Belize begins seismic surveys at the World Natural Heritage Site of the Belize Barrier Reef
In late October 2016, Belize announced plans to conduct seismic investigations to detect offshore oilfields in the Caribbean Sea. This exploration, which involves using seismic airguns, will take place just a kilometre away from the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which UNESCO has listed as a “World Heritage List in Danger”. Nevertheless, these seismic investigation had already began on October 19th.
"An oil spill within the waters of Belize would be a catastrophe for the coral reef – which is recognised as a World Natural Heritage Site – and its diversity of species. Belize plays host to a unique treasure trove of nature here,” warned WWF Germany's marine expert in German. According to the WWF, the oil spill could even affect adjacent parts of the Mesoamerican Reef system, which extends to Mexico, Guatamala and Honduras.
The planned exploration work will threaten the sensitive marine life. “The sound of the seismic testing is twice as loud as a jet taking off at a distance of 100 metres. This tremendous noise can lead to deafness in whales and dolphins, which are sensitive to sound, and interfere with their communication,” said Lutter.
“It is scandalous that the planned sound tests will take place precisely when whales and whale sharks migrate through the waters.” The sound of the tests can be heard over an area of more than 300,000 square kilometres and at distances of up to 4,000 square kilometres.
A year ago, Belize had committed to ban the exploration for offshore oil production within the World Natural Heritage Site. In July, UNESCO had asked Belize to expand the protection zone (which served as a buffer) and better protect the reef.
The largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere can be found in Belize’s coastal waters. This is where 1,400 animal and plant species co-exist, together with endangered sea turtles, rays, sharks and dolphins.
According to the WWF, the people living in the coastal areas also depend on healthy ecosystems to support their livelihood. About 190,000 people – comprising half of Belize’s population, work in the fishing or tourism sectors. The Belize Barrier Reef forms the basis for both these industries.
More information: www.wwf.de