Pouring in praise for Belize for its "visionary" steps to protect its once-endangered Mesoamerican coral reef, Unesco's World Heritage body removed it from its list of endangered sites Tuesday.
Unesco praised Belize's "visionary plan to manage the coastline," further adding that "the level of conservation we hoped for has been achieved."
After Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Mesoamerican coral reef is the largest in the world and is home to many endangered species like marine turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile.
"We are happy that in this instance the government and the people decided that this is something that we can't risk," the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Patrick Faber told the AFP.
The warning to preserve the reef also included the mangroves which surround and protect the reef and serve as a breeding ground for many of the hundreds of fish species which inhabit the area's bright turquoise waters. With increasing urbanization along the coastline, the mangroves had been disappearing at an alarming rate, AFP reported.
The U.N. body added the reef which Charles Darwin described as "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies" to its list of world heritage sites in 1996 and in 2009 declared it as an endangered site and urged the Belize government to take special measures to preserve it.
In 2012, environmentalists organized an informal referendum in which 96 percent of the participants voted against offshore oil activity. "A visionary plan to manage the coastline was adopted in 2016," said the United Nations body at the meeting.
The conservation measures sped up further last year when the Mesoamerican Reef, home to more than 500 species of fish and marine species, including large populations of whale sharks garnered global attention as more than 65 national and international agencies came together to preserve the reef.
In December 2017, lawmakers passed a landmark moratorium on oil exploration in Belizean waters, making it one of the few countries in the world with measures curbing oil exploration in nearby waters.
Belize's coral reef forms an integral part of the Central American country's economy as fishing and tourism bring about US$37 million a year.