Protection and History of the Belize Barrier Reef

The coral reefs and coastal mangroves of Belize teem with life: sea turtles glide through clear waters; vibrant corals stud the ocean floor; and a vast array of aquatic animals protect their young in the tangled roots of mangroves. They’re necessary for both the wildlife that live there and the people who rely on it for income and protection.

“Coral reefs are the cornerstones of some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, and they provide loads of benefits to people,” Brad Ack, WWF’s senior vice president for oceans. “Conserving reefs protects our common futures and the amazing marine species that depend on them.”

The Belize Barrier Reef System was first inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 in recognition of the site’s incredible biodiversity and cultural significance. But in the last decade, exploration for oil, development along the coast, and a lack of strong regulations have posed increasing threats to the fragile ecosystem. The reef site was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009 due to the threat of irreversible damage from harmful coastal construction and oil exploration.

In December 2017, Belize agreed to put an end to oil exploration in its waters and began to secure the region against immediate threats—a critical step towards protecting the reef, its species, and the people who rely on it. Belize is now just one of three countries in the world with such legislation!

June 26th 2018 the Belize Barrier Reef is removed from the UNESCO
World Heritage Center list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. “At time when we are seeing numerous threats to World Heritage sites, Belize’s government has taken real action to protect one of the world’s most special places,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “We have seen an incredible turnaround from when the reef was being threatened by seismic testing for oil.”

It is estimated that nearly 200,000 Belizeans (more than half of Belize’s population) rely on the reef for survival. 44.9% of Belize’s GDP comes from travel and tourism, including approximately $15 million from the commercial fishing industry and about $200 million from tourism activities. This natural barrier also saves Belize up to $350 million per year in avoided damage from storms and other natural disasters.