One of the world's smallest nations has made a monumental decision for the oceans. As of today, Belize is one of the first countries in the world to institute a complete and permanent ban on trawling in all of its waters.
Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive fishing methods in existence. Bottom trawlers are equipped with massive, weighted nets that effectively clear-cut the ocean floor, destroying sensitive coral communities and anything else in their path.
Meanwhile, shrimp trawls -- which were operating in Belize until now -- operate in midwater, so they pose a different threat. They catch more untargeted species, or bycatch, than almost any other kind of fishing gear. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year.
The ban is only logical when you consider the phenomenal marine resources that Belize has to offer. Namely, the Belize Barrier Reef, which is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. With three of the Western Hemisphere's four offshore atolls, including the famous Blue Hole, Belize is a destination for divers and snorkelers around the world.
The ban, which goes into effect December 31st, was made by Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow's administration after UNESCO threatened to strip the Belize Barrier Reef System of its World Heritage Site status.
The recently released 2010 Report Card of the Mesoamerican Reef revealed that around 70% of the reef is in poor or critical condition, with only 8 percent in good condition. The amount of reef that's now in critical condition leapt from 6 percent in 2008 to 30 percent as a result of overfishing, coastal development and climate change. Belize's reef is under great pressure, and it's a relief to see that the government is taking steps to protect its vital marine resources.
Oceana was a critical part of this decision, collaborating with the government in negotiating a buy-out of the shrimp trawlers. We have been working for years to put a stop to trawling around the world, and we have protected hundreds of thousands of square miles from trawling using our precautionary approach.
Kudos to Belize, and here's hoping that more countries follow its lead to reduce their destructive fishing footprint.
Ted Danson is a member of Oceana's board of directors.