It was a rare and remarkable win for the ecosystem this week as the Belize Barrier Reef, one of the Northern Hemisphere’s most incredible not to mention largest and diverse ecosystems, has finally been removed from UNESCO’s list of endangered world heritage sites once and for all – all thanks to a long overdue series of conservation measures enacted by Belize's government, of course.
As The New York Times reports, the United Nation’s infamous educational, scientific and cultural agency voted on June 26 to officially remove the 200-mile long system made up of a series of coral reefs, cays, and islands from its list of threatened sites “because it no longer faced immediate danger from development.”
The exciting announcement comes nine years after the Mesoamerican reef, which is more widely known for its breathtaking biodiversity and proximity to shore, was put onto UNESCO’s endangered list due to the mass destruction of marine ecosystems by mangrove cutting, excessive development, and offshore oil extraction.
Since 2009, however, Belize’s government has instituted a “moratorium on oil exploration around the reef and implemented protections for coastal mangrove forests.”
“In the last two years, especially in the last year, the government of Belize really has made a transformational shift,” said Fanny Douvere, the coordinator of the marine program at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
Measures that have been imposed to conserve the country’s coral reef have included everything from strengthened protections for mangrove forests, recent legislation to halt oil exploration around the country’s coastal zones, as well as continued efforts to phase out single-use plastic products like bags, utensils, and take-out containers that threaten species and delicate ecosystems by April 2019.
"At time when we are seeing numerous threats to World Heritage sites, Belize's government has taken real action to protect one of the world's most special places," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, told Eco Watch. "We have seen an incredible turnaround from when the reef was being threatened by seismic testing for oil just eighteen months ago."
He adds: "Belizeans stood up to protect their reef, with hundreds of thousands more globally joining the campaign to save our shared heritage. In taking swift collaborative action, Belize has shown that it is possible to reverse nature loss and create a sustainable future."
But while the threat has been mitigated for the time being, experts will still remain cautious about the reef’s future, especially because of ongoing dangers from climate change and global ocean warming.
It needs to be said, though, that the removal of the Belize Barrier Reef from UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger is truly a small environmental victory that should be celebrated. It clearly shows off the country’s continued commitment to environmental conservation, to preserving the ecosystem’s future health, and that with the power of collective action, anything is possible.
With many of the world’s coral reefs still facing the serious threat of endangerment, there still is much more to be done. Why not help lessen your environmental impact by following some of these tips and tricks for exploring reefs responsibly or by putting an eco-friendly lodge on your list of places to stay at during your next travels?
Belize's massive coral reef has made a marvelous comeback. Now let’s all join in on the fun.