Late last year, the small Central American nation of Belize placed an indefinite moratorium on oil exploration to protect its marine environment.
The country is home to the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, and its economy is heavily reliant on tourism to natural attractions. It is estimated that tourism generates some $200 million for Belize annually — a number that constitutes over 10% of its GDP.
The reefs also support around 190,000 livelihoods in the country of 370,000. While Belize produces just 3,000 barrels of oil per day — compared to the 1.5 million produced by the US in the Gulf of Mexico alone — oil still constitutes one quarter of its exports.
The moratorium marks a legislative turnaround for Belize’s government, which approved seismic testing for subsea oil deposits in the country’s Caribbean Sea waters in October 2016. However, the testing was suspended following a public outcry by citizens and conservationists.
“The new legislation doesn’t just prevent drilling within and around the World Heritage site reef, but in all of the country’s waters, which is a ground-breaking move for a country with a struggling economy,” says Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund in Belize. “This is a huge step forward from authorizing — and then suspending — seismic testing for oil close to the World Heritage site just a year ago.”
The ban, which was signed into law on 29 December, came just days before the Trump administration unveiled a plan that will open up most US waters to oil and gas exploration.