How To Be a Reef-Safe Traveler in Belize

by Carolee Chanona

Stretching the length of the country, the Belize Barrier Reef has been and will continue to be, a very integral part of our collective national identity. First inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS) was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009 due to the destruction of mangroves, marine ecosystem, offshore oil exploration prospects, and non-sustainable building projects. On June 26, 2018, was officially delisted from being ‘In Danger’ however, we must collectively work to ensure its health and future is not compromised again.  With threats like climate change and pollution threatening the world’s oceans and its coral reefs,  you can practice reef-friendly habits to leave a ‘greener’ footprint. 

  • Reef-friendly UV Protection 

The common sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, is known to damage coral DNA and make corals less resilient to coral bleaching.  Avoid these UV-absorbing compounds by using a wide-brim hat, face buff, long-sleeved rashguard, and reef-friendly sunscreen. 

eco traveler

  • Book responsibly

Vote with your dollar and choose tour operators that have taken actionable steps towards sustainability, whether it be banning non-reef friendly sunscreen on their tours, avoiding single-use plastics, or pursuing specific eco-certifications, like Green Globe. Where demand goes, supply will follow.

  • Avoid plastic 

Though Belize is still within the early stages of transition towards a single-use plastic ban, avoiding single-use items like bags, bottles, straws, and food containers helps to stop marine litter at the source. Whether we mean to or not, there’s always a chance the plastic we use may end up in the sea, and from there who knows? Never breaking down, microplastics either make its way into the food chain, sink to damage the seabed, or leach toxic chemicals. 

  • Don’t touch

The hundreds of thousands of polyps on coral are sensitive to the oils and bacteria on human hands, while stirred sediments and flipper grazes from human interaction can smother or kill the living coral. Be mindful of your activity in the water, whether diving or snorkeling, by admiring the reef without touching. Similarly, coral can take decades to reach maturity, and if harvested, surrounding coral beds often do not recover. 

  • Donate your time & effort

With 190 miles of reef, being a citizen science while enjoying recreational activities is a great way to play an active role in its conservation efforts, whether that’s sighting lionfish frenzies, coral health, or stranded wildlife. If you can, volunteer your time towards a local beach clean-up, volunteer with a local marine NGO, or get involved in a reef-conservation project.  

  • Choose responsible seafood

Learn the seasons of local fisheries like conch, lobster, and more, by being a responsible consumer. In Belize, restaurants can get certified under the collaborative Fish Right, Eat Right campaign for guaranteed legal, healthy products. This program also helps restaurants identify alternative seafood options to help reduce fishing pressure on species that are over-exploited, threatened, or endangered.

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