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News > Latin America

Belize Bans Oil Activity in Western Hemisphere's Largest Reef

  • The Belize Barrier Reef is home to almost 1,400 species.

    The Belize Barrier Reef is home to almost 1,400 species. | Photo: Oceana

Published 6 January 2018

The reef is Belize's main tourist attraction, contributing between $182 million and $237 million dollars yearly to the country's economy.

Belize recently passed a law ending current and forbidding all future oil exploration activity in its ocean waters in order to protect its barrier reef – the largest in the Northern and Western Hemisphere.


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The Petroleum Operations (Offshore Zone Moratorium) 2017 Bill was unanimously passed by Belizean legislators. The initiative was long supported by The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, a coalition consisting of different environmental, industry and social organizations and activists including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Oceana.

The Belize Barrier Reef System is a 300km long section of the greater Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the largest in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef and extends 900km from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico all the way down to Honduras.

The reef is home to almost 1,400 species, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, manatees and six threatened species of shark, and has been on UNESCO's List of World Heritage In Danger since 2009.

It is Belize's main tourist attraction and contributes between $182 million and $237 million dollars yearly to its economy. The area's fishing economy is estimated to support the lives of around 190,000 people.

“This is truly ‘The People’s Law’. Belizeans have remained steadfast in their opposition to offshore oil since they became aware that marine assets were at risk of irreversible damage from the offshore oil industry” said Oceana’s Vice President for Belize Janelle Chanona.

In April 2010 the barrier reef was challenged by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At that time, virtually all of Belize's offshore had been sold as oil concession licenses.

Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican reef scientist at WWF said that “Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only last year was under threat from seismic oil exploration, it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection by ending all oil activity in its waters.”

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