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May 18, 2010

UNESCO concerned about drilling in World Heritage Site

reefThe Belize Barrier Reef is currently on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites. It now faces another threat, a more serious one at that, since the reef could be permanently removed as a Heritage Site because of licenses granted for oil exploration and drilling.  A UNESCO specialist spoke to News Five from the UNESCO offices in Paris and told Jose Sanchez of the potential threat of de-listing the Barrier Reef.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

By its own mandate the Department of Geology and Petroleum issued concessions to explore for oil on land and sea.  APAMO and OCEANA have gone on record calling for a ban of exploration on the seas and now UNESCO is sounding its own concern for the barrier reef, which is a World Heritage Site that was put on the endangered list in 2009.

Jose Sanchez

“What is your reaction to that? What is UNESCO’s reaction to that?”

Marc Patry, Programme Specialist, Special Projects Unit, UNESCO World Heritage Center

Marc Patry

Marc Patry

“As I speak I see the map here. I received the map of the Belize Petroleum Contracts Map and it is quite an eye opener. There is a policy within the World Heritage convention that World Heritage sites should be off limit to mining and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation.  In that sense we don’t want to see oil exploration or drilling in the water or on land in the world heritage sites. It’s a pretty clear statement from the World Heritage Committee. Even we have large companies who also recognize this. For instance Shell is an international oil company, has made a public commitment not to explore nor extract hydrocarbons in world heritage sites. This is a major testament or major point of support on behalf of the private sector for the same thing.”

Beverly Wade, the Fisheries Administrator, is a part of the World Heritage Committee.

beverly wade

beverly wade

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator

“From my view as Fisheries Administrator and part of the World Heritage Site Committee, it was an unfortunate thing that happened. We don’t believe the process was a truly comprehensive process that was done and that the decision was properly informed. But it was a visit which highlighted that there were some—and government has taken note of those areas we need to look at carefully and government has also since then put plans into actions raised by that report. But what it does overall, it signals that when you have sensitive ecosystems, when you have precious resources such as the reef system, the second largest reef in the world, there is a need for us to be cautious, there is a need for us to be meticulous, we have to ensure that at the end of the day we have the systems and mechanisms in place, we have good coordination, we have good communication between all the regulatory agencies, to ensure that whatever activity we are doing out there for the greater good of the country is being done in a responsible way.”

According to Marc Patry, UNESCO’s Specialist in the Special Project Unit of the World Heritage Centre, sites are not just the concern of governments and environmentalists but also of private institutions.

Marc Patry

“Several major banks have officially recognized World Heritage Sites as places they don’t want to engage in. They don’t want to be supporting projects within World Heritage Sites that would comprise those sites. So everybody is getting behind the ball here and we’re expecting that national governments around the world, not just Belize, also recognize the same principle of conservation for the long term. In fact, establishing hydrocarbon and mining professions in the World Heritage Sites goes against the whole spirit of the convention and we’ll certainly be starting a dialogue with the authorities in Belize to learn more about what their intentions are.”

Patry says that the World Heritage Site in Oman has been de-listed because of oil exploration.  Belize can share the same fate.

Jose Sanchez

“Is there a possibility that the site could be totally de-listed?”

Marc Patry

“Certainly, the first site ever to be de-listed was because of the oil exploration being carried out on the site. This is in Oman; the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.  I was there myself, I went and carried out a monitoring mission just as I did in Belize last year and the Saudi’s there were in fact adamant saying we’re going to go explore there and if there was oil there, we’re going to go and take it out. We’re sorry about World Heritage. And based on that, the site was removed from the World Heritage list. We are also aware of other countries that have World Heritage Sites in which there are concessions mapped out in them. They may not be active right now. But it is there. This is something we’re grappling with and trying to resolve working closely with the countries involved.”

martin alegria

martin alegria

The Chief Environmental Officer says that the impact of the exploration stage is minimal. However, the Department of Environment gets involved if commercial quantities are found.  But more than that, the voice of the people can help to decide if oil will be extracted.

Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, Dept. of Environment

“They must do an Environmental Impact Assessment where all these issues and these scenarios that you and others that I have spoken to are very much concerned about, need to be taken into consideration. At the end of the day again, I’d like to remind you and the general public, that these EIAs are reviewed by professionals and highly technical people who at the end can arise at three conclusions. One; to proceed with the project as is because the EIA has addressed all these areas of concern including the economics, the social and more so the environmental. It can be that that the NEAC foe example, is not too convinced and requires more info, more assessments or more commitment from the companies. A third option can be the cost further outweighs the benefits and that’s where this scenario that you’re referring to, perhaps might be. And it is not only based on technical merits and demerits that he NEAC and the EIA looks at, but it’s also based on public outcry. That is a big part of the EIA process. At these public consultations that the public has to have their voice heard.”

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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10 Responses for “UNESCO concerned about drilling in World Heritage Site”

  1. Bulba Martinez says:

    I hope to God Mr. Cho di tek notes befor ih open ih mouth and put ih two foot inna ih damn mouth. Moni da noh everything mi Bredda, wi need fu protect wi Barrier Reef, da di World second Largest and wi need fu protect it and be proud ah dat. Unu could seh weh unu want, but if dehn get di chance fu drill and find oil, guess who fa pocket wa full?. As usual, wi wa lucky if we di people of lovely Belize wa benefit fram it. BNE Trucks are contributing to the destruction of the Southern Highway and the Hummingbird. We need a new Kendall Bridge for the longest and I noh hear bout Melvin Hulse or Boots Martinez seh dat dehn wa construct wa new bridge or even seh how much moni fram revenues collected fram BNE is/will be allocated for construction of our roads. Like di old saying goes, “You could fool some ah di people some ah di time, but you can’t fool some a di people all a di time”.

  2. Common Sense says:

    I wonder if this is a ploy by the Government to get more international funds….certainly adds a little more ammo to Barrow (rather than a “cap in hand” approach).

  3. jungletrash says:

    Ole Martin is at it again, if he is such an eviromentalist, why did they pass the big marina in Placencia? Martin Alegria has been in the DOE for too long, he needs to be replaced.

  4. Tim says:


  5. ugabuga says:

    if Belize is delisted, then the government can do whatever it likes. take that into account mr. patry. and environmentalists also. a battle is ahead. gov. wants the reef to be ignored by all so they can drill for oil and allow japanese trawlers to rape the ocean and sea for fish. don’t forget that.

  6. Chris45 says:

    Jungletrash has a good question. Sorry JT your question cannot be answered because the NEAC is despite DoE protestations, still a secret committee. The names of those who actually sit on the committee are secret. We do not know even IF they have met, never mind when or what they discussed. No-one will ever have confidence in this conspiracy of silence until the DoE comes clean and tells us the whole story.

  7. Ocaso says:

    Pandora’s little box has been open. Musa and his ravenous cronies were behind letting the protected areas be listed as part of the exploration concessions and now Barrow shows no intention of reversing the status quo.
    Martin Alegria is a rubber stamp for big money interests in this country and I agree with the above comment. Besides, everyone on the inside knows that EIAs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on because most of them are copy and paste documents that only advocate for the rights of the developer when you read the fine print.
    This is really it Belizeans, if we are going to prevent our further humiliation and restore our image in the international community then we have to stop expecting the NGOs to do all the work and show our solidarity with them by protesting and demonstrating against the government with them. BUT WE MUST ACT NOW!!!! If we don’t stop this train in its tracts we only have to look at the Gulf of Mexico to know what our own waters will be like. The oil companies are Goliath but we are David with the rock of truth and dignity in our slings.

  8. benladen0 says:

    just take into consideration the magnitude of the bp oil disaster that is happening right now in the gulf of mexico .
    that spill is the size of belize just imagine if something like that ever occurred here on or around our reef
    what will your children or your children’s children have to do in belize after something like this happens, no fish , no lobsters , no turtles , no porpoises everything that use to live in our waters will be gone
    this is belize where people get away with murder
    what kind of an oil platform will they put out at sea some old used and abused structure that is condemmed everywhere else in the world
    or maybe something not fit for hurricanes that even our north winds might blow away
    we have to think of our future and this goes out to our politicians also
    take into consideration what happened on the northern highway that was one small tanker trailer that spilled its oil
    as ugabuga put it “DON’T FORGET” “DONT’T FORGET”
    have a good day

  9. krtdiaz says:

    Alegria visits resorts in north san pedro that are dumping effluents into the lagoon…he is aware but does nothing……i have proof of that….have him deny it and …………

  10. benladen0 says:

    i forgot to add to my paragraph up above
    the biggest thing we would lose is our tourism industry
    with that added thanks again

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