Israeli-led group buys endangered coral reef in Belize

This is My Earth has crowdfunded $30k – much of it from Israelis – toward the purchase and protection of a strategic parcel of the Turneffe Atoll.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, ISRAEL21c

The Turneffe Atoll off  the Central American country of Belize is the largest and most biologically diverse coral reef in the Western Hemisphere.

Destructive and unsustainable development have damaged or destroyed Turneffe’s coral reef, backreef flats, sea grasses and mangrove forests, according to the Turneffe Atoll Trust (TAT).

But hope is on the horizon, thanks to a $30,000 crowdfunding campaign by the Israeli-led international nonprofit organization This is My Earth (TiME).

According to TiME founder and CEO Prof. Uri Shanas, a conservation biologist at the University of Haifa-Oranim, the funds will enable TAT to buy and protect a five-acre strategic parcel of the Turneffe Atoll and ensure there will be no development on what Shanas calls “an amazingly beautiful spot.”

TiME donors, who can contribute as little as $1 annually toward purchasing and protecting land in biodiversity hotspots, vote online to determine which targeted projects will receive the crowdfunds. At the end of each year, TiME allocates donations according to the voting results.

With the funds raised in 2016 and 2017, “we have purchased two parcels in the upper Amazon and they are protected areas now. Hundreds of kids and adults from all over the world but mostly from Israel have participated in this successful story,” Shanas tells ISRAEL21c.

He explains that habitat loss is the main driver of species extinction. Tropical forests, home to two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity, are fast disappearing due to urbanization, climate change, deforestation and commercial exploitation – in the case of Turneffe, a hotel project.

All lands acquired by New York-based TiME are given to indigenous peoples working in collaboration with local conservation organizations to protect the land.

Shanas also reports that TiME’s educational program in English, Hebrew and Arabic is becoming popular in schools.

“Kids learn with the TiME program about conservation, geography, language and social sciences, and discuss issues such as democracy, equity, responsibility and activism,” he says.