Why We Should ALL Care About The Ocean

by Larry Waight
Oceana Belize island aerial heart

Belize is a veritable paradise, but even paradise comes with its own unique challenges. The country’s lush jungles, extant ruins, and vibrant ecosystem draw visitors from all over the world — but it can be tricky to find the balance between the ‘eco’ and the ‘tourist’ in ‘ecotourism’. And in the Caribbean Sea surrounding Belize, that balance is especially important. Pollution from cruise ships and various trashes from tourists passing through jeopardize the health of the marine ecosystem and potentially endanger truly unique natural landmarks like the Great Blue Hole and the Belize Barrier Reef.

ambergris divers snorkel dive roeming belize san pedro

Time to dive the Belize Barrier Reef. Photo by ROEming Belize

Finding that balance isn’t always hard. The same tourism, fishing, and other industries that contribute to the ocean’s pollution are also essential to the survival of countless Belizeans. These aren’t habits that we can simply give up, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to responsibly support progress while also respecting the ocean and the life within. Fortunately, groups like Oceana Belize are around to advocate for the protection of the oceans.

Oceana Belize’s Mission

Half Moon Caye cleanup oceana

Oceana understands the severity of affairs in Earth’s waters. While oceans constitute 71% of the Earth’s surface, less than 4% of those waters are untouched by human interference. That’s especially worrying because we haven’t been particularly good custodians for those waters. But Oceana Belize also understands that a radical and punitive solution can be harmful to vulnerable communities that rely on the Caribbean waters for their livelihoods, and so they advocate for grassroots solutions that take into account the global impact and scale.

A Focus on Pragmatic Solutions

jack fish Oceana Belize

Photo © A. Ellis/Oceana

The stakes are too high for us to keep making mistakes about how we interact with the ocean, and that’s why Oceana Belize puts an especially high priority on the authority of their facts. By carefully examining the science available, they build campaigns that are designed to offer measurable results. And while that means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, it does allow the problem to be tracked by measurable and achievable milestones.

The patient approach might not be easy, but it’s worth it. Oceana Belize is meticulous both in its research of the science and its campaign-driven approach to finding actionable solutions. That’s further bolstered by a team of experts from a variety of fields. From economists to lawyers to environmentalist advocates, Oceana is asking the hard questions from the people who know.

But We Face Major Challenges

Oceana Belize‘s perspective may be optimistic, but the cold, hard facts that they use to develop their solutions make it clear that there aren’t simple and singular solutions to the problem. Instead, Oceana has identified some very serious issues facing the Caribbean and is working towards local solutions that can be applied globally.

Inefficient Fishing Practices

gillnets tarpon oceana belize

The destructive nature of gillnets. Photo courtesy Oceana via Twitter

Oceana Belize calculates that over 420 million people in countries with major fishing industries are hungry. If there isn’t enough to go around, the immediate assumption might be to ramp up fish farming, but that’s the worst thing we could do. Overly aggressive fishery breeding can lead not just to the death of fish populations but to the complete collapse of underwater ecosystems.

The fortunate truth is that there are already examples of how fishing practices can be improved by reducing low-cost volume and maximizing efficiency. In Norway, Japan, and the Bay of Biscay, responsible and balanced practices have demonstrated dramatic rises in production. It’s estimated these changes could improve global fishery yields by nearly half.

The Cost of Tourism

Belize City cruise port tourist village

The Belize City cruise port, found inside the Belize Tourism Village.

Tourism — like fishing — is a critical lifeline for some of the most vulnerable residents of Belize, but the cruise ship industry actually poses a direct threat to the very thing that’s attracting tourists to Belize. They’ve opposed the rapid approval of multiple cruise ship ports in Belize, in large part because some of them could pose a direct ecological threat to natural formations like the Sibun River.

That’s not to say that conscious efforts can’t be taken. The tourism industry in Belize is not stopping anytime soon, but it won’t last forever if growth isn’t handled in a healthy manner. Policy research that examines the waste and pollution from specific sea routes should be scrutinized thoroughly. At the end of the day, we need to listen to science for the protection of not only our industry but our environment. 

A Threat to the Ocean Floors

Photo Courtesy: Oceana Belize

The dense coral that makes up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is unmatched by anything but its counterpart in Australia, but its natural splendor — and the ecosystem that exists in and around it — is potentially at risk from dumping. Government decisions that allow dredge — or the soil dug up from crafting channels in water — to be dumped in Belize’s waters.

Diligence is important and understanding the actual impact and bottom-line motivation of practices like dredge dumping, oil drilling, and deep trawling all have various impacts that demand different responses. That’s why it’s necessary to have educated specialists who can provide the precise knowledge needed to shape policy that does the least harm.

So Why Should You Care?

On the most base and selfish level, we should care about the oceans around Belize and everywhere so there are still beautiful places for us to appreciate. But existentially it’s about keeping the planet safe and healthy for the generations to come. And Oceana Belize has done an exceptional job of demonstrating that major changes to our relationship with the ocean don’t have to require us severely alter our ways of life. A thoughtful policy that treats environmental impacts with respect can help all of us, and Oceana Belize is leading the charge. 

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