Lonely Planet Writer

Belize’s Barrier Reef is out of danger with new protection measures

In a huge win for environmental campaigners, Belize’s Barrier Reef has officially been removed from Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites that are in danger. It follows a series of decisions over the last 18 months from the government of Belize designed to protect the reef.

Aerial view of coral reef from 6,000 ft. Photo by Anthony B. Rath/WWF

At 300 kilometres long, it is third largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef and the New Caledonian Barrier Reef. Nearly 1400 different species have their home here, including the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. With much of the reef unexplored, it’s estimated there could be thousands more life species undiscovered here.

Unesco placed the reef on the In Danger list in 2009 when the government of Belize greenlighted a plan to allow exploration of oil in the nearby waters, a move that campaigners say would have caused irreversible harm to the fragile eco-system. Following both local and international campaigning, these measures have now been reversed in spectacular fashion.

Scuba diving with a big school of fish at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Photo by Anthony B. Rath/WWF

In December 2017, the government issued a complete ban on oil exploration in their waters, one of only three countries in the world to do so, the other two being France and Costa Rica. This month, the country committed to protecting their mangroves and to not sell public lands within the World Heritage site.

Nadia Bood, a WWF Marine Scientist based in Belize said “today is a proud day for Belize. Our reef supports both an incredible diversity of wildlife and the livelihoods of more than half our population. Belize’s government has recognised the need to protect the nature on which its people depend.”

The reef is also a huge economic asset to Belize. As well as being valuable to the fishing industry, it’s currently the country’s top tourist attraction. Approximately 130,000 people visit every year to snorkel and scuba dive; half of all tourists that visit the country.