The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), the world’s second largest coral reef, has been removed from the UNESCO World Heritage Center list of World Heritage in Danger. The reef was first added to the list in 2009.
The World Heritage Committee decided to take the reef off the list during their 42nd annual meeting, held in Manama, Bahrain. The BBRRS was considered endangered due to unsustainable development on the islands and cays surrounding the site. Also, oil and gas activities threatened the reef’s fragile ecosystem.
The World Heritage Committee gave Belize credit for safeguarding the site by introducing a ban on oil exploration in 2017 and strengthening forestry regulations to protect the mangroves. "In the last two years, especially in the last year, the government of Belize really has made a transformational shift," said Fanny Douvere, coordinator of the marine program at Unesco's World Heritage Centre.
The reef system in Belize, which stretches over 200 miles, consists of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. The BBRRS is home to threatened species, such as the green, hawk-billed, and loggerhead sea turtles, the West Indian manatee, and the American marine crocodile. The reef is also a vital economic resource given that 190,000 people subsist off fishing and tourism, according to the WWF.
“Today’s removal of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from the List of World Heritage in Danger is a pivotal moment for the World Heritage Convention and the oceans,” said Dr. Mechtild Rossler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
“The conservation leadership of the government of Belize has brought a landmark shift for the world’s second largest coral reef system at a time when coral reefs are severely threatened by climate change. Today’s outcome shows the power of collective action among government, UNESCO, IUCN and civil society and sets an example for the rest of the world,” he added.
Between fishing and tourism, Belize estimates the reef generates roughly $37 million a year. "We are happy that in this instance the government and the people decided that this is something that we can't risk," Belize Deputy Prime Minister, Patrick Faber, said.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee convenes once a year to designate new sites around the world for their natural, scientific, or cultural significance. The committed added 19 new sites this year, which are listed on the UNESCO website.