At the sitting of the House of Representatives today, was the introduction of the Petroleum Operations (Maritime Zone Moratorium Bill) which seeks to impose a moratorium on oil exploration and other petroleum operations in the maritime zone of Belize. The bill was a commitment made by Prime Minister Dean Barrow in August of this year. He had announced that Cabinet had decided to legislate an indefinite moratorium on offshore oil exploration in Belize’s territorial sea including the Exclusive Economic Zone. The legislation has been welcomed by World Wildlife Foundation, Oceana and other members of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. Back in August, Oceana had stated that government’s decision as a landmark step forward for the World Heritage site and marine conservation globally. Oceana Belize’s Vice President Janelle Chanona and Advocacy Lead at the World Wildlife Foundation Valentino Shal were present at today’s session.
Janelle Chanona – Vice President
“It’s truly a big day for Belize. This is not an environmental issue, this is not a conservation issue, this has been a Belize issue and one that has been near and dear to tens of thousands of Belizeans who realize that as an overarching threat offshore oil would have direct, immediate, irreparable impacts on their daily lives and livelihoods so given that more than 60% of us are dependent on these coastal and marine resources I think that speaks to why this has not fallen victim to any of the traditional divisive tactics or to time. You look at how long this issue has been on the table, I think there was a collective sigh of relief that was audible and the comfort of peace of mind is insight and certainly I think in terms of leadership it is something that is very likely going to be replicated across the globe. You look at what is happening in terms of climate change, what is happening in terms of corals, Belize is really in terms of timing really making sure what we safeguard these marine assets at a critical time and a time when the world is particularly cognisant of how important these natural ecosystems are to our everyday life.”
The bill has been referred to the Natural Resources Committee which is set to meet on October 30 in Belmopan. The public will be able to go in person or in writing to submit their position on the bill. Oceana will be receiving a copy of the draft document and will be sharing its position and recommendations with the public as well. Shal also mentioned that the legislation will safeguard the livelihood of thousands of Belizeans.
Valentino Shal – Advocacy Lead
“If you consider just last year around this same time we were having seismic ships conducting seismic testing in the very same area and to have this being passed today is incredible progress that is only possible because of the support of the Belizean people, the organizations here locally and also our friends abroad so we are quite pleased with the decision because it puts Belize in a very good footing towards sustainable development and of course the World Heritage Site as you mentioned has been on the endangered list for quite some time and this is one of the very important steps that need to be taken for it to come off the endangered list so we are very pleased with this decision. I think it puts us, even though we are a very small country it puts us in a very elite group of nations that are taking the environment very seriously and that is a very good thing and all Belizeans should be very proud of that.”