This Convention "provides for the protection of those cultural and natural properties deemed to be of outstanding universal importance." The Convention recognizes that each country holds in trust for the rest of mankind those parts of the World Heritage that are found within its boundaries. It further recognizes that the international community has an obligation to support any nation in meeting this trust should that nation's own resources be insufficient. Sovereignty of any World Heritage Site remains with the country where the site is located.
Seven marine protected areas along the barrier reef and its adjacent atolls were nominated and accepted by the World Heritage Committee to form what will now be called the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. The seven areas are Bacalar Chico, the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef, Half Moon Caye, Glovers Reef, South Water Caye, Laughing Bird Caye and the Sapodilla Cayes.
These areas were considered by the World Heritage Committee to be appropriate for adoption for the following reasons: they support outstanding examples of communities of marine plants and animals; they contain unique and unparalleled examples of natural phenomena along with areas of exceptional natural beauty; they contain the most significant natural habitats for conservation including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value.
One of the requirements for the adoption of sites onto the World Heritage list is that these sites must receive adequate protection and sustainable management. The Government of Belize has satisfied the World Heritage Committee that it is committed to this goal. Belize will also incur some valuable benefits from the adoption of these sites to the list. The positive commitment to conservation and sustainable development by the Government will undoubtedly attract the increasing interest of those travelers wishing to experience superlative tourism in pristine areas of natural beauty.
This line of protected areas stretching along the reef and out into the atolls, and often compared to a 'string of pearls', will offer such tourists a unique opportunity. Careful management of development on the cayes will also attract conscientious investors wishing to provide high quality, environmentally-friendly tourism.
Furthermore, this commitment by Belize to conservation related management will undoubtedly attract further funding and support from the scientific community and the international donor agencies.
However, this responsibility should not be treated lightly. Belize is now the custodian of part of the World's Heritage which has been formally recognized by the United Nations as being of major global significance. This is an awesome obligation but one of which this country and its people can feel justifiably proud. In a decade when the world's population is crying out for greater protection and careful management of this planet's rapidly dwindling natural resources this small nation was found to be wanting.
Belize can hold its head up high as an exemplary leader in recognizing the value of its natural resources and the need to protect one of the largest and most important reef systems on this planet.