December marks the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage listing of seven protected areas along Belize’s barrier reef. Local celebrations for these coral atolls, mangrove forests and vibrant underwater landscapes are tinged with concern: These unique places face many manmade threats, and have been listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’ since 2009. Now, armed with new legislation, sustainable tourism ventures — and in some cases, scuba gear — Belizeans are fighting to safeguard their reef for the long haul.
The Belizean reef, which stretches into neighboring Mexico and Honduras, is over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from tip to tip — making it the world’s longest reef after the Great Barrier Reef. But its size hasn’t shielded it from human harms.
In 2009, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger.