Belize’s future dependent on threatened Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site
The extent to which Belize’s economy depends on tourism generated by the threatened Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site has been revealed for the first time today by a new report launched by WWF and partner organizations. The report, Natural Heritage, Natural Wealth, aims to highlight the incredible resource the country is at risk of losing.
Home to almost 1,400 species, the Belize Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. Unfortunately, it is currently in danger of suffering irreversible damage due to harmful coastal destruction and the absence of a solid regulatory framework to ensure its protection.
The report quantified the tourism benefits the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site provides to Belize through an assessment of four of its seven marine protected areas (MPAs). The four MPAs (Blue Hole & Half Moon Caye Natural Monuments; Glover’s Reef Atoll Marine Reserve; and Laughing Bird Caye National Park) were found to provide up to US $19M/yr in economic benefits from tourism recreation – a significant socio-economic contribution that reflects just a fragment of the Belize Barrier Reef’s total socio-economic value to Belize.
Belize’s economy has long been heavily dependent on tourism. In 2016, the Caribbean region as a whole drew more than 29 million tourists, many of them attracted to its beaches and coral reefs. More than half of Belize’s population (about 190,000 people) are supported by incomes generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries.
“This study highlights the central contribution of reef-generated tourism to Belize’s economy. The World Heritage site is not just irreplaceable, it is vital to the country’s future prosperity. Belize’s government should be doing everything it can to protect this incredible natural and economic resource,” said Nadia Bood, Mesoamerican Reef Scientist at WWF in Belize.
In June this year, WWF published a scorecard evaluating progress by the Belizean government in implementing promised protections for the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site, which since 2009 has languished on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The scorecard found the reef had not received necessary protections.
“The Belizean government’s announcement, in August this year, of a moratorium on oil drilling is encouraging progress. However, the reef is still at risk. Legislation to ban the sale of public lands in the World Heritage site, and regulation to protect its mangroves, are both urgently needed. This report provides a powerful economic argument to sit alongside the ecological one,” added Bood.
“The health of our reef is vital to our future – we either act now to protect it, or we risk losing it forever.”
Other benefits provided by the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site include productive fisheries as well as a range of important ecosystem services, including vital protection against hurricanes.
“Protection of the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage site from industrial threats is essential for the sustainable development of Belize and will enable the reef to come off the UNESCO In Danger List and provide long-term benefits for Belize’s people.
“In the short term, failure to adequately protect the reef risks the site’s World Heritage status and a corresponding negative impact on tourism. In the long term, irreversible damage to the reef would severely harm Belize’s economy,” said Elena Khishchenko, Global Campaigns Manager at WWF International.