By Michelle Sutherland, Staff Reporter
Amidst a torrential downpour, key environmentalists and concerned citizens gathered at the foot of the National Assembly building in Belmopan today to present over 265,000 petitions to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef.
The online petition, which was launched in April 2016, seeks to raise awareness about the fact that the Belize Barrier Reef has been on the UNESCO list of endangered sites since 2009, and the environmentalists feel that since then, the government has been dragging its feet in conducting the necessary requirements put forward by UNESCO to take the site off the list.
Field Program Officer for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Belize. Nadia Bood explained that the four key factors are: mass clearing of mangroves, developments in the world heritage site, a coastal zone instrument and regulations that would protect the site, and offshore oil exploration in and around the site.
Valentino Shal, advocate for WWF in Belize mentioned that government needs to treat the issue of taking the barrier reef from off the list with greater urgency. Shal said that more needs to be done since tourism is one of the most flourishing industries in Belize and it depends greatly on the protection of the reef.
Oceana’s Vice President,Janelle Chanona was out supporting the initiative and said that they are ecstatic to be out emphasizing the point that Belize is the keeper of a World Heritage site and globally it is important to millions of people from around the world.
The group claims to have collected letters from countries from around the world as well. The letters were presented to the Prime Minister in the hopes that he accelerates the pace to comply with the recommendations set forth by UNESCO, so that the site could be taken off the list by next year.
The government is said to be currently working on an integrated plan and Coastal Zone Management Act. It is also revising the national mangrove regulation. However, the only two recommendations that need further work are in regards to land ownership and development within the system, as well as making sure that offshore oil exploration does not happen around the barrier reef.
The activity done today was one of several planned in commemoration of reef week.