By Benjamin Flowers
The Government of Belize, this week, officially banned offshore oil exploration within the seven World Heritage Sites in Belize and in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System.
GOB made the announcement after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, stating that the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park, Lighthouse Reef Natural Monument, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Glovers Reef Marine Reserve, Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve, were now off limits.
The legal ban on the World Heritage Sites, covers an area of 448 square miles being banned. The additional ban on offshore exploration within one kilometer on either side of the Belizean Barrier Reef System, adds some 868 square miles, for a total of 842,714 acres or 1,316 square miles.
As a part of the new policy, Cabinet agreed that areas not covered by the ban would have to pass strict requirements, including conducting all relevant environmental studies to determine critical habitats and sensitive zones.
“The required environmental studies would then further give guidance to areas outside the ban, to scientifically determine the type and nature of exploration that can occur in these explorable areas”, GOB said.
The news was well received among Belizean environmentalist organizations such as Oceana in Belize, which has been advocating for the ban for several years.
Oceana Vice President, Janelle Chanona, called the event a victory for Belize and its people, emphasizing that the ban will ensure job security, food security and cultural identity for Belizeans.
Chanona noted with concern that two major protected areas did not make it on to the list, those being the Turneff Marine Atoll, which is Belize’s largest marine protected area, and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.
“We’re a few steps short of the finish line; there’s still more work to do”, Chanona said, “but with the moratorium in place and now this legal ban, the Belizean marine resources are one step closer to never knowing the hazards of offshore oil.”