COALITION GROUP CALLS FOR BAN ON OFFSHORE DRILLING
Today is observed as World Oceans Day. And while many organizations globally join in acknowledging the importance of the world’s oceans in Belize organizations have joined forces to stop oil exploration in offshore and protected areas. Today, as a highlight for World Oceans Day these organization launched the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage in a forum addressing the issue. APAMO has been advocating for a ban on oil exploration at the Sarstoon Temash National Park and other protected areas, but according to Coordinator, Yvette Alonzo, the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many more organizations have expressed concern on the impact of offshore drilling.
Yvette Alonzo; Coordinator, APAMO
“While we were trying to meet with the government to discuss the issue at Sarstoon Temash National Park this issue just brought it to light and we got an overflow of people asking what they can do. For our case it is even more concerning because of the barrier reef which, as you know, the tourism and the fisheries industry depend heavily on. It supports a large number of Belizeans livelihoods are from those industries. These organizations, I think it was five of them, came out around the same time calling for a ban on offshore oil exploration and within protected areas. We decided to join efforts because it is an issue of national concern and it is a huge issue; it is oil, we are talking about big companies that will do anything they can to get what they want.”
A Coalition was formed which then organized the today’s forum where presentations on the environmental impacts, economic aspects and legal implications on the issue were made.
“We are calling for a ban on oil exploration and drilling offshore and in protected areas because these areas have been set aside because they serve important ecological functions and ecosystem services such as protecting water sheds so that we have clean water and clean air. There are climate sinks that mitigate climate change and we have the barrier reef which is a world heritage sight and it is used to market our tourism industry.”
Since the initial organization got together, with about seven members, they have been inviting others to join in the effort. Today there are over twenty organizations that have signed on and in this afternoon’s forum even more organizations pledged their support. And while it is Oceans Day, Melanie McField of Healthy Reefs Initiative says the oil spill in the Gulf is no reason for celebration.
Melanie McField; Healthy Reefs Initiative
“This is World Ocean Day and so we say happy ocean day to the ocean but it is really not a happy day. Even without the things that are going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now the ocean is faced with serious trouble on a global scale. Biodiversity is being lost at a scale that is unparalleled in possibly the planet’s history. We are seeing what is being called the next extinction event on the planet. Choral reefs are the home to the largest biodiversity in the ocean, when you look at the major groups of organisms; the fila that occur the plane the choral reef have the greatest filetic diversity of any ecosystem on earth. All of that is what we cherish when we talk about our great barrier reef here in Belize and that need to conserve it and that is what is greatly threatened by the oil industry.”
Alonzo says that while they are trying to prevent any further oil exploration in protected areas in the Country, government has acknowledged that there is a need to look at the issue despite having granted some seventeen concessions.
“The Prime Minister has it very clear they have agreements signed and that it might be difficult to get out of these agreements and it may also be costly for the country. Although he conceded that we need to look at the issue because of the environmental impacts but we stand strong on our call for a complete ban because we feel that these areas are too sensitive to allow any oil exploration in them. We will continue to pursue this issue with the government and hopefully get an opportunity to dialog with them and present to them our case.”
A petition was also passed in today’s forum and Alonzo says that they will also be having an online survey to see how Belizeans feel about oil exploration in offshore and protected areas. She adds that they will also be doing more public awareness activities countrywide.