Today is observed as World Oceans Day, and Oceana, the largest international organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation, joined hundreds of other organizations across the Globe in honoring the world's oceans.
In Belize, Oceana used the occasion to bring attention to what it says is the tremendous value of the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef.
At Oceana Belize's headquarters in the city, an official unveiling took place of what the NGO calls its secret weapon in the fight against Offshore Drilling.
Jim McFadzean Reporting:
OCEANA today unveiled its new weapon against Offshore Oill Drilling in Belize. It's a 15 seater mobile van that will carry the NGO's message across the nation, in its educational campaign to save Belize's Great Barrier Reef and in the words of Oceana's VP, Audrey Matura "Belizean Livelihood".
To emphasize the reef's importance to Belizean livelihood, local expert on the reef, Dr. Melanie McField says the reef currently contributes One Billion dollars to the country's economy and if protected should provide billions more for future generations.
Dr. Melanie McField - Healthy Reef's Initiative
"Nature has blessed us with this unimaginable precious resource - this resource that sustains us with food, shelter, medicines. The true value of the reef cannot be known in this point in time, because we have unexplored species. Every year in the last few years, we uncovered, at least 10 new species on the reef. Many of these have medicinal properties and values that maybe the next cure for cancer is right there in the reef. They recklessness of taking a resource with this kind of value and this wealth untold, and transferring it into dollars, and it's like the song said - some people love more than us, or than the potential that the reef has to sustain us into the future. I think it's really irresponsible."
Oceana's international expert, Jackie Savitz a senior scientist says despite last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion that pumped 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean and gulf, and devastated the livelihoods of thousands in the US, the oil industry is still making record profits. Savitz says Belize has a unique opportunity right now "to not start drilling in the first place."
Jackie Savitz - Senior Scientist, Oceana's International Expert
"The only way to keep oil out of your water, is to stop the drill. In Belize, the way to do it is don't start drilling in the first place. I know you all hear me on this; I wish we hadn't started drilling in the United States. I wish we hadn't let this dirty, dangerous industry take hold of our country. I wished we hadn't empowered them - an industry that really doesn't care about our lives and our livelihoods. During the spill, this industry had the audacity to ask for more drilling. They still chanting, "Drill, baby, Drill." Oceana is fighting to stop the drill in the United States, but its an uphill battle. In the US, oil is big business; they've invested in politics. They've invested in public relations; they've shaped the message; they've convinced a lot of people that it's the way to go. In Belize, you don't have to buy their myths. You have a chance to stop it before it starts, before it coats your beaches, before it wrecks your fisheries, before it ruins your reefs. Big oil takes what it want's, and it doesn't give anything back. Don't think you're going to get cheaper gas out of this deal. They will take that oil, and they will sell it on the world market for the highest price that they get, just like they do with the oil from the United States. Don't believe them if they say it's safe; you've seen with your very own eyes what happens when we drill. You saw what happened last summer."
And so what if an oil spill was to happen in Belize? That's what Oceana Belize attempted to act out in a creative skit presented at today's event, illustrating the country's inability to deal with a possible oil spill that could devastate the country's pristine waters and ecosystem.
"The idea that we can respond to an offshore spill is a myth. You saw that last summer; it took them 87 days to get that under control, and that's because they really haven't invested much in response. They've invested in developing their drilling technology so they can drill better and faster, and make more money, and drill further out, and deeper. But they haven't invested in response. their ability to respond to a spill is the same as it was back in 1979, when the Ixtoc spill happened in Mexico. And they haven't invested in clean-up either. Their idea of clean-up was dumping millions of gallons of another toxic chemical into the water, to try to disperse the oil, and now what we have is a nasty toxic soup that's still sitting in many parts of the gulf of Mexico today."
Shamika Gentle - Winner, Oceana Poetry Contest
"We want it to last for all generations, and will fight to protect it because it's God's creation. I love my reef with all my heart, so Belizeans, let's all do our part protect the Barrier Reef."
Devon Jones - Winner, Oceana Song Contest
Oceans Day was also observed by the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute.