Offshore drilling could threaten Belize’s Great Blue Hole

From space it just looks like a dark blotch, a circular blemish on an otherwise smooth blue surface off the coast of Belize. The spot is actually a 124-meter sinkhole, a UNESCO heritage site known as the Great Blue Hole.

It is considered one of the top dive sites in the world, and in the near future it could be vulnerable to offshore drilling.

A proposal recently made public by the country’s Ministry of Energy would allow for offshore oil exploration in 99 percent of Belize’s waters, including protected marine areas and world heritage sites. The proposal has alarmed environmental groups and UNESCO, which have pointed out the potential damage drilling could cause to the country’s vital reef systems.

“The Belize Barrier Reef system provides hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and guaranteed economic benefits via tourism, fishing and storm surge protection,” Janelle Chanona, from the U.S.-based conservation group Oceana, said in a statement. “Those hundreds of millions of dollars cannot be dismissed in favor of the mere potential of anything else.”

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