In March 2009 representatives from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites committee visited Belize. Their unexpected visit was a surprised to the Government of Belize but was necessary for UNESCO after they received information that developments of concern were taking place within the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site.
According to UNESCO they arrived on a special mission to meet with stakeholders, listen to the many issues, collect information and make a report to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Committee. While here, UNESCO World Heritage Center Programme Specialist Marc Patry told The San Pedro Sun that there is evidence of detrimental human impact within at least two of the sites in the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. This impact, mainly caused by development, had raised serious questions from the World Heritage Committee. The two sites of concern are the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.
The report has been published and in a correspondence sent to Belize’s UNESCO Ambassador on May 27th it was stated that Belize’s World Heritage Sites are poorly protected. According to the report, “there is no clear recognition and understanding of the management implications for a world heritage property.” So what does this mean for Belize’s Barrier Reef World Heritage Site? The letter continues by saying that, “the property is faced with specific and proven imminent danger, and should be considered for immediate inscription on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”
Even though it’s a recommendation to the World Heritage Site Committee, the decision is imminent. The decision will be deliberated starting next week at the 33rd Session of the World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain starting June 22nd. What will those decisions mean? Back in March Patry explained that it means that there is a problem on this site and it needs focused attention by the national authorities and perhaps appeals for international support is in order to deal with the problems within the sites.
It is not certain how the Government of Belize will react to those decisions but The San Pedro Sun will be following this story very closely.