An offshore oil ban offers new hope for Belize's Barrier Reef

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In December, the government of Belize announced permanent suspension of offshore oil exploration activities, removing a major environmental threat to its barrier reefs.

Home to some 1,400 species—such as sea turtles, dolphins, spotted eagle rays, and West Indian manatees—Belize’s reefs support nearly 200,000 people as well, and bring in around $200 million per year in tourism.

First inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System became so threatened by offshore oil activities and onshore development that it landed on the World Heritage in Danger list in 2009.

WWF, alongside partners including the Natural Capital project, rallied more than 450,000 supporters around the world to advocate for the reef’s protection.

“Not only has the government listened to calls to protect the reef,” says WWF Mesoamerican Reef scientist Nadia Bood, “it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection.”

WWF has long supported conservation of the Belize Barrier Reef through ongoing work to study manatees, protect sea turtle hatcheries, and help create sustainable national development plans. In 1987, WWF helped to establish the country’s first marine protected area, Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Now, with offshore oil activities banned, the hope is that the reserve system will soon come off the in-danger list.

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