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article imageBelize offshore oil plan will ruin a pristine marine environment

By Karen Graham     May 10, 2015 in Environment
Belmopan - The government of Belize, a country on the Eastern coast of Central America, is considering a draft proposal that would allow offshore drilling in 99 percent of its territorial waters, a move that would threaten the world's second largest coral reef.
Opening up almost the entire length of Belize's 180-mile-long coastline to oil exploration and exploitation has environmentalists very worried. They consider the proposal a threat to Belize's vital coral reefs, fisheries and tourist trade.
While Belize currently has a moratorium on offshore drilling, the recent public announcement by the Ministry of Energy was devastating news. The proposal would allow drilling in the vicinity of the Great Blue Hole, a world-famous diving destination and a part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world.
The Belize Barrier Reef stretches 190 miles, from Cancun in the north through the Riviera Maya up to Honduras, making it the second largest barrier reef in the world after Australia's Great barrier Reef. The reef has one of the world's most diverse ecosystems, yet only 10 percent of the reef has been explored.
The Great Blue Hole is a submarine sinkhole, about 43 miles off the coast of Belize. It lies in the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll. It is 984 feet across and 407 feet deep. Jacques Cousteau made the sight famous in 1971 when he sailed the calypso to the hole to chart its depths.
Great Blue Hole  Coast of Belize - a phenomenon of Karst topography.
Great Blue Hole, Coast of Belize - a phenomenon of Karst topography.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Janelle Chanona, Oceana's vice president for the Central American nation, spoke with the Associated Press by telephone from the capital, Belmopan, as cited by The Guardian. “They’ve declared open season on almost 99% of Belize’s marine area. That includes seven world heritage sites, that includes marine protected areas ... and it is unacceptable.”
Government officials did not respond to requests for comment when the proposal was released on Thursday, but they had said previously they were considering some modifications after hearing feedback from Oceana and other similar groups.
Environmental damage from drilling offshore listed
Environmentalists point out even a minor oil spill could jeopardize the snow-white sands and crystal clear blue waters of the reef that makes tourism the leading source of foreign income, making up 25 percent of Belize's GDP. According to figures released by the Belize government, tourism accounts for half the country's economy, and damage to tourism would put that economy and jobs at risk.
The risks to the barrier reef ecosystem is great, not just because of its popularity for snorkelers and divers, but because of the possible damage to the ecosystem and its many marine species. Chanona added that the protection from hurricanes and rising sea levels afforded by the country's barrier reef is very valuable and estimates the annual value if the reef protection to be in the neighborhood of $750 million.
Belize does have some oil wells  but they still have to import oil for their energy needs.
Belize does have some oil wells, but they still have to import oil for their energy needs.
It doesn't make any sense to open the waters off Belize to oil exploration. In the past, exploratory wells proved to give negative results. While Belize has a similar geology to the oil-producing regions of Mexico and Guatemala, their neighbors, it hasn't been overly exploited simply because the population doesn't want their forests and land destroyed.
A number of American oil companies came to Belize in the 1980s and drilled exploratory wells, but after drilling 50 dry wells, nothing much happened. Now, Belize depends almost entirely on oil imports for its energy needs. The country has a lot of potential for hydroelectric and other renewable energy resources, if only these were to be investigated.
More about Belize, deep blue hole, draft staage, Offshore drilling, UNESCO site
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