13:02 GMT +319 April 2018
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    A whale shark swims off the coast of Belize

    The Great Oil Exit: Belize Bans Offshore Drilling to Protect Maritime Habitat

    © AP Photo / Sam Shelanski
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    The Central American nation of Belize, in a move to protect the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, has banned the offshore extraction of oil and gas in its maritime territories.

    All operations to extract offshore oil and gas in the Caribbean Sea bordering the tropical country have been permanently banned, according to reports.

    The major new law is the first by a developing country to protect its maritime regions from environmentally-damaging oil exploration and extraction processes, cited by Ecowatch.com.

    The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the hundreds of thousands of citizens who depend upon the reef for survival will benefit alongside hundreds of millions of denizens of the 200-mile ecosystem, itself a section of the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef traversing the eastern coast of Central America.

    "Today is a great day for Belize," stated World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reef scientist Nadia Bood, according to Ecowatch.com.

    "Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only last year was under threat from seismic oil exploration, it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection by ending all oil activity in its waters," Bood added.

    A victim of its success as a popular tourist destination, the nation's reef ecosystems have been damaged by construction along sensitive coastal habitats, while oil drilling companies aggressively sought licenses to begin the offshore extraction of fossil fuels.

    Like many small tropical nations, the economy of Belize is centered around seashore tourism, and a healthy reef indicates a fiscally-healthy administration.

    Tourism is estimated to garner well over $200 million annually, and reef-related tourist activities, as well as an active fishing industry, support some 200,000.

    "By acting to remove a major threat to the reef, Belize is safeguarding its future prosperity," asserted Bood in a statement.

    "We hope today's announcement will encourage other countries to follow suit and take urgent actions needed to protect our planet's oceans," she added.

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    Tags:
    environmental activism, coral reefs, ecology, sustainable development, fossil fuels, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), UNESCO, Caribbean, Central America, Belize
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