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In a historic decision for marine conservation efforts, the Government of Belize has adopted a full oil moratorium for all Belize offshore waters, including the entire Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site.  The Belize reef system is the second largest reef system in the world, with approximately 200,000 Belizeans dependent on the reef for their livelihood.

“The World Heritage Committee has always taken a strong position that oil and gas exploration or exploitation activities are incompatible with World Heritage status. This moratorium is fully in line with this,” said Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  “I would like to congratulate the Belize Government for its leadership and thank both civil society and the government for working tirelessly hand-in-hand to safeguard this site for future generations. This demonstrates that by working together, we can take powerful action to protect our irreplaceable marine sites.”

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and IUCN are currently conducting an advisory mission in Belize to address other outstanding issues at the property.

The site, also under threat from mangrove cutting and illegal sale of land, has been included on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2009. The Government of Belize took another effective step to protect the reef when it adopted its first Integrated Coastal Zone management plan, a blueprint for sustainable use of its marine resources, in 2016.

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996, the coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

The oil ban is a major milestone in efforts to protect the reef and remove the site from the ‘Danger List’.

The World Heritage Committee will evaluate the status of the site at its forthcoming session from 24 June to 4 July 2018 in Manama, Bahrain.

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Dorian Nuñez

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