Protection of Mesoamerican Reef Gets a Boost
Jorge A. Grochembake
GUATEMALA CITY, Jun 12 (Tierramérica) - Experts from Belize, Guatemala,
Honduras and Mexico are set to begin field studies as part of an
alliance to establish fishing regulations for the threatened
Mesoamerican Reef, the largest in the Atlantic Ocean and the second
largest in the world.
Extending one thousand kilometres, the reef is the scenario for an
exuberant natural spectacle from the Yucatan Peninsula in southern
Mexico, to the islands of the bay of Honduras.
Its rich biological diversity, which includes marine species in high
demand by the seafood industry, such as snails, mero fish and lobster,
is suffering the pressures of commercial fishing, tourism and even
To ensure the sustainability of the coral network and associated
ecosystems -- including mangroves and sea marshes -- an intensive effort
is needed in education, training and information sharing, says MMiguel
Angel García, head of environmental monitoring for the Mesoamerican Reef
System (SAM for its Spanish initials).
With financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World
Bank, SAM is a conservation initiative covering an area that connects
the territories and territorial waters of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras
As part of this endeavour, experts in each country will begin field
research in July to monitor key areas of SAM.
For example, biologists will track the reproduction behaviour of fish
species that are of high commercial value.
The fishing communities "already have identified the sites where they
congregate in order to take greatest advantage of their numbers," said
García. The results of the studies will provide a basis for
recommendations for regulated fishing, he explained.
Coral reefs are a sort of skeleton in shallow waters, made up of coral
colonies that need various types of algae in order to survive. Through
photosynthesis, the algae produce the calcium carbonate that the coral
needs to fix itself to the reef.
Barrier reefs protect coastal ecosystems and serve as reproduction and
feeding sites for marine mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates,
explains Daniella Guevara, of Mexico's National Commission on Protected
The Mesoamerican Reef is the second largest on earth, after the Great
Barrier Reef of Australia. Because of its size, trans-border zones of
priority have been established in order to reinforce mechanisms for reef
Key sites include parts of the Chetumal Bay (Belize and Mexico) and of
the Gulf of Honduras (Belize, Guatemala and Honduras).
One of these zones is the Chinchorro Bank biosphere, the richest reef in
Mexico, off the southeastern coast of Quintana Roo state. Also selected
was the Cayos Cochinos archipelago, a set of islets and keys in the
As part of the SAM project, protection rules were enacted in Gladden
Spit in Belize, an egg-laying site for mero and pargo fish.
That fishery attracts the whale shark and has become an important
tourist destination. The project efforts aim to control diving and
fishing in the area.
The preservation initiative "is already being executed," says Alda
Gamboa, director for biodiversity at the Honduran Secretariat of Natural
Resources and Environment (SERNA).
But, she adds, "In nearly all countries involved there is damage."
In the case of Honduras, which along with Belize has the best
conservation record, the reefs are affected by a stress phenomenon known
as bleaching, caused by "the sedimentation resulting from the extensive
deforestation that Honduras suffers," says Gamboa.
Because coral does not tolerate changes in water temperatures, the
warming of the oceans -- associated with climate change -- also
contributes to bleaching.
In spite of actions on numerous fronts, "we have not achieved total
protection," the Honduran official admits.
Effective reef protection requires "regional management, because it is
not possible to isolate the parts belonging to one country from the rest
of the reef system," Gamboa said.
SAM entered into force in mid-2001 with a 15-year plan, divided into
three five-year phases.
(Jorge A. Grochembake is a Tierramérica contributor.)
* Originally published June 7 by Latin American newspapers that are part
of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service
produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development
Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme: www.tierramerica.net