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Belize is home to incredible array of marine life, including dolphins, the largest number of Antillean manatees in the world, many species of sharks and rays, hundreds of different types of sponges, and fisheries for groupers, snappers, grunts, and other reef fishes. In 1996, UNESCO declared the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage Site.

The marine biodiversity of Belize has been well documented in zoological and botanical publications on the marine biodiversity of Belize, in part because the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, established marine stations many years ago in Belize and used these for continuous monitoring and for generations of graduate students to complete their theses. All these and similar materials were, however, published mainly in US and British scientific journals. Thus, those Belizeans who live with their back to the sea do not receive the information that they need to turn around, and fully appreciate the beauty and wealth of the biodiversity along their shores, and its role in attracting tourists and producing seafood. This also leads to the public not fully appreciating the risk to marine biodiversity of an oil spill and the potential cost to their economy. 

In view of the debate and the possibility of a national referendum on offshore oil drilling in Belize, a conference entitled “Too Precious for Oil: the Marine Biodiversity of Belize” will occur, to be organized jointly by Oceana Belize and the Sea Around Us project, with major funding from the Oak Foundation. More than 20 top marine ecologists, including scientists from the University of British Columbia, Boston University, the  American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and Belize itself, will gather to discuss Belize’s marine assets.  The group will review the status of the country’s marine biodiversity and review the potential impacts an oil spill could have on local marine ecology.

All the contributions that will be presented at this conference will be included in a report complemented by a DVD-ROM which will assemble all the published materials that will be used in enhancing the content of SeaLifeBase and FishBase for Belize, two global information systems documenting nomenclature, geography, ecology and biology of marine organisms of the world. This report DVD-ROM will be distributed to schools in Belize, and will hopefully become tools for familiarizing Belizean students with their marine biodiversity. Also, we hope that these tools will contribute to informing the national debate on oil drilling in Belizean waters.

We'd like to thank in advance Ms. Audrey Matura-Shepherd and her staff at Oceana Belize, for the assistance they will provide in the preparation of this material and the event at which it will be released, and the Oak Foundation for funding the event and the preparation of the Fisheries Centre Research Report that will put this material together. The Sea Around Us project, of which this report will be a product, is a scientific collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the Pew Environment Group.

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