belize barrier reef
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
I have a dramatic update for you on our campaign to stop offshore drilling in Belize.
As I reported to you several weeks ago, the government shockingly rejected 8,000 of the 20,000 signatures we collected against offshore drilling, citing poor penmanship as a primary reason.
The 20,000 signatures we collected should have been more than plenty to trigger a national referendum on offshore drilling, but since the government refused to comply, we held our own referendum last week – a people’s referendum.
And the results were astounding.
Nearly 30,000 registered Belizeans – that’s almost 20% of the country’s voting population – cast a ballot on the issue of offshore drilling. The results? 96% to 4% voted against offshore drilling. We think this is irrefutable evidence that the Belizean government needs to act responsibly, and either end plans to allow drilling in its reef, or allow a public referendum to determine the national policy.
Oceana is the leading voice in Belize against offshore drilling. Belize is home to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which we simply cannot sacrifice for oil.
I’ll keep you posted as this important story continues to unfold.
Oceana made great strides last week in our fight to stop offshore oil drilling in Belize’s crystal blue waters.
First, last week the Belizean government decided not to re-issue the offshore drilling concessions previously held by the Taiwan-based Overseas Petroleum Investment Corp. (OPIC), an offshore oil exploration company. In October, OPIC relinquished its permits to approximately 1.14 million acres off Belize’s coast.
And second, in response to a letter from Vice President of Oceana Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Prime Minister Dean Barrow agreed to put the matter of offshore drilling to a public referendum.
A huge win out of Belize today: All forms of trawling have been banned in the country's waters. And we’re proud to say that our colleagues in Belize played a crucial role in making it happen.
While there had been a call to ban the destructive fishing gear several years ago, the political will was lacking. But when UNESCO recently threatened to strip the Belize Barrier Reef of its World Heritage Site status, the government took notice. Oceana in Belize collaborated with Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration to negotiate the buy-out of the two shrimp trawlers.
Shrimp trawls are notorious for the amount of bycatch (untargeted catch) they haul in. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year. Meanwhile, bottom trawlers’ weighted nets effectively raze the ocean floor with every pass, destroying sensitive corals and anything else in their way.
One day in December, the residents of the seaside village of Punta Gorda in Belize looked out to the horizon and saw something unexpected: Jamaican fishing boats. They had arrived, unannounced and without permits, to fish in Belize’s diverse waters.
Many of Punta Gorda’s local fishermen still work the shallow waters inside the Belize Barrier Reef from individual canoes using age-old methods to provide lobster, shellfish and reef fish for Belizeans, as well as a small but thriving export business. The Jamaican boats, with more sophisticated commercial gear, offered no such promise for the local economy or the continued sustainability of Belize’s fisheries.
A few unpermitted Jamaican fishing boats may seem like a local hurly-burly, and after an uproar the boats were turned away by Belizean authorities. But Oceana has discovered that the fight to protect Belize’s waters from exploitation has just begun.
Other countries with larger fleets, namely Chinese Taipei and Spain – Europe’s largest and most aggressive fishing nation – have already approached the government of Belize about moving into the deep waters beyond the Belize Barrier Reef.