Belize Barrier Reef is one the most developed and diverse in the world, stretching 185 miles and home to over 500 species of fish, 100+ coral species, and the West Indian manatee. The reefs, islands and atolls represent about 80 percent of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, which begins at the Yucatan peninsula and makes its way all the way down to Belize, Guatemala, and Hondura. So to say the reef system is important, is a huge understatement.
In 2009, the reef system was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in Danger due to the destruction of mangroves and marine ecosystems, offshore oil extraction, and the development of non-sustainable building projects.
Since then, Belize has taken it into their own hands and have turned the once declining system into a thriving environment. Citing the safeguards taken by Belize, notably the introduction of moratorium on oil exploration in the entire maritime zone of Belize and the strengthening of forestry regulations allowing for better protection of mangroves, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has voted to remove the Belize Barrier Reef system from their list of outstanding natural and cultural sites that are in danger of destruction.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996, 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 the marine turtle, the manatee and the American marine crocodile.
Unfortuanetely by 2009, increased destruction by the logging companies, oil drilling, and unsustainable waterfront development led the committee to move the natural wonder to the list it has just been removed from.
The decision to take it off that list is an due to the unbelievable amount of work put in by conservationists, the Belize government and many others have decided the reef is more important that quick economic gain. The example set forth by Belize is the path forward to protect the reefs all across the world and we will continue to push for more countries to take the same steps necessary.
The BBC reported that members lauded the country’s “visionary plan to manage the coastline,” and stated that “the level of conservation we hoped for has been achieved.”