The Belize government has recently voted to implement an indefinite moratorium on all new oil exploration in its waters. Belize produces some 3,000 barrels of oil per day, a minuscule amount compared to more than 1.5 million barrels per day that the US produces in the Gulf of Mexico alone. And, yet, Belize’s announcement is an important one.
Like most developing countries, Belize relies on its natural resources for its economy. Oil constitutes more than a quarter of its exports. And, yet, thanks to grassroots campaigns, Belizeans were convinced that protecting its coral reefs will be more important to the country, economically, in the long-term.
Environmental groups have been lobbying the Belize government for an off shore drilling ban since at least 2006, when the country’s only oil company hit new reserves. Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, and oil drilling puts at risk all the diversity of life that the reef supports.
Tourism brings in more than USD 200 million to Belize, which is more than 10% of its gross domestic product, and the reefs are the country’s biggest tourist attraction. The barrier reefs support more than 190,000 livelihoods in a country with a population of 370,000.
“Belize is a small country making a mighty commitment to putting the environment first,” says Nadia Bood, a reef scientist with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an organisation that campaigned for the protection of the reefs. The fund got more than 450,000 people from across the world to email the Belize government about the issue.
Sea News, January 11