Conservationist’s call out Minister of Foreign Affairs, comments against offshore oil drilling moratorium
Friday, September 29th, 2017
“We can’t pay for hospitals, we can’t pay for education, we can’t pay for schools, but yet we aren’t supposed to touch the petroleum. We can’t even find out what is there because the attitude is ‘don’t touch it’. I don’t know why it is being left there. History has shown that you can exploit petroleum and do it quite properly, but we are not even to find out what we have because somehow that is going to hurt us, that is going to destroy the reef. In this day and age, we have to think for ourselves. That worries me, because if we are starving, it is content for us to starve, so as to ensure that fish are there, that the manatees are going to survive, while the humans are dying. I can’t rationalize it.”
Those were the words of Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington on Monday, September 18th, while addressing students and lecturers at the University of Belize. He expressed his disagreement on the offshore oil moratorium as he discussed the issues of Belize’s security threats. In his words, Elrington believes that some Belizeans would prefer to save marine life, over their own people.
His words angered many, and a statement by the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage explained why our reef is so vital for the survival of Belize and its people. “These comments insult and disrespect the tens of thousands of Belizeans, who depend on healthy coastal and marine ecosystems every day. The integrity of Belize’s incredible marine biodiversity supports the most critical pillar of Belize’s economy; our tourism industry. Visitors come from across the globe to swim with our manatees, sharks and other keystone species which translates to the employment of one in every four in the tourism industry. It is the sustainable management of Belizean fisheries that directly benefit more than 15,000 Belizeans.” The Belize Coalition also reiterated that Prime Minister Dean Barrow has compromised to an indefinite moratorium on offshore oil drilling in Belize waters, which is expected to be introduced on Friday, October 20th. They further reminded the minister and all Belizeans that Belize’s Barrier Reef would be the best line of defense against major hurricanes, as a reef can absorb more than 90% of the waves impact.
San Pedro Town is one of the many destinations in Belize that depend on the marine environment for survival. Beyond physical protection, the reef provides for the economic stability of the communities along it. Food, employment, research opportunities, alongside recreation, are all vital to the survival of places like Ambergris Caye. As the top tourism destination in Belize, Ambergris Caye depends on the Belize Barrier Reef to continue contributing to one of the most prominent industries that drive Belize’s economy.
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