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Press Release - June 4, 2010 – World Ocean Day - Over eight NGO’s have joined forces to form a coalition to bring about awareness about the implications of oil exploration and drilling offshore and in protected areas in Belize.
As part of World Ocean Day the coalition will unveil its official name, membership and position on the ongoing debate of oil drilling and exploration offshore and in protected areas. Since APAMO, COLA, OCEANA, Healthy Reef Initiative and BELPO went public with their position on the issue of offshore exploration and drilling there has been a pouring of support from organizations and members of the public, which has spurred the need for the Coalition to be formed. Since then its membership has been growing with APAMO alone bringing on board its 14 members which are other local and community based NGO’s.
Several other environmental and social partners have since signed up to join the coalition to address their concern with a united voice. The coalition is studying the socio-economic impact and the legal implications of the proposed oil exploration and drilling off our shores and in our terrestrial and marine protected areas with a view to advice the government on the need to reconsider its present policy and ban these activities in our waters and protected areas.
The general public is invited to be a part of this historic event which will be held June 8, 2010 from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at the Radisson Fort George Caracol Room. Please be seated by 1:30pm.
As part of the forum there will be a presentation on issues that need to be addressed in relation to oil exploration and drilling both offshore and in protected areas, on land and in sea. Presenters will speak about the legal realities in Belize, the economic impact to the existing tourism and fishing sectors and the environmental implications for Belizeans.
The forum will also be the occasion at which the winners of the Oceana World Ocean Day Essay competition will be announced and awarded their respective prizes.
This forum is being held in partnership with APAMO, COLA and Healthy Reef Initiative and co-sponsored by OAK Foundation and KREM RADIO & TV, which will also be airing the event live.

***Contact Persons: Yvette Alonso - 6717202 / Audrey Matura-Shepherd: 610-0702***

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B.T.I.A. joins Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage

Audrey Matura Shephard

Several environmental groups are demanding a moratorium on oil concessions. So far APAMO, BELPO, COLA and Oceana have formed a super environmental coalition to protect the ocean, the reef and land from the devastating effects of a possible oil spill. The group which is now called the Belize Coalition to Save our National Heritage has received a powerful ally that is sure to lend a booming voice when it now sends its concerns to the government. OCEANA Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura Shepherd, says that the six hundred members of the Belize Tourism Industry Association have joined the coalition. It's a gigantic development because those members are the backbone of the tourism industry. Matura Shepherd said more will be announced at the forum which will be held this Tuesday afternoon at the Radisson.

Audrey Matura Shepherd, V.P., OCEANA Belize

"We hope to unveil all the different small, medium size, and large organizations that are coming on board. So apart from unveiling it, we also have a presentation, we have updated information that we think the average Belizean people need to know because we find that important to all of this is that the average Belizean person does not know that we've had makeshift oil rigs in our waters since 1999. We could tell them more about the power sharing agreements, the legislation. And like I had promised at the last forum, we'll be looking more in depth at other things and we actually have something that I like to call the final piece of information that will greatly affect the sovereignty of our country as it relates to oil exploration. Our coalition will be named The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage. We think that our natural heritage speaks volumes for all we have-our marine resources and our protected resources on land. And it gives a sense of pride, dignity and patriotism because it is our heritage; it's for the people of Belize. It's not for any one administration or government."

Jose Sanchez

"I know last week, there was Cola, there was Oceana, APAMO and I believe BELPO. Do you have any new members to speak of?"

Audrey Matura Shepherd

"Yes, we have several new members throughout the country, but I think the one that really comes on board and brings representation throughout the country only through its membership is the B.T.I.A. We had gotten an inclination from our forum and you were there that those people, all of them, opposed offshore drilling or oil exploration in our protected areas. Well after much consultation, and I am glad that they did it through consultation, all chapters we have been told through a letter from the B.T.I.A. President, Miss Dionne Miranda, all chapters have voted unanimously that they must come on board and B.T.I.A. must represent their position on this coalition and we are most grateful for that. Because it is very clear, whether it is on our terrestrial area or in our waters, they stand to lose a lot is the tourism sector."

Jose Sanchez

"They have hundred of members in that association right?"

Audrey Matura Shepherd

"Yes I understand it's about six hundred members they have."

The forum called The Belize Case for Offshore Drilling will take place at two pm on Tuesday in the Caracol Room of the Radisson Fort George. The winners of the Oceana essay competition will also be announced during the ceremony.

Channel 5

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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.

Yvette Alonzo 

"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.

Yvette Alonzo 

"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.


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World Oceans Day Celebrated

Appreciating the wonders of Belize's reef at Goff's Caye

    The celebration of "World Ocean Day 2010" kicked off with a day of activities on Goff's Caye, on Saturday June 5th, encouraging appreciation and conservation of the wonders of our Barrier Reef under the theme "OCEANS of Life!"

    The event saw the participation of over 190 individuals. Among the participants were 150 students from St. John's College, Galen University, the University of Belize among other Junior Colleges; members of the media and a Lion fish co-coordinator. Organizers were Armeid Thompson, Social Scientist and Outreach for the Healthy Reefs Initiative, Ms. Rosalie Constantine, Belize Coastal Zone Management.

    The day was filled with various activities including a Rainbow Parrotfish / Lionfish hunt; this activity saw members from Healthy Reef Initiative along with officials from Belize Coastal Zone and twelve students, primarily from the University of Belize, on a 52 minute snorkel through a one mile radius in front of Goff's Caye, monitoring the waters in the attempt to allocate, capture and destroy Lionfish and monitor the appearance of Rainbow Parrotfish in the waters surrounding Goff's Caye. After the 52-minute monitoring exercise, Ms. Thompson indicated that her and her team spotted no Lionfish, however she was happy to report that they did see over 94 different species of parrotfish ranging between 11 - 35 centimeters. This, she mentioned was a good indication that the Lionfish is not prevalent in the waters.

    Another activity that saw the participation of six teams was the sand sculpture contest. Competitors used their creativity in creating various sculptors depicting themes such as the effect of oil exploration to our marine ecosystem, the rainforest and various marine lives.

    Swimmers and non-swimmers were invited on snorkeling tours. Non-swimmers were paired up with swimmers, under the caring eyes of Emicell and William, Spanish Bay Resort tour guides. The guides were instrumental in providing snorkelers with an educational guided tour of the Belize Barrier Reef, pointing out the different marine life that reside within the corals, showing and explaining the difference between a live reef and a dead reef and pointing out some effects of Coral Bleaching. Other activities included a swimming race and coral bleaching watch.

    The purpose of the day's activities was to raise awareness within participants about the world's oceans and provide them with an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the reefs that line our shores and stress on conservation of our very important resources. The San Pedro Sun would like to offer thanks and appreciation to Island Divers Supplies, for providing us with snorkel equipment and the use of a very impressive Under Water Camera, which contributed immensely to making this experience a successful one.

San Pedro Sun

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