Belize World Heritage Site Protected

ELAW Bulletin 12/31/15

Belize Barrier Reef, Photo: Lori Maddox, ELAW

This month, Belize banned offshore exploration in seven areas within the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

These areas were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, but joined the "World Heritage in Danger" list in 2009 due to concerns about the sale, lease and development of mangrove islands and inadequate regulation to protect the reef.

In January 2015, the Belize government promised to develop a plan to achieve a "desired state of conservation" for the World Heritage Site, in order to move off the Danger list. Oil exploration is inconsistent with World Heritage status, so banning exploration is a logical first step. Other steps need to be taken before UNESCO will remove the site from the Danger list.

ELAW has worked with partners in Belize since 2009 to protect the Belize Barrier Reef from the perils of offshore oil. This ban is good news, but our work is not done: Many areas remain unprotected, including the country's largest marine protected area, the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.

In an interview with News 5 Belize, ELAW partner Candy Gonzalez with the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage describes the problem:

"...when there is an event, an oil event, in any part of the barrier reef, it affects the whole barrier reef protect one, you really have to protect all. Because Port Honduras and Turneffe are the two biggest, they are the areas that are most glaring [omissions]."

The Belize Barrier Reef is the world's second largest, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

We are pleased by progress to protect the Belize Barrier Reef and will work with our partners to expand protection against oil and other coastal developments countrywide.

Lori Maddox
Associate Director


For more information about ELAW's work to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, contact:

Maggie Keenan (
Communications Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

If you would like to learn more about our work and how you can support ELAW, visit our website, Facebook, and Twitter.