As if the timing couldn’t be any worse, the Belize government has issued permits for oil exploration on the Belizean portion of the Meso-American reef in Central America.
Potential Belize Offshore Oil Exploration threatens Coral Reef Health
BELIZE.- World Wildlife Fund (WWF) expressed great concern with news indicating that the Government of Belize has granted concessions to explore for oil and natural gas both offshore and on-shore.
Apparently, 18 concessions have been granted by the Belize Geology and Petroleum Department of which 8 are within the territorial waters of Belize. If true, this may generate potential risks for Belize’s barrier reef and the wider Mesoamerican Reef. WWF is particularly concerned that, apparently, concessions have been granted to carry out exploration within Belize’s marine protected areas including World Heritage Sites, and most of the terrestrial natural protected areas.
The Mesoamerican Reef covers nearly 115 million acres, from the northern end of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and the Caribbean coasts of Belize and Guatemala, to the Bay Islands in northern Honduras.
Belize is a well known tourist destination, with large numbers of tourists flocking to its mainland and insular coast each year to dive or snorkel on its coral reefs, among other activities. In 2009 only, Belize received a total of 937,468 tourists (overnight and cruise tourism combined). An independent World Resources Institute (WRI) study found that Belize’s shoreline mangrove and coral reef system contributes between US$150-196 million a year only in tourism and recreation activities and represent between 12 and 15% of total country GDP. Its contribution to coastal protection was estimated to be around US$ 231-347 million. Belize depends on tourism as the primary economic motor. Compromising the integrity of ecosystems, quality of environmental services and landscape values can seriously damage the sector and the nation’s economy.
In WWF’s view, promoting oil and natural gas exploration within the Belize portion of the Mesoamerican Reef significantly increases the risks this fragile system already faces due to anthropogenic factors such as unsustainable coastal development, unsustainable fisheries and pollution.
WWF invites the Government of Belize to engage all actors in reviewing the need of such concessions, the risks associated to Belize’s diverse and rich marine resources and consider other economic alternatives for sustainable development and economic growth. WWF has been productively working with the Government of Belize and many environmental partners for many years, is most willing to continue working with the relevant authorities and offers its support in building an open, participatory, and transparent and scientifically based strategy for the sustainable development of the Mesoamerican Reef and the benefit of all its people and ecosystems.
As our region lives through one of the worst oil-related catastrophes the world has ever witnessed, and around 800,000 gallons of oil drain daily into the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight, the urgency to find alternatives other than oil and gas production in the Mesoamerican Reef region are more than ever evident.