The struggle to save the world's coral reefs has reached a "make or break point," warns Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Speaking after the launch of International Coral Reef Initiative's international year of the reef, Solheim cautioned that countries home to these delicate, complex ecosystems bear a special responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and the negative impact of agribusiness: "We expect governments to step up to concrete actions."
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama simultaneously announced new protections for large swaths of the island's Great Sea Reef by deeming it a Ramsar site, according to The Guardian. The Ramsar Convention provides security to coral reefs and other wetlands which preserve global biodiversity and sustain life on Earth.
"Today I appeal to every single person on Earth to help us," Bainimarama said. "We must replace the present culture of abuse with a culture of care." Bainimarama also warned that this may be the last generation to behold the beauty of coral reefs.
Despite the dire prediction, Solheim noted "there are also signs of change: we see now a huge global shift from coal to solar and wind, and that is very good news for our efforts to reduce the effects of climate change."
He went on to add that more people are aware "of the problem of plastic pollution," with increasing measures being taken around the world to discontinue the use of plastics.
A landmark plastic ban – dubbed the strictest in the world – took effect in Kenya in August last year. Months prior to its implementation, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Judi Wakhungu announced that the plastic bag ban would boost the country's green credentials.
In Belize, the Petroleum Operations (Offshore Zone Moratorium) 2017 Bill aims to protect the country's barrier reef, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, by forbidding all future oil exploration activity in its waters and ending all existing exploration.
The initiative was long supported by The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, consisting of environmental, industry and social organizations and activists, including the WWF and Oceana.
"This is truly 'The People's Law,' said Oceana's Vice-President for Belize Janelle Chanona. "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."