Save coral reefs the Belize way

COLLECTIVE action is required to preserve Bahrain’s coral reefs in similar fashion to efforts exerted by Belize, a Caribbean nation that is home to parts of the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere.

Bahrain Authority for Culture Authority (Baca) antiquities and museums director Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa believes that Bahrain could learn a valuable lesson from Belize, which has managed to save its Barrier Reef Reserve System from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The World Heritage Committee (WHC), which hosted its 42nd session in Manama, has removed the reef from Unesco’s danger list of heritage properties.

The committee said the decision was warranted considering the safeguarding measures taken by the country, notably the introduction of a moratorium on oil exploration across its maritime zone and the strengthening of forestry regulations allowing for better protection of mangroves.

The GDN reported in March that the Supreme Council for Environment, in collaboration with Baca and other entities, was drawing up a detailed plan to regulate fishing activities as part of efforts to protect sites at Tubli Bay, Dohat Arad, Mashtan Islands, Hawar Islands, Bulthama Reef and the Northern Marine Reserves covering Najwat Bulthamat and the Hayr pearl oyster beds.

“Many of the successful conservation efforts are the result of collective efforts that include both government and non-governmental agencies,” Shaikh Khalifa told the GDN.

“The case of Belize was something that we were very proud to announce here – to remove the site from World heritage Property in Danger list.

“The state party of Belize has demonstrated its ability, with proper management and legislation, to protect the outstanding universal value of the coral reefs.

“As the WHC states there are around 30 such coral reefs in the World Heritage list which is a testament to the importance of having this representation of such an important convention, which in the first place aims at conserving and preserving such sites around the world.

“We definitely have a lesson to learn from Belize, which is indeed the power of collective action that we can put into action to preserve our coral reefs as well.”

With its size, the Belize Barrier Reef is second to only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and is a popular tourist attraction. The coral reef itself spans across 300km and is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the largest in the western hemisphere, spanning 900km long.

Belize Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber told the GDN that Bahrain should learn from his country’s mistakes and work to preserve its coral reefs for future generations.

“In Belize, because of tourism, we were a bit negligent in terms of preservation – we were more in a rush to ensure that we have the major hotels and other such amenities, and that damages the product, so to speak,” he said on the sidelines of the session.

“My first word of advice to Bahrain, which is home to beautiful and precious coral reefs, is to not go after something that benefits in the short term but to look at what we can preserve for the longer term, for the benefit of our future generations.

“Next is to listen to people who are concerned, which is the next big lesson that we as a government learnt.

“There are entities that represent a wider perspective of the world and when you have reefs in your marine system, it is not only your responsibility to preserve and protect them for your country, but it is also something that we must do for the rest of the world.

“We must play that role, which is expected of us on ta he global level.”

The reserve was inscribed on the ‘in danger list’ in 2009 due to the destruction of mangroves and marine ecosystems, offshore oil extraction, and the development of non-sustainable building projects.

During the session a young environmentalist from Belize, 12-year-old Madison Edwards, thanked the WHC and member states for de-listing the site from the danger list.

“I am so happy to have our barrier reefs back on the heritage list and is safe,” she added.

The WHC session, which ended on Wednesday, gathered around 2,000 experts from around the world and was held under the patronage of His Majesty King Hamad at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain.

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