A report on the state of conservation of the property was received from the State Party on 16 February 2012. The report includes a request for clarification on and implications of the statement in Paragraph 6 of World Heritage Committee Decision 35 COM 7A.15 regarding a revision of the Yum Balisi Environmental Impact Assessment. The report further notes that the statement of Outstanding Universal Value has been drafted, presented and approved by the Belize Cabinet and submitted to the World Heritage Centre. The State Party further requests assistance from the World Heritage Centre in developing the proposal for the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The report also contains an overview of progress made with the corrective measures.
a) Ensure that development rights on existing private or leased lands within the property are clearly defined and strictly controlled with a view to conserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the property
The State Party indicates that the Land Use Policy and its accompanying implementation framework which were developed in October 2010 was approved by the Belize Cabinet in December 2011. The State Party notes that it is in the process of developing a proposal for a GEF-funded project to initiate the implementation of this policy and its implementation framework. It also notes that there has been extensive consultation with representatives of coastal settlements along the coast of Belize to support coastal planning efforts to define development and conservation areas. The State Party notes additional initiatives, including (among others) assessment of its current Protected Areas Fee Framework.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the information provided by the State Party does not provide sufficient detail to adequately assess the progress on this corrective measure.
b) Develop and implement a restoration policy for lands degraded by unauthorized activities
No indication of progress was provided by the State Party for this corrective measure.
c) Establish a clear institutional coordination mechanism ensuring that the conservation of the property receives priority consideration within relevant governmental decision-making processes
The State Party indicates that the National World Heritage Site Committee (NWHSC) has been formally incorporated into the Natural Science Technical Committee (NSTC) of the UNESCO National Commission structure, but that NSTC has not yet been fully activated. The State Party expects that the NSTC will become operational within the first quarter of 2012. The Committee may wish to request confirmation of the NSTC and NWHSC’s full activation at its 36th session.
d) Develop a legal framework for co-management under which the respective responsibilities of the State Party and conservation NGOs can be effectively established, monitored and evaluated in relation to the conservation of the property
The State Party indicates that a revision of the structure and content of co-management agreements has been completed and new co-management agreements have been agreed to by all parties involved. The process included strengthening of provisions referring to roles and responsibilities to ensure compliance with the relevant laws and regulations governing protected areas, technical and financial reporting requirements, and establishment of benchmarks to evaluate performance and management effectiveness.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that no copies of the agreements were provided nor were the results of their implementation communicated to the World Heritage Centre, and thus their effectiveness cannot be assessed.
e) Systematically consider and address the threat of introduced species within the Management Plans for the property
The State Party indicates that the threat of introduced and invasive species within the entire marine protected area system continues to be a challenge but that interventions to address introduced and invasive species have been incorporated into the Management Plans for the property. The State Party reiterates that lack of financial resources is a primary challenge for addressing and controlling invasive species. The State Party reports significant progress in raising awareness of the impact of invasive species (such as Lionfish).
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that, based on the information provided by the State Party, it is unclear to what extent invasive species are affecting the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. They note that apart from raising awareness of the impact of invasive species, it is unclear what measures are being taken to address the threat, particularly as no copies of the Management Plans for the property have been provided.
f) Make publicly available the information on land ownership for all lands within the property, including mangrove islands, in easily accessible format, to ensure transparency in land use and allocations
The State Party indicates that land tenure information has been compiled and provided as requested, though does not provide any details of this.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider it essential that the State Party provides the World Heritage Centre with a clear indication of what information was made public and the sources.
g) Develop and implement a medium-term plan to increase the no take zones within marine reserves, establishing ecologically effective protection and replenishment areas for heavily exploited fin fish, conch and lobster
No indication of progress was provided by the State Party for this corrective measure. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that no assessment of the suitability of the property’s no-take zone coverage to provide effective protection and replenishment of areas for finfish species was done, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session, and recall concerns expressed by the 2009 mission that the no-take zones are too small to sustain healthy populations of the larger more mobile species, including the commercially exploited and endangered Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) whose numbers are reported by IUCN as continuing to decline, and the critically endangered small tooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) which is reported to have nearly disappeared from the property and is threatened by global extinction. They note that a recent scientific report indicates a steadily declining trend for the predominately domestic finfish fisheries.
h) Other conservation issues – oil concessions and Yum Balisi resort
The State Party indicates its work towards preparing a petroleum exploration planning framework which will guide current and future oil exploration in Belize. The exercise envisions the use of zoning as the primary management tool and was expected to be completed by end of January 2012. Currently, six companies hold petroleum licenses in the offshore region of Belize and continue to conduct exploration activities. Another company, OPIC, held an oil exploration license over an area that considerably overlapped with the property, but relinquished this license in 2010. The State Party indicates that it has decided to temporarily suspend the issuing of any new licenses in the offshore region.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that a peoples’ referendum on offshore drilling was held in March 2012, where over 29,000 people from all over the country cast their vote against offshore drilling.
The State Party notes that in October 2011, the National Environmental and Appraisal Committee (NEAC), which is responsible for reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) requested further clarification on additional concerns prior to the finalization of the review process of the EIA for the Yum Balisi resort. It notes that the review process has not yet been concluded. The State Party requests clarification of the implications of the Committee’s request to review the EIA.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, which invites States Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee as soon as possible of any new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved. They emphasize that the State Party should inform the Committee of proposals for new developments well before a decision for their approval is made.