THE BLOG
11/21/2014 09:39 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

A Luxury Resort Threatens Belize's Mesoamerican Reef

Greg Johnston via Getty Images

Belize's Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the home of the world-famous Great Blue Hole -- a massive underwater sinkhole and World Heritage Site. The islands that make up this ring of coral reefs are known for their crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and vibrant coral reef. Hundreds of species of fish swim amid towering corals, while sea turtles and manatees browse the expansive meadows of sea grass. But two of the islands that make up this special place could soon be dredged and paved to make way for race cars, golfers, and a tarmac.

Foreign developers are planning a massive luxury resort on the atoll, which is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System -- the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and a thriving marine ecosystem. Called Puerto Azul, the proposed project would decimate important marine habitat and compromise the integrity of Belize's eco-based tourism industry.

Proposed by Italian businessman Domenico Giannini, president of Puerto Azul Exclusive Resorts & Hotels, the luxury resort would host 1,000 guests and 2,000 workers. It would include underwater suites, a golf course, an amusement park, a super-yacht marina, a submarine-base, hospital, and a Formula One racetrack. To transport guests to the site, the developers are also planning to build a 2-mile long international airport landing strip on the coral reef itself -- blasting away marine habitat, dredging sea grass beds, and hammering pilings and concrete into the reef. And this airport would be even larger than the country's existing international airport near Belize City. All of this construction lies within the immediate vicinity of the Great Blue Hole, a nationally protected area and World Heritage Site.

Opposition to Puerto Azul is widespread among Belizeans. While they support tourism -- the backbone of the country's economy -- they do not support building a resort that will irreversibly destroy the Mesoamerican reef, the very place that tourists come to experience. If such a project is to go forward, it must be built elsewhere, at a site that does not threaten the health of protected ocean life and World Heritage sites.

Unfortunately, Puerto Azul is not the only threat that Lighthouse Reef faces. The government of Belize has not declared that these areas are off limits to offshore oil drilling, which would threaten both the resort and the reef.

Oceana is campaigning to protect the Mesoamerican reef from offshore oil drilling and reckless development, including Puerto Azul. Join us to help preserve the lifeblood of the Belizean economy and one of the most unique ocean ecosystems on the planet.