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Jun 26, 2018

Belize Barrier Reserve System Officially Delisted from UNESCO’s “in Danger” List

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is finally off the List of World Heritage in Danger.  The precious ecosystem was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996, but in 2009, it was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the destruction of mangroves and marine ecosystems, offshore oil exploration and the development of non-sustainable building projects.  The official announcement was made in Bahrain today where a Belize delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber was on hand.  The delisting came after G.O.B. passed legislation putting a moratorium on oil exploration in the entire maritime zone of Belize and the strengthening of forestry regulations allowing for better protection of mangroves. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

 

Guy Debonnet

Guy Debonnet, UNESCO, WHC Secretariat

“Overall the World Heritage Center and IUCN welcome the important progress which has been made by the state party in implementing the corrective measures and they conclude the desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the list of world heritage in danger has been achieved. It is therefore recommended that the committee removes the property from the list of world heritage in danger.”

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting     

Today the World Heritage Committee officially delisted the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve from the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘in danger list.’  Back in 1996, the barrier reef was designated as a world heritage site. As a natural system, it consists of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, hundreds of sand cayes, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. According to UNESCO, “The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including the marine turtle, the manatee and the American marine crocodile.”But by 2009, it was said to be in danger because of mangrove cutting, developments, and the threat of offshore oil exploration – among other threats. As Nadia Bood explained in an interview back in March 2017, our reef has been under significant pressures – and as a result was in danger of losing its heritage status.

 

Nadia Bood

Nadia Bood, Country Representative, WWF Belize [File: March 10th, 2018]

“So far they have addressed the issue of having an integrated plan in place by developing and enacting the coastal zone management plan and they are currently working on a coastal zone management act to add some legal teeth to that plan; so far they are working on revising the national mangrove regulation and we believe that is supposed to be finished by the end of march, but the outstanding issues that need to be addressed pertains to land ownership within these systems. We know that within this world heritage site there are island and cayes. Some of those are publicly owned and others are privately owned. We know that those privately owned land some level of development will occur. And for the publicly owned we are asking for them to sell any more of those islands and cayes – the publicly owned ones because development can impact the reef system around them. Within the ask from UNESCO is that no oil exploration activity will compromise the health and the outstanding universal value of the world heritage sites.”

 

But since then, G.O.B. has made significant decisions and taken measures that helped to get the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System off the list. Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber was at today’s World Heritage Committee Meeting in Bahrain – where he spoke of G.O.B.’s commitments thus far, including the historic ban on offshore oil exploration that was announced in December of last year.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Deputy Prime Minister

“We have instituted a legislated total ban on offshore oil exploration and have passed and have passed and implemented a comprehensive coastal zone management plan. We celebrate the fact that Belize’s overall mangrove cover in the site is maintained at ninety-six percent over the last thirty-six years. We further strengthen our position by now ensuring the further protection and management of mangroves nationally via revised mangrove regulations. We are finalizing the work to create mangrove reserves for the remaining mangrove stands within national land in the site. And have a draft revised environmental impact assessment framework and legislation to ensure that development nationally is well regulated and takes into consideration the importance of our natural assets.”

 

Belize received verbal support from a number of countries around the world – whose representatives praised Belize’s efforts to get the Barrier Reef Reserve System removed from list of the world heritage sites in danger.

 

St. Kitts & Nevis Representative

“We compliment the herculean effort of Belize in addressing the issues impacting the OUV in the site. Belize has protected twenty-one percent of its territorial waters, instituted a legislated total ban on offshore oil drilling and has approved and implemented a comprehensive national coastal zone management plan addressing all development and sectoral activities within its territorial waters, therefore St Kitts and Nevis supports the removal of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the list of world heritage in danger.”

 

Hungary Representative

“Hungary welcomes and fully supports the removal of the property of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the world heritage list in danger. We congratulate to the state party for achieving the desired state of conservation for removal through the proper application of legal tools and procedures including the environmental impact assessment, as well as protective measures implemented into the coastal zone management plan. The property had been inscribed on the world heritage list in danger in 2009. Hungary recommends that this almost ten year process be used as an example and good practice for state parties having world heritage sites of list in danger.”

 

But to get the site removed from the in danger list, it took significant resources, mobilization, collaboration and action. The conservation community particularly championed the cause. The World Wildlife Fund started a campaign three years ago to get Government to take the necessary steps needed to get the barrier reef off the ‘in danger’ list. Those initiatives included a campaign that saw the delivery of two-hundred and sixty-five thousand signed petitions delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office in March of last year.

 

Valentino Shal

Valentino Shal, Advocacy Lead, WWF Belize [File: March 10th, 2017]

 “We need to bring this matter to the attention of the Prime Minister and so we have launched this international campaign and we have had a lot of support both in Belize and abroad. And so we want to ensure that the Prime Minister is getting these emails and messages that people here and around the world are concerned about the status of the Barrier Reef System.”

 

Shaikha Al Khalifa

Shaikha Al Khalifa, Chairperson, WHC

“Now, I therefore declare draft decision 42.7A 43 adopted. [applause]…..congratulations to the state party of Belize for this achievement.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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