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.