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#452766 - 12/05/12 02:05 PM What's The Status Of Belize’s Reef?
Marty Offline
Like me, you probably grew up hearing and saying the mantra that Belize has the second largest uninterrupted barrier reef on earth. And where's the first largest? Well that would be the great barrier reef in Australia - the longest in the world.

But, did you know that experts agree the Great Barrier reef is dying? That's right, it's the victim of climate change and pollution. And, as we all know, when that happens on one side of the world - the other can't be too far behind.

So how is Belize's reef system doing? That's what we found out when its report card was presented today:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
The Mesoamerican Reef system covers the reefs of Mexico, Belize and Honduras.

And every two years, marine biologists go into the water with pen and paper - the waterproof version to document its health.

Dr. Melanie Mcfield, Director, Healthy Reefs Initiative
"The reef gets a biennial or every year the coral reef gets its physical - this is the assessment, this is what the doctors are giving back as the health of the reef."

And to determine its health, these researchers look for four specific indicators.

Dr. Melanie Mcfield, Director, Healthy Reefs Initiative
"There are the 4 kind of fundamental components; 2 of them is what we called the Benthos - that's the hard bottom of the reef. The other two components of index of reef health that we are measuring are fish, and one group is the omnivores fish - those are the parrot fish and the tangs and surgeonfish. Finally the other fish component that's really important is the top predators - the carnivores - those are commercial fish, these are groupers and snappers. Those two families - we look at the biomass of that and so this is measured by people in the water, divers doing transects."

And after all that work, the report card says…

Jules Vasquez
"How is the reef doing?"

Dr. Melanie Mcfield
"Poorly; overall it's poor if you want it in one word."

Jules Vasquez
"Worsening or improving?"

Dr. Melanie Mcfield
"A slight improvement, it's a little less poor than the last time. I would say that it's close to crisis but it's not fully in crisis. We have of components that are fairly easy to come back with the right management. We are on the verge of crisis but we are not in crisis. Our reef is a step above, its sick but it's not terminal."

As this circle shows, the sliver of dark green is for the few reefs in very good condition - there are only 3 of those in Belize. There are some good reefs in lighter green, fair reefs in yellow, poor in orange, and red is critical.

So, in Belize, there are some fair reefs and a few good reefs.

So what can be done to make them better?

Dr. Melanie Mcfield
"What you can do - I think one of the main things that Belizeans can do is support the fisheries laws. Too many people are buying out of season undersized lobster and conch and these things matter and I think talking to your friends that fish and letting them know that we really want to have fish in the future; we can't take the last fish. We do need to have regulations on fin fish. We can't just keep fishing fish without any regulations. We just need to have a decent percent of our waters; 15-20% or you leave the fish alone. Let them breed, let them repopulate. They will be good Belizean fish - they will breed well if we just leave them alone."

Channel 7


Report Card out on Mesoamerican Reef Health

The 2012 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card was released by Healthy Reef Initiative. The findings of a study conducted along the coast of Belize and neighboring countries that comprise Mesoamerica show that the health of the eco-region is not in good shape and that fish stock and coral are at risk. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

Over the past two years marine biologists have been closely monitoring the health of the Mesoamerican Reef in order to determine its overall state.  While some areas of improvement have been recorded, the general prognosis is that the eco-region which spans the coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, remains in poor condition.  In 2010, Healthy Reefs Initiative designated a hundred and ninety-three sites for the study of coral cover, fleshy algae cover, herbivorous fish abundance, as well as commercially important fish.  Those results were officially released today during the launch of the Mesoamerican Reef Report Card 2012.

Melanie McField

Dr. Melanie McField, Director, Healthy Reefs Initiative

“The window of opportunity for protecting these reefs or correcting the things that are wrong is closing.  Every year that more reefs fall into critical condition it’s really hard to get them out of critical condition.  You can get them out of poor back into fair but once they get too bad, you know, there’s a declining return on any effort that you start putting into these reefs once they are too far gone.  So we still have some fair reefs, we still have a few good reefs and now is the time to really focus the attention on those management actions.”

Those actions include the protection of herbivorous fish in Belize.  Since 2010 the population of these fish have grown by thirty-three percent.  Other areas that require some measure of improvement include better management of agricultural waste, coastal development, as well as the treatment of used water.

Dr. Melanie McField

“On average if you had to give the whole Mesoamerican Reef a grade it comes out poor.  So it’s a little less poor than it was last time, that’s the little part of the little bit of good news and, you know, when you think about it in context of what’s happening globally with coral reefs, the fact that we’re not here giving really bad news is, in itself, a bit of good news because we’re holding on by the skin of our teeth but we’re holding on a little better than many places in the world.”

In Honduras, seventy percent of the sites decreased in health, while in Mexico most of the sites improved.  Information from Guatemala, however, is rather hard to come by, underscoring the need for increasing efforts to monitor the respective sites over a long-term period.  The fisheries industry, says McField, is being affected.

Dr. Melanie McField

“We need fish on the reef; we need fish on fishermen’s boats and in our plates, but where is the balance. One of the things that Belize has adopted that is important is the idea of fisheries refuges—the fully protected areas where you let the fish grow large. They then produce exponentially more baby fish. So that’s what we need is fish factories all up and down the reef. We have a few little ones like Hol Chan, Half-moon Caye; we have these small fully protected areas that are trying to recede the entire reef, but we don’t have enough of it. We need to have twenty percent of the reef assigned in full protection and now we have like three percent or four percent.”

Channel 5


Click here for the full report: 2012 Report Card for the Mesoamerican Reef

Other reports

2011 Eco Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries


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#452975 - 12/07/12 02:46 PM Re: What's The Status Of Belize’s Reef? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Barrier Reef in poor health

The anti-offshore oil exploration lobby recently estimated that the Meso-American Barrier reef is worth over US$350 million to Belize annually in tourism, fisheries and storm surge protection, but the reef itself is in poor health, according to a recent survey carried out by the Healthy Reefs Initiative.

Belize must take a white-water to blue water approach to conserving the health of the reef, since everything that man does on land inevitably affects what happens offshore on the reef.

Rains wash excess fertilizer and other nutrients washed off farmland into rivers, which carry them out to sea, where the excess nutrients stimulates the growth of macro-algae, which compete for sunlight and space on the reef with the living polyps.

Any sewage from coastal communities that spills into the sea also encourages the growth of macro-algae. Sedimentation from dredging and other human activities also threaten the coral polyps. Belizeans must control these activities or accept part of the blame for the death of our reef.

In presenting the Meso-American reef report card at the Radisson Hotel on Tuesday, December 4, Melanie McField of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Conservation NGO explained that the survey had measured four parameters: the percentage of the reef which was occupied by live coral polyps, the presence of macro-algae, the bio-mass of herbivorous fish which consume the macro-algae and the bio-mass of commercial species or larger, carnivorous fish.

The fish population is also important to the health of the reef, because herbivorous fish like the parrotfish or angelfish eat the macro-algae, keeping it down and allowing the coral polyps a chance to survive.

The larger, commercial species of carnivorous fish like the snapper and grouper are also important; if man overfishes these fish, their stocks may reach a level so low that the population will not be able to recover.

It is important to have no-take zones, protected areas where absolutely no fishing is allowed. Mcfield reported healthy populations in the marine protected areas, where the large numbers of adult fish which can lay thousands of eggs ensuring the continued survival of their species; but Mcfield cautioned that there should be more of such no-fishing-allowed areas.

“We need to strike a balance between the amount of fish caught to sustain fishermen’s livelihoods and the long-term sustainability of the reef, which in turn ensures the sustainability of the fishing industry.

The survey quantified the four parameters at 193 sites in four countries, and Belize did not do so well compared to some of our neighbours.

“Of the 68 sites studied in Belize, 5% could be said to be in good condition, 22% were considered fair, but 44% were considered in poor health and 29% were considered as critical.

“Our coral cover has increased from 12% in 2008 to 19% this year, but where the level of macro-algae was fair at 9% in 2008, it is now poor at 16%. Macro-algae make life difficult for the coral polyps.

Which would not be so bad if we had the herbivorous fish to eat up the algae, but our population of herbivorous fish is also poor. It was 1788 grammes per 100 square meters in 2008, and has increased slightly to 1870 grammes this year, but this is considered poor compared to the level of 3.5 kilos which would be considered very good, especially compared to Honduras, which had levels over 5 kilos of fish per 100 square meters in 2008 and 4.3 kilos this year.

Our population of commercial fish is also poor at 495 grammes per 100 square meters, where 1.7 kilos would be considered very good.

Honduras scored much better. Of 58 sites studied around the Inner and Outer Bay islands, two percent were in Very Good condition, and another 19% were in good health. Another 31% were considered fair, while only 34% were considered as poor and 14% could be called critical.

Mexico also scored well; of the 63 sites surveyed, 5% were considered in good health, 25% were considered fair; 40% were poor and 30% were critical. Only four sites were surveyed in the Guatemala’s coastal area, where one was considered fair and three were in poor health.

Some factors affecting reef health like the acidification of the sea, warming sea temperatures and rising sea levels area considered effects of global warming and climate change; which is really beyond the control of Belize and even the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen in the 137 years since the invention of the steam engine spawned the Industrial Revolution in 1876, to such levels that we have acid rain, as the rain falling dissolves this carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid which is falling into our seas and rivers.

This acidity makes it harder for coral and any other marine animal, including conch and sea anemones, in fact all of the sea diadema, to form their shells from calcium carbonate. An acid sea makes it harder for the coral polyps to build their house.

The incomplete burning of carbon in internal combustion engines also produces carbon-monoxide, much more lethal because its poisonous to humans, but also because carbon monoxide reacts with the Ozone layer.

Ozone is a naturally occurring form of oxygen which has three oxygen atoms, rather than the two atoms in the oxygen we breathe, In the past, the ozone layer sheltered the earth by filtering out a large quantity of harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but as the ozone layer is depleted, the ultra-violet rays penetrate, creating a ‘greenhouse effect’ as they warm the air and seas. The warmer air is melting glaciers on mountaintops and even the polar ice-caps, causing sea levels to rise.

The report recommends that we reduce our use of automobiles and that we walk or ride a bicycle, that we turn off the lights, and try to reduce our use of electricity, to reduce our carbon foot-print as much as possible. But the broader reality is that Belize’s population is only 350,000, and even all of CARICOM is only 16 million people.

In comparison, Mexico has 112 million, Canada has 35 million, the United States has 314 million, the European Union has 502 million, Russia has 143 million, all countries that industrialized back in 1876, and show no real signs of reducing their carbon footprint.

China has 1.3 billion people and India has 1.2 billion, and both countries have embarked on ambitious programs of industrialization to provide a better quality of life for their billions of people.

They too show no sign of reining in their use of carbon fuels and their carbon footprint, and until they do, all our turning off the lights and using renewable energy like solar panels, won’t have a significant impact on what ails our reef.

The Reporter


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