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Belize Bans Offshore Exploration in and Around All Seven World Heritage Sites

Belize Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, approved a policy that will legally apply a ban on offshore exploration in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System, and within the seven (7) World Heritage Sites in Belize.

Cabinet has agreed to specifically ban offshore exploration in all 7 World Heritage Sites:

1. Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and National Park
2. Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and National Park
3. Lighthouse Reef Natural Monument
4. South Water Caye Marine Reserve
5. Laughing Bird Caye National Park
6. Glovers Reef Marine Reserve
7. Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve

This effectively results in a total of 448 square miles being banned. In addition, Cabinet agreed to a ban offshore exploration within one kilometer on either side of the Belizean Barrier Reef System, resulting in an additional 868 square miles falling under the offshore exploration ban. The total area covered by the ban is 842,714 acres or 1,316 square miles.

Cabinet further agreed that areas that fall outside of the large acreages banned, would not automatically allow for seismic activities and exploration drilling without conducting the existing stringent environmental studies to determine critical habitats and sensitive zones.

The required environmental studies would then further give guidance to areas outside the ban, to scientifically determine the type and nature of exploration that can occur in these explorable areas.

The decision is a major first step forward in the government’s efforts to remove Belize Barrier Reef from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Following an IUCN-WHC mission to Belize last January, the government of Belize agreed on an ambitious 3-year roadmap that sets out a Desired State of Conservation for removal of the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger. A permanent ban on oil in the World Heritage area and its surrounding zones with a functional ecological connection to the property is anticipated by 31 January 2016.

Oceana Belize released a statement saying that it applauds government’s announcement. “With a moratorium on all offshore oil activity in Belizean waters already in place, this move represents a tremendous step forward for Belize and her people as, for the foreseeable future, Belize’s entire marine area is protected from the inherent hazards of offshore oil,” stated Oceana Belize.

“The decision taken today by the GoB reflects recognition of what the people of Belize have been asking for years: the protection of job security, food security and cultural identity. From legal, economic, scientific and cultural perspectives, Belizeans agree offshore oil is a bad idea. We remain confident that the future will continue to reveal reasons why Belizeans should never risk our outstanding and globally unique resources with this type of activity. “

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef system in the world. In 2009, the site was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of concerns on the sale, lease and development of mangrove islands and the absence of a solid regulatory framework that can ensure the conservation of its exceptional values. In 2010, the World Heritage Committee expressed serious concern about the potential for oil developments within and immediately adjacent to the iconic World Heritage site.

From 8 to 15 December 2015, World Heritage Centre staff will travel to Belize to discuss next steps toward the full implementation of the Desired State of Conservation that would make Belize eligible for removal from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

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