Thanks to a comprehensive conservation effort, the exceptionally diverse Belize Barrier Reef has recovered so much that it has been removed from the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger sites. “At a time when we are seeing numerous threats to World Heritage sites, Belize’s government has taken real action to protect one of the world’s most special places,” World Wildlife Fund International director general Marco Lambertini told EcoWatch. “We have seen an incredible turnaround from when the reef was being threatened by seismic testing for oil just 18 months ago.” The decision to remove the Belize Barrier Reef from the ‘In Danger’ sites list arrives five months after Belize passed legislation banning all oil exploratory activity in its waters.
The second largest reef system in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef provides habitat for 1,400 species, including vulnerable species of shark, sea turtle and manatee. The reef also provides food and economic opportunity for almost half of Belize’s population while serving as a natural barrier against extreme weather. First classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, it was later added to the In Danger list in 2009 in response to increased oil exploration activity and damaging coastal construction.
As a result of a coordinated worldwide campaign, Belize, one of only three countries to ban all offshore oil exploration, put its barrier reef under protection. That effort is already bearing fruit. “Belizeans stood up to protect their reef, with hundreds of thousands more globally joining the campaign to save our shared heritage,” Lambertini said. “In taking swift collaborative action, Belize has shown that it is possible to reverse nature loss and create a sustainable future.” Belize is aiming to take its conservation to the next level by considering bans on single-use plastic products that threaten marine life.