These days when a coral reef makes headlines it’s not often good news, which makes UNESCO’s recent announcement incredibly noteworthy. On June 26, the World Heritage Committee unanimously decided to remove the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System from their List of World Heritage in Danger. After it was placed on the list in 2009 due to threats like offshore oil extraction and unsustainable tourism, Belize took landmark action to safeguard the fragile ecosystem. Now, thanks to years of measured conservation work, the world’s second largest reef is no longer facing immediate danger.
It’s truly a win for our oceans and the 200,000 Belizeans who rely on the reef for their livelihood. The reef is home to some 500 species of fish, 65 species of coral, plus rays, sea turtles and major colonies of seabirds. Its seven protected areas also provide important habitat for many endangered species including the American marine crocodile, West Indies manatee and hawksbill turtle. With such unique marine biodiversity it’s not hard to see why Charles Darwin once referred to it “as the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” And of course it’s a snorkeler’s paradise.
The Belize Barrier Reef is just one of 49 ocean places on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These spectacular sites, distributed across 37 countries, have been selected for their exceptional natural beauty or unique geological processes. Lindblad ships have been exploring World Heritage Sites for more than 50 years, including the very first designated site —the Galapagos Islands — where Lars-Eric Lindblad brought the very first citizen explorers in 1967. “I think that World Heritage means something to a lot of people. UNESCO’s done a good job of making it a meaningful designation,” says our CEO, Sven Lindblad.
Helping to protect these precious locations has always been an important part of our mission and in 2016 we were honored to host the third UNESCO Marine World Heritage Managers Conference on board National Geographic Endeavour in Galápagos. The conference connected the guardians of those 49 marine-protected areas, along with experts and other ocean leaders, bringing them together to share best practices, learn new ways of becoming more effective at their jobs, and inspire one another.
Sven was aboard for the 5-day event and in this video, filmed on location during the conference, he reflects on the importance of UNESCO’s marine sites and how the designation helps people better understand these special places.
Come discover Belize’s vibrant, healthy reef for yourself!