploration. Five years later in December 2017, the Government passed a landmark moratorium on oil exploration in Belizean waters. Belize is only one of a few countries in the world that have passed such legislation.

The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in Bahrain continues until July 4.


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