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Coral at risk from oil exploration
Latinamerica Press
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Government studies the elimination of restrictions on oil industry throughout the totality of Belize’s marine territory.

New regulations for oil exploration off the coast of Belize that are being studied by the authorities, threaten the coral reefs, fishing and tourism warned the environmental organization, Oceana, dedicated to preserving the oceans of the world.

According to the Oceana office in Belize, all restrictions covering approximately 99 percent of the marine territory in Belize would be eliminated, including seven sites considered to World Heritage and protected zones.

According to information shared by the press, the proposal would lift all restrictions on the oil industry, but it has not received final approval.

Oceana contends that “a map released in February, 2010, by the Geology and Petroleum Department confirmed that massive oil exploration concessions have been granted throughout the country of Belize — including in marine reserves and national parks.”

“Offshore drilling of this magnitude would be devastating to Belize’s tourism and fishing industry, our marine food security and the viability of coastal communities. Oceana believes the process should be transparent, with input from all relevant parties and the general public,” the organization said.

Tourism, which generates 25 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Belize, will be one of the sectors most affected.  Also, about 200,000 people, almost 60 percent of the country’s population, live in coastal communities depending on tourism and fishing.

Harmful impacts
For environmental experts, any oil spill will affect the cays of white sand and blue water, as well as threaten the coral reefs that serve as barriers to hurricanes, heavy waves and rising sea level. Also, the coral reefs are home to a great diversity of marine flora and fauna.

Past explorations did not find any petroleum in the coastal waters of Belize and the fall of international oil prices put the brakes on this kind of initiatives.

Nevertheless, Janelle Chanona, Oceana representative in Belize, states that although petroleum wasn’t found, oil exploration can also have a harmful impact.

“Drilling exploratory wells can introduce mud into ecosystems, for example, and seismic testing can interfere with dolphins´ ability to use sonar to identify food and predators,” she indicated.

Fishing, which 20,000 people depend upon, and represents 15 percent of the GDP, will be affected by the petroleum industry as well as by climate change.

In March the Project on Climate Adaptation and Marine Conservation of Belize began to be implemented. Its objective is to adopt measures to adapt to climate change and marine conservation.

 “We will concentrate on protected marine areas, but at the same time we will begin to focus on economic production activities because sometimes people do not see the alternatives, they don’t believe in what is attempting to be done.”

“We are going to look at the marine protected areas, but at the same time we are going to start the livelihood activities, because sometimes if you don’t show people the alternatives, then they will not believe in what you are trying to do,” said the project coordinator, Sandra Grant.

Fishermen and other people dependent on fishing will receive economic benefits planting seaweed, sea cucumber harvesting and diversification of business into value-added products, commented Grant
. —Latinamerica Press.

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