WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) welcomed the decision by the UNESCO-World Heritage Committee to remove the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the “List of World Heritage in Danger.” The reef system was first designated as a World Heritage site in 1996, and has been on the “Danger” list since 2009.

The proposal to remove the site from the List of World Heritage in Danger was adopted at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in recognition of the Belize government’s enactment of a moratorium on offshore oil and gas extraction in January, the revision of the mangrove protection regulation, and implementation of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan. Multi-agency collaboration, including WCS, realized this outcome. To further strengthen sustainable management of aquatic resources, WCS has been working with the Belize government to place new fisheries legislation and expand marine replenishment zones.

Nicole Auil Gomez, WCS Belize Country Director, said:  “WCS is please to support the decision to remove the globally important Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Belizean government deserves tremendous credit for partnering with the NGO sector and taking concrete steps toward safeguarding this truly special seascape—and that work will continue. We remain optimistic that smart, effective conservation measures, with a focus on long-term commitments that lead to results, can help save endangered World Heritage Sites before they disappear.”

The government’s decision to implement the oil and gas moratorium and safeguard the remaining mangrove forests protects a 190-mile long section of the Western Hemisphere’s longest reef system, which harbors threatened hawksbill sea turtles, marine mammals, sharks and rays, and numerous fish species. The reef is key to Belize’s economy as a centerpiece of the country’s thriving marine tourism industry as well as a nursery ground for commercially important fisheries. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has previously decided that oil and gas exploration and extraction are incompatible with protection of World Heritage status, and these actions by the Government of Belize reflect a global commitment to protect not only these sites, but the broader ecosystem of which they are a part.

Despite the removal of this site from the List of World Heritage in Danger, the future of Belize’s reefs is not fully assured. All coral reef systems around the world, World Heritage or otherwise, remain under threat from overfishing, pollution, unregulated tourism and climate change – threats that destroy corals, deplete fish stocks, and weaken ecological links across the seascape. The type of work being done by the Belize Government and partners on the ground is the best way to combat these threats.

For more than 20 years, WCS has partnered with the Government of Belize to pioneer innovative approaches to conserving Glover’s Reef and South Water Caye Marine Reserves, both part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Effective field science, policy reform, and capacity building are leading us closer to our goals of improved protected areas and natural resources management. We want Belizeans and visitors to experience the massive colonies of brain, starlet, elkhorn, finger and other corals hosting hundreds of species of fish, the marine turtles, manatees, lobsters, conch, and top predators such as sharks and groupers in the system. These species will thrive within a productive and resilient seascape that is supported by local people who are well informed and actively engaged in sustainable management of Belize’s marine protected areas.

About WCS at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee (42COM)

WCS is currently working on the ground to support the protection and conservation of over 30 natural and mixed World Heritage sites around the world. In some sites, we partner with governments in the direct management of protected areas. In others, we provide technical expertise for scientific monitoring, engage in capacity building for protected area managers, and provide other forms of support tailored to the specific needs of individual sites and countries. We are working in about half of the natural and mixed sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The WCS policy briefing for the 2018 World Heritage Committee meeting (taking place June 24-July 4 in Bahrain) can be found at https://bit.ly/2IbWpZP. WCS will be represented at the meeting by staff of its International Policy program (see https://www.wcs.org/our-work/solutions/international-policy).