Conservation Efforts in Belize Remove Reef From Endangered List
Conservation efforts by the Belizean government to protect the world’s second largest barrier reef have actually paid off as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted to remove the Belize Barrier Reef System from its list of endangered world heritage sites.
After realizing the extent of destruction caused by deforestation, unsustainable development, and oil exploration, the Belizean government implemented several programs to protect its reef. The program included a moratorium on oil exploration and protection of its mangroves.
Added to the UNESCO heritage list in 1996, the Belizean Barrier Reef was touted as being one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the western hemisphere. But in 2009, it was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The country’s government acted quickly to implement marine reserves and restrict development in threatened areas.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and second largest in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Roughly 80 percent of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is comprised by the Belizean reef system, which consists of mangrove forests, several hundred islands, atolls, coastal lagoons, and estuaries
Coral reefs are incredibly fragile and also necessary to certain underwater ecosystems. Often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are home to a quarter of all fish and living organisms in the world’s oceans.
Over the past few decades, it’s estimated we’ve lost nearly half of the planet’s coral reef systems, with their complete destruction projected for the year 2050. So, why do we continue to lose this precious resource of biodiversity and natural beauty? Mostly from a lack of regulation.
Aside from the obvious harms of pollution and oil drilling, in many countries, ecotourism around reefs is unregulated. Scuba divers and snorkelers often unknowingly destroy reefs by touching and playing on them. Meanwhile, the money generated from these tourists dissuades governments from enacting environmental boundaries, and in some cases it has encouraged them to hide the negative effects ecotourism has on reefs.
Other countries allow, or don’t appropriately address, fishing tactics that are harmful to the reefs, including blast fishing where dynamite is thrown into the water to stun or kill fish. In places like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Tanzania, coral reef systems have been completely annihilated or brought to the verge of destruction from such methods.
Kudos to Belize for proving that for once, a country’s government is willing to prioritize environmental protection over profit and economic development.
We should let the country’s efforts serve as an example to the rest of the world that enacting relatively simple measures can lead to significant, positive impacts. Unfortunately, larger scale climate change still presents a threat to the Belizean system and other reefs throughout the world, though recognizing the country’s efforts as precedent could prompt others to follow suit and implement broader environmental policies.