For the past 4 years, we've shown you the Reef Report Card, which is known in the conservation community as the Meso-American Eco-Audit. It's a comprehensive assessment of all the different countries, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and what they are doing to protect the barrier reef system that spans the Atlantic coastline. Well, the local conservation community decided to grade the Belize Government on what they're doing to protect the 7 World Heritage Sites which make up a part of Belize's portion of the Barrier Reef.
For 3 years now, Belize has been put on an endangered list of countries which may lose these important environmental treasures because not enough is being done to protect them. So, they launched the Reef Score Card. They've chosen the categories, of oil, mangroves, costal development, environmental regulations, fisheries, and the World Heritage Status Value.
7News was there to see what grade the Government got. Here are few excerpts of that report:
Janelle Chanona - VP. Oceana Belize
"The map on the right is the latest map in the Ministry of Petroleum showing the existing oil concessions for Belize. As you can see there is nothing off shore which is why we are comfortable asserting that there is an effective moratorium on leases off shore and a dwindling number of oil concessions are on shore. December of course, we saw the Government announce its policy in terms of banning the specific areas of the Belize Barrier Reef and World Heritage Site, this only covers between 13 to 15 percent of our marine area."
Roberto Pott - Country Mgr. Healthy Reefs Initiative
"We need a national mangrove regulation and this needs to be done in consultation with the Belize community and it needs to be implemented. As a part of that we would want to see no-go areas within Belize in terms of mangrove clearance. We have been working on what was originally Aquatics Bill which change to Fisheries Bill and I think it's now back to Aquatics Bill maybe. Fishing the trophic level, because when we can't get snapper and gruppers now, we were looking at Parrot Fish. Luckily WCS and others recognize that that was a concern and the Fisheries Department saw the wisdom in protecting herbivores, Parrot Fish and Sergeant Fish and others, but there are other species that were starting to move into. If you talk to the people out at San Pedro, Angel Fish is showing up as fillet on their plates. This cannot continue. We cannot continue to fish species without realizing the impact that we are having."
Valentino Shal - Representative - WWF
"We would also like to see that sufficient resources and we are talking having the right budget to carry out the implementation of the coastal zone management plan. The integrated coastal zone management plan, it makes a little sense if you have a plan but don't have the resources to get it implemented. We would also like to see the development of a comprehensive national sustainable tourism bill."
So, to clarify, score of 1 is pretty much like an F, a 2 is a passing grade, and 3 the best grade. As you saw, Belize did not get any 3's in any of the 5 categories. The conservationists did give the Belize Barrier Reef an "F" in the area of Environmental Regulations. That's that area where the Department of Environment and the National Environmental Appraisal Committee is being assessed, and the representative from BELPO said that those Government departments failed miserably:
Candy Gonzalez - Representative - BELPO
"Under the environmental impact assessment regulations there is supposed to be public participation in developments that require an environmental impact assessment. The EIA regulations don't define completely public participation. To this day I believe if you ask the chief environmental officer what the public consultation is and ask for the definition that's in the EIA regulations, he will give you the wrong definition. And public hearings are supposed to be held on the things that are of national importance and public hearings are supposed to be very formal. There's supposed to be a hearing with neutral parties listening to the public. Now, we have only had actually 2 public hearings in the history of the regulations and both of those had to do with the Chalillo Dam and the Vaca Dam and neither one of them had a neutral party in the front. There are a lot of problems with NEAK, because it's so much under the control of with every political party that is in power and very little control in terms of who the stakeholders actually are and the NGO's that are involved. With the decision of the Department of the Environment who gives no feedback as to how those decisions are made. So, unfortunately when you put all of this together we ended up having to give a score of 1, in terms of legislation. In some areas if I could have given a lower score I would have."
According to the presenters, a lack of political will, and a lack or resources are two of the major challenges facing the authorities responsible for environmental conservation.
A Reef Scorecard for Belize’s Barrier Reef System
Today, various entities dedicated to the important work of preserving and protecting our natural heritage presented what they are calling a reef scorecard. It’s all about getting Belize’s Barrier Reef System off the World Heritage Site’s endangered list, where it has languished since 2009. So is enough being done to ensure that happens anytime soon? News Five’s Mike Rudon attended G.O.B.’s report card day and has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
Belize’s Barrier Reef System is responsible for fifteen percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. But it is in danger. It’s a World Heritage Site, but it’s been on the endangered list since 2009 and obviously not enough has been done to get it off.
Valentino Shal, World Wildlife Fund
“What we are doing here today is to look at what needs to be done to get the Belize Barrier Reef System off the endangered list and also to ensure that it is a healthy and functioning resource. The indicators of this score card are based on the exact same indicators that are included in the desired state of conservation report that the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO gave to the government. So this is a report that outlines all of the indicators and issues that the government must address in order for it to be reinstated.”
This scorecard is really a report card of how effective government has been in implementing policies and actions to address the indicators. A score of one signified major concerns. A score of two – Some concerns and a score of three – good progress. None of the six indicators received a three, but five of six received a two – meaning that there has been some progress, but not enough. The first indicator was oil, specifically offshore drilling.
Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA Belize
“Roughly eighty-five percent of our exclusive economic zone and our territorial waters would be vulnerable to offshore oil activity if the moratorium was ever lifted, and that really is the key takeaway for where we are on oil that there is pressing need for us to get the moratorium formalized for the government to outline the specific conditions under which that moratorium would be lifted and that is why we have come concerns regarding progress.”
Mangroves was the second, particularly the unregulated removal of mangroves from sensitive zones.
Roberto Pott, Country Coordinator, Healthy Reefs
“We have to be able to catalog and recognize the areas that are sensitive in terms of our fishing industry, our tourism industry and in terms of shoreline protection. There is little to no incentive for development to maintain mangroves intact and so we need to revisit that and see how we can improve that.”
The third indicator was Coastal Development and Tourism.
“In February of this year the Cabinet adopted the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan after several years. It’s a little late but still good. We welcome that. But at the same time it’s clear that there are insufficient resources being put towards the implementation of the plan, so we have a problem there.”
The fourth – Fisheries.
“We were so optimistic when the Coastal Zone Plan came through, at least I was optimistic that when the plan passed the Fisheries Bill would have followed shortly. We have to give recognition to the government that they did give the Managed Access Program started, and that’s major progress. It’s a major milestone for the region and maybe the world. But we need to get the policy in place that would support Managed Access.”
And the fifth – World Heritage Value.
Amanda Burgos-Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society
“Yes, we have mentioned the Integrated Coastal Zone management Plan and the fact that that policy is now Cabinet endorsed, but it’s difficult to enforce it, so it needs some kind of legal teeth. What we really were recommending is that within the World Heritage Site that there is an Act or a Bill that can guide development. That was one of the triggers that actually led to our inscription on the endangered list, because we had development within some of the more pristine sites within our World Heritage.”
While those areas received scores of two, the area of Environmental Regulations received a definite score of one – meaning major concern.
Candy Gonzalez, President, Belize Institute of Environmental Law & Policy
“We can’t applaud the Environmental Protection Act like we used to be able to. We’ve had a lot of promises that it’s going to be improved, but until those things are actually put into law, then they’re just words and that’s the problem with a lot of the things called Cabinet decisions and Memorandums and understandings of one kind or another. They can be made in a day and they can be changed in a day.”
According to the organizers and presenters of the scorecard, it’s about making sure that all of us realize that we play a role.
“Government knows…we have regular meetings and regular conversations with our government partners to consult and to talk about how we move forward from here, but it’s just as important for the public to be constantly updated with what is happening, why it’s not happening, how it needs to happening, what are we talking about long term. We are custodians of this but we’re not just custodians, we are direct beneficiaries – every single one of us through all these goods and services and it’s about really thinking about long terms and balancing everything that we have to balance to ensure that we can always benefit from this.”
2016 Healthy Reefs Report Card: Belize Barrier Reef ‘endangered’
On Thursday, July 7th, various entities dedicated to the important work of preserving and protecting Belize’s natural heritage presented the Belize Barrier Reef scorecard for 2016. The purpose of the evaluation is to get Belize’s Reef System off the World Heritage Site’s endangered category. The reef system has been on that list since 2009, and according to the results this year much more needs to be done before its removal from the vulnerable category.
The Belize Barrier Reef runs parallel to the coast of Belize for about 185 miles and is responsible for 15% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, this great valuable natural resource is in danger. According to Valentino Shal from the World Wildlife Fund they are looking at all that needs to be done in order to get the Barrier Reef off the endangered list, while at the same time ensuring that it is a healthy and functioning resource. “The indicators of this score card are based on the exact same indicators that are included in the desired state of conservation report that we the World Heritage Committee and The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave to the government,” said Shal. He added that unless the government addresses the issues highlighted in the indicators, the reef will continue to be considered vulnerable.
The report card details how effective the Government of Belize (GOB) has been in implementing policies and actions to address the issue. The scores are divided into three points. A score of 1 indicates major concerns; a score of 2 indicates some concerns and 3 means good progress. In the report card, none of the six indicators given to GOB received a score of 3. But five of the six received a score of 2. This is good news to some extent as it indicated that there has been some progress.
The indicators that received a score of two were Offshore Oil Drilling, Mangrove Conservation, Costal development and Tourism, Fisheries and Wold Heritage Value. Meanwhile the worst score was regarding Environmental Regulation, which is of major concern.
Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana Belize spoke about the threats of the first indicator and why it is important to get a better score on it. “Roughly 85% of our exclusive economic zone and our territorial waters would be vulnerable to offshore oil activity if the moratorium was ever lifted,” said Chanona. “This is the key takeaway for where we are on oil, that there is pressing need for us to get the moratorium formalized for the government to outline the specific conditions under which that moratorium would be lifted. That is where the concerns are beginning to arise.”
According to Roberto Pott, Country Coordinator for Healthy Reefs, the unregulated removal of mangroves from sensitive zones is also an issue. “We have to be able to catalogue and recognize the areas that are sensitive in terms of our fishing industry, our tourism industry, and in terms of shoreline protection,” said Pott. “There is little to no incentive for development to maintain mangroves intact and so we need to revisit that and see how we can make improvements.”
Belize Audubon Society representative, Executive Director Amanda Burgos-Acosta, says that one of the reasons why the reef system is still considered in great danger is due to the little enforcement on development within the World Heritage Site. “It will be crucial to have an Act or Bill that can guide development. That was one of the triggers that actually led to our inscription on the endangered list,” said Burgos-Acosta.
Even with the negative score, the Environmental Protection Act was applauded for having contributed to some of the progress so far. Candy Gonzalez, President of the Belize Institute of Environment Law and Policy said that improvement in the future is possible if the Act is properly enforced. “Until these things are put into law we can see major changes. But if they remain as words then we will not move forward and that is the problem with a lot of the things called Cabinet decisions and Memorandums,” said Gonzalez. “They can be made in a day and they can be changed in a day.”
At the end of the presentations, the organizers and presenters of the scorecard indicated that in order for the Belize Barrier Reef report to improve, all Belizeans need to do their part. It is everyone’s job to ensure that future generations benefit from this valuable natural resource. They hope that next year the results are opposite to the current ones.
The decision to keep the Belize Barrier Reef on the endangered list was made even more official on Tuesday, July 12th during a United Nation (UN) session in Istanbul, Turkey where representatives from 192 countries attended. The UN urged protection for World Heritage Sites and thus, the Belize Barrier Reef will remain to be on the list of World Heritage Sites in danger.
The decision was taken after the imminent threats of oil exploration, damaging coastal construction and pollution. At the meeting, Belize was recognized for its commitments to protect the reef by promising to ban oil exploration in the World Heritage Site. However, they asked that such promises be enacted in law. “We are moving in the right direction with this decision, but it’s a long road to ensure that both the reef and the people who rely on it are protected into the future,” said Nadia Bood, a World Wide Fund for Nature- Belize Reef Scientist.
She also stated that WWF will welcome an expert monitoring mission by the end of 2016 to assess the government’s progress. “An oil spill anywhere within Belize’s waters would have a devastating effect on the reef and on the national economy,” she said. “We need to prioritize the reef’s long-term value, rather than put at risk its sustainable development potential.”
Last year, the government of Belize announced a policy intended to ban offshore oil exploration within the reef system and one kilometre buffer zone. This effectively should result in a total of 2,117 KM2 being protected, but leaves 85% of the country’s waters open to future oil extraction. WWF calls for a full ban on all offshore oil exploration and extraction to protect the reef and the livelihoods of 190,000 people which is almost half of the population of Belize who depend on it to make a living.
A report produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development earlier this year found that nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration, mining, large- scale infrastructure projects and industrial-scale logging or fishing. Some of these can be related to Belize and WWF argues that governments should ensure that no harmful industrial activities are permitted in World Heritage sites or in areas that could negatively affect them.
San Pedro Sun