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Oceana Announces Petition Drive to Trigger Referendum

Belizeans Should Decide If Offshore Oil Moratorium Should Be Lifted

Press Release Date: November 17, 2022

Location: Belize City, Belize


Oceana announced that commencing today, November 17th, it will begin collecting the necessary signatures to trigger a national referendum. According to Vice President Janelle Chanona, Oceana took this decision following a conversation held on September 9th, 2022, with Prime Minister, Honorable John Briceño during which he confirmed his administration’s intention to proceed with seismic testing in Belizean waters without prior approval of the public to lift the moratorium against the exploration and exploitation of offshore oil. “Given the years of support against offshore oil and the level of public outcry in 2016 in response to seismic ships that were secretly cleared to begin work, we feel strongly that this is an issue that Belizeans want to be consulted on before any shift in the current policy position on offshore oil,” shared Chanona. “The only reason to collect seismic data is to proceed to oil production.”

The Petroleum Operations (Maritime Zone Moratorium) Act, 2017, currently prevents the exploration for and exploitation of petroleum and other petroleum operations in the maritime zone of Belize and includes penalties and fines for persons and/or corporate bodies who contravene the law. “We are however fully cognizant that laws can be changed in a day, especially by a super majority Government. This exercise is therefore a decisive and transparent way for Belizeans to highlight their interest in participating in decisions on a far-reaching and long-standing issue.” Chanona goes on to say, “This referendum will also require that Belmopan reconciles its decision to explore for offshore oil with the country’s position as a global ocean conservation leader and national vulnerability to the impacts of the climate crisis as well as our national brand as a premier eco-friendly tourism destination. Belize should and can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

In 2012, the Coalition to Save Our National Heritage, founded by the Belize Environmental Law and Policy and Oceana, organized a national referendum called “The People’s Referendum” following the rejection of a number of signatures by the Elections and Boundaries Department. Approximately 30,000 Belizeans participated in that vote – with 96% voting against offshore oil activity. The question being put to Belizeans in this 2022 petition moves to strengthen the existing moratorium by implementing a ban on offshore oil unless Belizean voters approve petroleum operations in the marine environment via an official referendum.

‘Do you support a legislative ban by way of an amendment to the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize, which will prohibit offshore petroleum and natural gas exploration (including but not limited to seismic testing, seismic surveys, multibeam surveys), development, drilling, extraction, production, storage and disposal within the internal waters, territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone of Belize (“petroleum operations”), unless a referendum is held in accordance with the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize which approves such petroleum operations?’

Signature collectors will be working countrywide to collect signatures. Visit Oceana Referendum and Signature Drive 2022, for information on how to add your name to the petition.


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.oceana.org to learn more.