The world’s second-largest barrier reef was saved from offshore drilling by activists who successfully sued the government of Belize over the issue.

Belize issued contracts to energy companies in 2004 and 2007 that allowed them to drill around the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. But the government officials awarded the contracts to inexperienced drillers and didn’t bother studying the environmental impacts first. That’s actually kind of understandable: I mean, what could go wrong?

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Oceana and two other nonprofits sued the government over the contracts. They won the lawsuit this week in Belize’s Supreme Court.

From a blog post by Oceana:

The court overturned the contracts after determining that the government failed to assess the environmental impact on Belize’s ocean, as required by law, prior to issuing the contracts. The court also found that contracts were made to companies that did not demonstrate a proven ability to contribute the necessary funds, assets, machinery, equipment, tools and technical expertise to drill safely.

Oceana has campaigned against offshore drilling in Belize for more than two years. In 2011, after collecting the 20,000+ signatures required to trigger a national referendum that would allow the public to vote on whether or not to allow offshore oil drilling in Belize’s reef, the Government disqualified over 8,000 of these signatures effectively on the basis of poor penmanship — stopping the possibility of a vote. Oceana answered by quickly organizing the nation’s first ever “People’s Referendum” on February 29, 2012 in which 29,235 people (Belize’s entire population is approximately 350,000) came from all over the country to cast their votes.

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You can celebrate by admiring this photo of some unusual Belizean coral that has been spared from the effects of offshore drilling — at least for now:

Underwater photo of brain coral, tube coral and trunk fish taken in the Great Blue Hole in Belize

jayhemUnderwater photo of brain coral, tube coral, and trunk fish taken in the Great Blue Hole in Belize.