Jul 02 2018

Promise in the Belize Barrier Reef

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Last Christmas I was falling over the side of a small boat off the coast of San Pedro, Belize. San Pedro is an island so small, its inhabitants don’t even own cars. Instead, everyone putters around in supped up golf carts, conducting their business. For most of them, that business is eco-tourism. The eastern coast of the island is dotted with dive centers, water sports shops, tour guides, etc. During my time there I dove 12 times. It was the most beautiful, bio diverse place I have ever seen, and I never wanted to leave. But after my 10 day stay I got in the island hopper and looked down at the black and blue reef, wondering if it would still be there when I came back.

Its been 7 months since I left the Ambergries Caye and I’ve really missed it. Luckily, I think it will still be there for me in the future because last week UNESCO announced the reef’s removal from the World Heritage Sites in Danger List. According to the organization, “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”.

The site had been added on to the In Danger list in 1996 due to the threat of irreversible damage from coastal construction and oil exploration when seismic testing for oil was permitted just 6 miles from the site. Public outcry from Belizeans, half of whom rely on the reef for their livelihood, followed. This is because the reef represents a major contribution to the local economy. Eco-tourism, recreational scuba diving and snorkeling, recreational and commercial fishing, and civilian boat transportation all rely on the coral reef ecosystem and account for over 40 percent of the income on San Pedro.

Local efforts were supported by a coalition that included WWF, Oceana, and the Belize Tourism Industry Association. Over the last 18 months, Belize’s government has put in place protections to secure the Belize Barrier Reef from immediate threats, this according to the World Wildlife Foundation. These include a landmark moratorium on oil exploration that was adopted in December 2017, which made Belize one of only three countries in the world with such legislation (WWF, 2018).

Belize has shown that it is possible to reverse nature loss and create a sustainable future.” – Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF-International

However, despite all the promise in Belize, I can help but report on what I saw there and what I know to be true about climate change, and add a dash of reality to the discussion. During my dives in the reef I saw some of the most beautiful fish, corals, sharks, an landscapes. But, I also saw white, dead coral everywhere. The temperature of our oceans are undeniably increasing, and with the increases come the death of coral, no matter how oil-free the ecosystem is. So while I’d love to pretend that the Belize Barrier Reef is totally safe and healthy, I cant ignore the larger, global picture. If the rising of sea surface temperatures is not mitigated this reef will return to its spot on UNESCO’s Sites in Danger list. We can’t lets milestones like these lull us into a false sense of security that prevents us from reaching new ones.

If anyone is curious, is some pictures form my trip this winter:

– – Owen Ruth

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