Belize Barrier Reef

The Government of Belize has approved a policy that legally bans offshore oil exploration in all seven areas that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage area.

The decision will exclude the entire World Heritage area from any future oil exploration.

The nation’s latest decision is part of its efforts to maintain the status of Belize Barrier Reef in the List of World Heritage sites.

With the new policy in place, a permanent ban on oil is expected to come into force by 31 January 2016 in the World Heritage location and its surrounding zones.

The Belize Barrier Reef site is considered the second largest reef system in the world and placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009 over concerns on the sale, lease, and development of mangrove islands.

The World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern in 2010 regarding the potential for oil developments in the vicinity to the World Heritage site. It said that the oil exploration is incompatible with its World Heritage status.

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"The reef is important to Belize’s sociocultural and national economic wellbeing with many local livelihoods tied to its goods and services."

In September 2015, Shell announced its decision to halt operations in the Chuckchi Sea that removed oil threats to the World Heritage listed Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve, which is home to the Pacific walrus.

Commenting on the government’s decision, WWF said the policy should result in a total of 2,117km² being protected and will also protect Belize’s reef from oil threat.

WWF Mesoamerican Reef Scientist Nadia Bood said: "The reef is important to Belize’s sociocultural and national economic wellbeing with many local livelihoods tied to its goods and services.

"Safeguarding it should be a national priority. Today we want to acknowledge an important achievement and we look forward to reviewing the policy approved by the cabinet in detail."

Image: The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is recognized by UNESCO as having outstanding universal value to all humanity. Photo: © WWF / Anthony B Rath.