Island residents say NO to offshore oil exploration

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Residents of Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker Village convened at the Central Park in downtown San Pedro to say ‘No’ to offshore oil exploration in Belize. The event, spearheaded by active members on the island in partnership with Oceana in Belize and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, included a peaceful walk followed by a public forum on Saturday, January 21st.
Hundreds of supporters gathered at the Central Park shortly after 11AM carrying colorful banners for a peaceful walk throughout the streets of the town core. Along the route persons joined the walk, chanting ‘No Means No!’ as they made their way back to Central Park.
Following the walk, participants gathered on the beach to form a human ‘No Oil’ sign while chanting. “No to offshore oil drilling in Belize. No means no!” Immediately after, a public forum with guest speakers took place under a tent at the Park. Attendees and passers-by were able to get more information regarding the impacts of an oil industry in Belize. Volunteers from different non-governmental organizations such as Projects Abroad and Saint John’s Junior College Wavemakers made themselves available in providing assistance as well.
Janelle Chanona, Vice President of Oceana in Belize expressed her admiration for the communities of San Pedro and Caye Caulker for taking a strong stance against offshore oil exploration. “They have taken ownership of this issue and we are so proud to be here giving them support,” said Chanona. “We want more people to be aware and be informed. The voices from the tourism and fishing sectors are the strength of this movement on behalf of those livelihoods that depend on the resources that can be affected by oil exploration.” Chanona stated that the issue is bigger than politics and has nothing to do with personalities, except for the fact that there is a direct relationship between the resources and the everyday livelihood of people along the coastal communities.
Chanona explained that even though the multibeam consultations and activities have been cancelled for the time being, the threat is constant. “Until there is a clear position from the Government in terms of where we are going with our environmental agenda, we will always have to be on this defensive and monitor standing so we can know what is happening,” she said. According to Chanona, Oceana will continue monitoring the situation.
Kristin Marin, one of the organizers of the event, also shared some words regarding the sensitive issue. She called on the governmental agencies of environment and tourism to come out and give their opinion. “We would like the Government to stick to their word, that they were going to impose a ban on offshore drilling on the reef, and to make the ban legal by stating that no offshore oil exploration can be made unless certain conditions are met,” said Marin. She believes that the local authorities and the people should work together in order to take care of the country’s resources instead of being against each other.
Another active member of the event included Omar Arceo, who stated that as a long term fisherman, he takes the threat of offshore oil drilling in Belize very seriously. He believes that it can destroy the natural marine resources around Ambergris Caye and Belize, ending the livelihoods of many who depend on it. “If the Government wants to introduce this new industry, there needs to be a balance between the economy and the environment,” he said. “Let them show us how will the Belizean people benefit from oil exploration, if Belizeans will be trained to work in such field and if there will be a trust fund for any damages caused to our resources.” He continued by stating that Belizeans are not prepared for an oil industry and that the best thing to do is ensure the integrity of the reef, the tourism and fishing community that depends on it day by day.

The event continued throughout the day, encouraging people who visited the informational tent to join the cause. It was announced that similar events would take part in other areas of the country until there is a decisive position by Government regarding the issue. It was also stated, that even though the exploration ships are gone and contracts cancelled, it is no guarantee that the fight is over.

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