Tuesday evening’s announcement that offshore petroleum exploration would be banned in the vicinity of the Belize Barrier Reef System and certain protected areas is cause for celebration in the environmentalist camp, as for the past four years they have been advocating a complete ban on offshore activity by petroleum companies. Vice President of OCEANA in Belize Janelle Chanona hailed the moment in a telephone interview.
Janelle Chanona, Vice President OCEANA: I think this announcement has to be seen as a major milestone for the people and country of Belize, at a time when world leaders are meeting in Paris to talk about humanity is going to help itself survive on changing climate, I think this announcement is well timed. It does has to be seen also as a recognition of what the people of Belize have been asking for for several years so it is definitely a terrific step, a giant leap forward on this issue.
Reporter: You say it’s a leap forward, does it go far enough to addressing the concerns of OCEANA and other groups like OCEANA?
Janelle Chanona, Vice President OCEANA: I think it has to been seen in the context of the government has stated clearly that Belize’s entire offshore area is under a moratorium. There are no licenses to be issued, we are in a moratorium period and now that we have these specific areas permanently banned, that has to be seen as a significant step and a major milestone.
As for those areas not affected by the ban, Chanona says she has been assured by the Prime Minister that the standing moratorium on exploration continues and that Belizeans will have a say in developments in these areas:
Janelle Chanona, Vice President OCEANA: We believe, and I will tell you I had to reach out to the PM to get a little bit of clarification because I didn’t understand the portion of the press release that dealt with the other areas that have not been permanently banned and he has indicated to me clearly that yes the moratorium is in place and that if ever in the future Belizeans want to allow offshore exploration, that the ministry of petroleum is now in the process of revising existing structures to make sure that if that day ever comes that those structures that exist would be what he considers stringent and I think for where we have come from this issue, yes this is a day to celebrate and I am only confident that the future, as we go forward will only reveal even more reasons as to why we should be talking about a band across all areas. But definitely this announcement today should be seen as a positive development and recognition of the job security, the food security, the cultural identity that we hold as Belizeans, not only to ourselves but for our future generation.
Today in Belize City we spoke with Geovannie Brackett, a long-standing activist against petroleum exploration in protected areas and offshore Belize. He says that while the ban is a good start, it must be combined with more effective policy and organization:
Geovannie Brackett, President COLA: We have fought a very long fight along with our partners in our coalition to save our Natural Heritage and this is like a baby for COLA, having been the founding member to really advocate on this issue. However, we’re very pleased, now moving forward in terms of work in its entirety and the completion, there are lot of things that needs to be done nevertheless. We’ve always advocated that the laws within Belize should be separated that which just as in the US where there is the department of interior that deals strictly with offshore drilling and there’s another department that deals with onshore. And the reason for that is understandable because you’re dealing with two different ecological systems and hence the reason why we can’t put an umbrella law that deals with onshore drilling. It’s very different when you’re drilling for oil in Spanish Lookout than when you’re drilling in the Port Marinos Reserve.
Brackett also says that the two marine protected areas not included in the ban should be, but that their administrators would have to lobby for that.