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Some 20 top marine scientists from around the world will gather this week in Belize City to review the status of the country’s marine biodiversity and the potential impacts that oil exploration and drilling could have on the local marine ecology.

The University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre and its Sea Around Us Project, in partnership with Oceana in Belize, will host the two-day Marine Conference on June 29th and 30th, 2011 at the Biltmore Hotel, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., under the Theme “Too Precious for Drilling: The Marine Bio-Diversity of Belize.”

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Boston University, and the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and Belize itself will discuss the country’s marine assets. Leading the international group is Dr. Daniel Pauly, founder of the “Sea Around Us” Project and current professor at the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre and Zoology Department. During his visit Dr. Pauly will host private presentations with key political players and decision-makers.

The Conference aims at bringing greater attention on the work carried out by the local and international experts, researchers and scientists on the various aspects of Belize’s marine bio-diversity; the results of which will be presented and discussed in an effort to aid in the greater development of Belize’s marine resources. Among the scientists’ chief concerns is how an oil spill would affect the region’s biodiversity and economic gains from Belize’s fishing and tourism industries.

Belize boasts bottlenose dolphins, the largest number of Antillean manatees in the world, a breeding ground for at least 7 different species of sharks and rays, hundreds of different types of sponges, and fisheries for groupers, snappers, grunts, and other reef fishes. In 1996, UNESCO declared the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage Site. The Sea Around Us Project was created to document large-scale impacts on marine ecosystems of the world, and to find solutions to the challenges they pose.

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20 marine scientists visit Turneffe Atoll

Twenty scientists, who have been doing intensive research in Belize for years, shared their findings at a two day conference sponsored by OCEANA. The scientists focused on the potential dangers to the ecosystem due to oil drilling and exploration. At the close of their visit, they went on an all day tour of the Turneffe Flats. The one-day sea expedition was aimed at highlighting the Jewel’s reef system while sensitizing the group on plans for the atoll.

Niall Gillett, Communications Officer, OCEANA

“We took them out to Turneffe Flats. They had a great time snorkeling and actually getting a chance to see the reef; many of them have seen the reef they, have worked on the reef before but this was the first time in Belize’s history that we’ve actually had all these scientists all in one place all at the same time. Part of the significance of this trip was also, other seeing the beautiful reef, was that Mr. Craig Hayes, Dr. Craig Hayes had a chance to explain to the visiting group that there is a move to make the entire Turneffe Atoll a marine protected area and they are working on that. And it is significant especially because that area falls under the, one of the Oil Exploration Contracts.”

Shari Williams, Communications Officer, NICH
“Why should the people of Belize support this effort?”

Dr. Craig Hayes, Owner Turneffe Flats
“A Marine Reserve?”

Shari Williams

Dr. Craig Hayes, Owner Turneffe Flats
“I look at it as a management tool; it’s an important management tool that the Fisheries Department, and Coastal Zone and other governmental agencies have wisely made available. And it has tremendous potential to make sure that Turneffe is managed for the good of all Belizeans.”

Shari Williams
“For Belizeans who have no clue of what an atoll is and no clue of what the reef looks like. What advice do you have for these Belizeans in terms of supporting or not supporting?”

Dr. Craig Hayes
“Well first I would advise them to come and see because I am surprised how few people of Belize have been to the cayes and particularly the atolls. So any chance they come and visit they should come and visit, they should see what a magnificent spot this is.”

Audrey Matura, Vice President, OCEANA
“I really wish I can find ways, monies, people who are willing for us to do more programs to get our kids out here to see these things. They have to see it, they just have to see it because it’s when they see it they will fall in love with it and when they fall in love with it there is no money that can be dangled in front of them to realize that that must remain ours, this must be preserve. This is our pride and identity.”

Channel 5 Belize
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