Friday, July 23, 2010
Belize puts a price on its pristine reefs
It's not related to Antarctica, but I wanted to share this story I found about the penalties a shipping company have been ordered to pay for damaging a pristine barrier reef in Belize. We have been trying to encourage people to value Antarctica's wilderness and relatively unaltered ecosystems, and it's good to see that people are really starting to recognize the value of undamaged natural habitat. Belize's chief justice seems to be ahead of the curve in accepting this argument. Though the award is perhaps not as high as the government wanted, it is notable that the judge seemingly rejected the shipping company's argument that they should only pay for the cost of rebuilding the reef with artificial materials, as if that would in any way make up for the loss of a natural structure that developed over thousands of years. How much reef was damaged? One acre. How much does the company have to pay? 11.5 million Belizean dollars, or about $5.75 million US. While the reef is important for tourism, it seems that the judge used the case as an opportunity to make a statement about the need for natural resources to be valued more highly. The incident also motivated Belize to pass legislation valuing each square meter of the reef at $5,000Bzd, so that future damage would cost even more. It's heartening to see that arguments about a large damages award hurting future shipping business were rejected. The unfortunate truth is that I'm afraid that without a financial incentive, there's not always enough motivation for businesses to act to protect the environment. $5 million dollars per acre is a good start and a good deterrent for shipping companies that don't take the proper precautions to protect Belize's valuable reefs, which are estimated to provide $120 million (US) worth of shoreline protection per year. It's about time when considering environmental damage we stopped worrying about commercial interests and starting making sure our irreplaceable resources are protected.