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