The Belize Barrier Reef is among the most beautiful places on earth. The corals, clear water, and the beautiful sand here make this site a scene out of a fantasy painting.
It had this effect on people all around the world and was officially recognized as one among the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 1996. In awe of its beauty, the committee wrote “distinctive on account of its size, array of reef types and the luxuriance of corals thriving in a pristine condition… The spectacular picturesque natural setting of brilliant white sand cayes and verdant green mangrove cayes is in dramatic contrast to the surrounding azure waters.”
But things were not as good as it seemed a few years ago. In 2009, the Belize Barrier Reef was added to the list of world heritage sites under danger. The place was degrading at a staggering rate, and much of the trauma was felt by the corals themselves.
The coral reefs aren’t just a safe haven for millions of sea-bound creatures, but also serve the important role of saving coastline from damages due to waves and storms. Their capability to fix oxygen-nitrogen levels also makes it possible for marine life to thrive.
The excessive contamination and pollution caused by oil drilling, logging companies, and unsustainable waterfront developments shifted the whole balance of the reef in mere months.
The Belize Barrier Reef isn’t just a small place. It is the second largest coral reef in the world and is overtaken only by the majestic Great Barrier Reef.
In its entirety, the Belize Barrier Reef houses 400 islands, vast mangroves, three atolls, numerous estuaries, and lagoons. So, if a place of this magnitude had to sustain damages that nearly destroyed it, one can imagine how much torture the place would have undergone.
However, with the constant efforts by the Belizean Government, the barrier reef made a comeback. With an informal referendum in 2012 by environmentalist groups like WWF and Oceana, 96% of the participants voted against offshore drilling activity when they realized that marine assets were in danger due to the offshore oil industry.
Specialist teams were formed to evaluate, study and construct a solution to the problem at hand. In 2017, the lawmakers finally passed a historic moratorium on oil exploration in Belizean waters, making it one of the first developing countries to consider the protection of natural ocean environment over the lucrative fossil fuel.
The government halted all the oil exploration since December last year.
Considering the efforts, the UNESCO council praised the country’s "visionary plan to manage the coastline,” and said that “the level of conservation we hoped for has been achieved," as reported by BBC.
Very few countries would take such bold decisions, particularly when it can affect the overall economy due to the involvement of the lucrative fossil fuel reserves. However, Belize has a far more profitable solution up its sleeves – Tourism.
The site is home to roughly 1,400 species of turtles, crocodiles, manatees, attracts tourists in huge numbers. Tourism contributes to about 10 percent of the country’s GDP. Also, half of the country’s population depends on tourism or fishing for their livelihoods.
Most importantly, the decision to protect the environment is extremely wise and is equally beneficial from an economic viewpoint eventually.