Yesterday, Belize‚Äôs Supreme Court declared offshore drilling contracts issued by the Government of Belize (in 2004 and 2007) null and void, providing a dramatic and potentially definitive setback to The Government of Belize and the petroleum prospecting companies issued the contracts.
The ruling, handed down by Justice Oswell Legall, was in response to a case brought by Oceana, COLA, and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. It effectively ends the Belizean government‚Äôs immediate effort to allow offshore oil drilling in the Meso American Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd Vice President of Oceana in Belize lauded the court‚Äôs decision:
‚ÄúThis is a great day for the people and country of Belize and its democratic process and it shows that we, as ordinary citizens, need not sit back and only complain about all the wrong decisions our Government makes, but that we can use the Judiciary system to settle them.‚ÄĚ
The court overturned the contracts after determining that the government failed to assess the environmental impact on Belize‚Äôs ocean, as required by law, prior to issuing the contracts. The court also found that contracts were made to companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise to drill safely.
Oceana has campaigned against offshore drilling in Belize for more than two years. In 2011, after collecting the 20,000+ signatures required to trigger a national referendum that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to allow offshore oil drilling in Belize‚Äôs reef, the Government disqualified over 8,000 of these signatures effectively on the basis of poor penmanship - stopping the possibility of a vote. Oceana answered by quickly organizing the nation‚Äôs first ever ‚ÄúPeople‚Äôs Referendum‚ÄĚ on February 29, 2012 in which 29,235 people (Belize‚Äôs entire population is approximately 350,000) came from all over the country to cast their votes.
In this historic vote, 96 percent of voters voted against offshore exploration and drilling.
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 ‚Äď a people‚Äôs referendum.
And the results were astounding.
Nearly 30,000 registered Belizeans ‚Äď that‚Äôs almost 20% of the country‚Äôs voting population ‚Äď 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‚Äôll keep you posted as this important story continues to unfold.
Last year, our colleagues in Belize traversed the small Caribbean nation to gather more than 20,000 signatures on a petition against offshore oil drilling off Belize‚Äôs coast and beautiful protected areas. They discovered that almost everyone they spoke to was against allowing oil rigs to invade Belize‚Äôs crystal blue waters.
According to Belizean law, those signatures should be sufficient to trigger a national referendum on the issue. But this week, the government threw a wrench in the works by rejecting more than 8,000 of the signatures. According to Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai, the signatures were turned down primarily because of poor penmanship.
Oceana‚Äôs Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, spoke to a local radio station about the news:
‚ÄúAt the moment what I feel is that Belizeans should just come out to the streets and protest. Belizeans need to get more agitated. They need to realize that their voices are being shut down‚Ä¶But not only that, we need to organize and make a mass movement. To set the agenda as it pertains to our resources, especially as it relates to our marine resources.‚ÄĚ
Oceana is not backing down in the fight to stop offshore drilling from ruining Belize‚Äôs incredible marine heritage. Stay tuned!
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
As we enter the last weeks of 2011, I‚Äôd like to thank you again for your support this year. Even as we continue to face global economic insecurity, your support has made it possible for Oceana to win important victories for the oceans.
Here are just a few of the victories you helped us achieve in 2011:
- Passing the Shark Conservation Act, which ended shark finning in the U.S.
- Banning the trade, possession and sale of shark fins in California, Washington and Oregon.
- Protecting Belize‚Äôs stunning coral reef system with a total ban on all trawling.
- Saving Chile‚Äôs endangered Humboldt penguins and blue whales by preventing the construction of a coal-fired power plant near a marine reserve.
- Ensuring that Chile‚Äôs commitment to clean up its farmed salmon industry has succeeded.
This is a special year for Oceana, because it‚Äôs also our 10th anniversary year. In 2001, our founders decided that the world needed a conservation organization that could win real policy changes for the oceans on an international scale.
Since then, Oceana has expanded to six countries, garnered more than half a million supporters and protected 1.2 million square miles of ocean, including innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and the people who depend upon and enjoy the oceans. Our founders are pleased with the results, and we hope you are as well.
We continue to have ambitious goals, not just for 2012, but the next decade. I hope you‚Äôll continue to join us for the ride. Thank you again.
- Shrimp‚Äôs Dirty Little Secret: Our new report reveals that shrimp nets are illegally killing scores of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Q&A with Diane Lane: The actress talks about her love for the oceans ‚Äď and the smell of the East River.
- A Precious Resource at Risk: What‚Äôs at stake if oil companies have their way with Belize‚Äôs crystal waters.
- Exploring the Pacific: A report from our recent West Coast expedition, including octopuses, orcas and more.
- Recipe from Jamie Oliver: The world-famous chef says you‚Äôd be mad not to try his coley korma recipe.
Check it out and let us know what you think!
This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. It‚Äôs a time to appreciate and reflect upon the good tidings of the past year.
We‚Äôve had a great year at Oceana, with numerous policy achievements accomplished for the oceans around the world. I‚Äôd like to take a moment to express my thanks for some of our more recent news.
- The two-year anniversary of our office in Belize was Nov. 15. In that short time, our Belizean colleagues have accomplished several historic ocean victories, from banning trawling in the country‚Äôs waters to protecting local fishermen from industrial fishing fleets from other countries.
- We continue to win victories for sharks around the world. This week, Florida approved a new rule that fully protects tiger and hammerhead sharks.
- Outside Magazine named Oceana as one of 30 nonprofits who deserve your dollars in what they call ‚ÄúThe Year of Giving Adventurously.‚ÄĚ
Lastly, of course, I am thankful for all the individuals, foundations and companies who have continued to support Oceana over the years. You have made it possible for us to secure meaningful, positive changes for the oceans. Thank you.
Washington Post environment and politics reporter Juliet Eilperin has a new book out today that explores the science and mythology behind the ocean‚Äôs top predators.
In ‚ÄúDemon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,‚ÄĚ Eilperin travels the globe -- she swims with whale sharks in Belize and great white sharks in South Africa -- to investigate how individuals and cultures relate to sharks and how the misperceptions surrounding them threaten their continued existence on the planet.
The book also includes a few nods to Oceana‚Äôs shark campaign work, including our work to combat the use of squalane in beauty products, and actress January Jones‚Äô visit to Capitol Hill to advocate for sharks.
But enough about us, be sure to check out NPR‚Äôs great interview with Eilperin, and catch her on tour in the coming months. You can see her full tour schedule as well as excerpts, reviews and other information about the book at www.demonfishbook.com.
Here‚Äôs a book trailer for ‚ÄúDemon Fish‚ÄĚ to whet your appetite:
Hey ocean lovers, the spring issue of our digital magazine is now available! We‚Äôre pretty excited about it; here are some of the features this time around:
*A stunning photo slideshow of Chile‚Äôs Salas y Gomez Island, where we recently helped create the world‚Äôs fourth-largest no-take marine reserve.
*Comedians Rachael Harris and Angela Kinsey join Oceana to save sea turtles.
*Victory! Belize ends trawling once and for all.
*Video of Jeff Bridges‚Äô performance at the 2010 SeaChange Summer Party.
*Trailer for Ted Danson‚Äôs new book, ‚ÄúOceana‚ÄĚ.
Check out the full issue to see the videos, photos and stories, and spread the word!
For her second ‚ÄúScared for Sharks‚ÄĚ PSA, ‚ÄúMad Men‚ÄĚ star January Jones joined Oceana in Belize to swim with the largest fish in the ocean: the whale shark.
Last spring, I traveled with Oceana to Belize‚Äôs Gladden Spit Marine Reserve to photograph and film whale sharks for the new "Scared for Sharks" PSA. It was my second time swimming with sharks, so I wasn‚Äôt as nervous, especially since whale sharks, like most sharks, are not a threat to humans.
It‚Äôs humans, in fact, who pose the greater risk to sharks because of our insatiable desire for shark fins, shark livers, shark teeth and every other shark product you can think of. Scientists say that tens of millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins, which is directly causing some shark populations around the world to crash.
I have several good news items to share with you this week.
First, I am happy to announce that our trawling ban in Belize is now official. Belize is home to a major portion of the world‚Äôs second largest reef system as a well as a thriving local fishing community, and the ban protects both these essential elements of Belizean life.
Belize is one of only a few countries in the world to completely ban trawling. We won this important victory with the help of the local community, our staff in Belize and Sir Thomas Moore, a longtime supporter of Oceana‚Äôs work around the world.
Second, we have made great strides in our campaign to save sharks. As top predators, sharks are essential to a healthy ocean, and a hundred million sharks are killed every year by the industrial fishing industry ‚Äď mostly for their fins.
Late last year, we won an incredible victory to protect sharks with the passage of the Shark Conservation Act, which banned shark finning in the United States. Now, we are on the verge of gaining two more important victories to protect sharks.