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This Eco-Audit evaluates efforts to protect and sustainably manage the region's coral reefs; celebrates management success stories; and documents the extent to which recommended management actions have been implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.



Licensed under Creative Commons

The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) provides a diverse array of goods and services to the people of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. It is our shared heritage. Unfortunately, the health of the reef is declining, as documented by the 2008 and 2010 Report Cards published by the Healthy Reefs Initiative. The decline stems, at least in part, from inadequate management of threats to coral reefs. This Eco-Audit evaluates our efforts to protect and sustainably manage the region's coral reefs; celebrates management success stories; and documents the extent to which recommended management actions have been implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. It seeks to catalyze faster, more effective management responses and to increase accountability within the public and private sectors and among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

An Innovative, Rigorous Process

The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and local partners, developed and implemented this first-ever multinational Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries.

Evaluation criteria are comprehensive and inclusive.

Twenty-two standardized management indicators were developed across seven themes, such as fisheries management and coastal zone management.1 The Eco-Audit draws on input from a variety of NGOs, governmental agencies, and the private sector, and includes transparently verified and publicly available results. In September and October 2011, HRI and WRI convened four national workshops, whose purpose was for participants to collectively rank each indicator and to compile documents to verify the rankings.

Analysis is objective, science-based, and validated.

HRI and its regional partners are committed to maintaining audit standards that are unbiased, fact-based, transparent, and replicable. The financial and management auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers Costa Rica (PwC)2 reviewed the methodology and provided feedback on the processes, indicators, and quality of the verification documentation.

Data quality will be enhanced over time.

This first Eco-Audit establishes a baseline regarding the status of reef ecosystem management efforts. The results are intended to guide data collection and compilation for future Eco-Audits, which will occur every two years. These biennial Eco-Audits and the biennial HRI Reef Report Cards will occur in alternating years, thereby providing a routine accounting of reef health and efforts to improve it. As data collection becomes more complete and the database grows, we anticipate that the Eco-Audit will evolve, becoming more quantitative and comprehensive in its evaluation of management efforts.


2011 Eco-Audit of Mesoamerica Reef Countries

View more presentations from World Resources Institute (WRI)

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Belize from above. Photo credit: Jason Valdez

This week, two of my colleagues, Ben Kushner and Lauretta Burke, travelled to Mexico and Belize, respectively, for the launch of a new multinational evaluation of reef management by governments, NGOs, and the private sector. The launch events took place in Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and were the result of nine months of collaboration to develop indicators and gather data for this first-ever eco-audit of the Mesoamerican Reef.

The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the Atlantic Ocean, is home to over 500 species of fish and harkens back over 225 million years. The research included input from more than 40 organizations and 100 people. WRI provided technical assistance to the Healthy Reefs Initiative and local partners.

At the launch event in Belize, Dr. Melanie McField, director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative, captured the essence of the new analysis: "The purpose of the eco-audit is really to answer the simple question, are we doing all we can to help the reef?"

Watch the MSNBC segment on the Eco-audit

"Fair" Management

Unfortunately, the study clearly indicates that the reefs in the region are not being managed very well and more needs to be done to protect the region's fragile reef system. Overall, across the region, the four countries scored 2.7 (out of 5), which falls into the "Fair" category. Belize was ranked the highest, followed by Honduras and Mexico, and then Guatemala.

As Ben noted, "Our findings show that there's only been a moderate effort to implement the management recommendations to stem the decline of the Mesoamerican reef."

The main threats to reefs in the region include overfishing and run-off from land-both of which have gone largely unchecked. And, according to the researchers, if the government and private sector do not increase efforts to improve coastal management and reduce pressure on the reef, it is likely that the Western Hemisphere's longest barrier reef will continue to deteriorate, and critical ecosystem services such as fish habitat may be lost. This, in turn, could have devastating consequences for the region, which relies heavily on marine resources to sustain tourism and fishing industries. (You can learn more about the threats to coral reefs in WRI's report, Reefs at Risk Revisited.)

Click here to see results from the 2011 Eco-Audit

At the Belize event, Lauretta reflected, "The results show that overall the region is not achieving adequate management results. We hope that this analysis will help point out the gaps and what areas need the most attention."

A Call to Action

The Eco-Audit highlights the urgency of addressing a range of deficiencies, such as by protecting key reef grazers like parrotfish that clean the reef, and improving and enforcing coastal zone planning regulations.

This analysis reveals that NGOs and governments have made good progress - for example by establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and some restrictions on fishing, but also that there's a long way to go to ensure that reefs will be protected into the future - including adopting and adhering to coastal zone plans, improving sewage treatment, and implementing certification for hotels, marine recreation providers and the seafood industry.

As Ben reported after the Mexico launch, "People here are acutely aware of the problems associated with reefs, but it is difficult to build the political will and funding to significantly improve reef management." According to Dr. McField, the Healthy Reef Initiative aims to come back every two years to check on the quality of the reef management. And, it's possible that eco-audits could be expanded to more countries in the years ahead.

Hopefully, this project will help lead to better management of the Mesoamerican reef and inspire people to take better care of other reefs, as well.

For a summary of the Mesoamerican Eco-Audit, including an overview of each indicator and data collection methods, go to: and

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Eco-Audit finds management efforts "insufficient" to protect Mesoamerican Reef

On Tuesday February 7th, the first ever Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef was released and it shows that management efforts by stakeholders of this precious natural resources are "insufficient." The eco-audit is a follow up to the Reef Report Card which was published in 2010 and evaluates the efforts taken to protect and sustainably manage the region's coral reefs. It also celebrates management success stories and documents the extent to which recommended management actions have been implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico since the publication of the report card. The eco-audit was launched simultaneously in all four countries and shows an overall score of the reef management as fair, 2.7 out of 5, across the region and for all thematic areas.

This score indicates that, in general, the MAR ecosystem is not being adequately managed. By country, the audit shows Belize doing better than the other three countries, with a 3.3 score, followed by Honduras and Mexico who both scored 2.7 and last is Guatemala with a 2.2 score. According to the evaluation entitled 2011 Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries, "Despite some positive management efforts, more needs to be done to protect the region's coral reefs."

Dr. Melanie McField, Director of Healthy Reef Initiative explained that the evaluation was carried out by Healthy Reefs Initiative in collaboration with the World Resources Institute and nearly 40 local organizations, government agencies and companies. "We developed a criteria base indicator and measured progress in the ranking system one through five. The story for Belize is a little better because we really had some high score in terms of research, monitoring and education which was one of the themes. Our fisheries based eco system received a really high score, leading the region in fisheries management system," explained McField. She added that "We need a little more work in [terms] of coastal zone management and private sector involvement in the conservation effort."

McField, in her statement said that "there are many actions needed to protect the reefs that have been under discussion for decades. It's time to complete and implement these actions." When asked to elaborate, McField said, "The main thing is the implementation of fully protected areas. We have done a good job in creating marine protected areas. If you look on a map of the country you will see all these marine protected areas; we have NGOs and communities involved but when we look at the amount of sea that is fully protected, the amount of reef and sea grass habitat, it's not enough. When we start removing the fish, conch and the lobster, then that has implication on the ecosystem, so we need to have a larger percentage of the sea fully protected; we only have a little over 2% fully protected."

The Mesoamerican Reef extends over 600 miles from Mexico to Honduras and includes the Western Hemisphere's longest barrier reef, located in Belize. Economies in the region are highly dependent on marine resources, especially from tourism and fishing industries. In Belize alone, the reef is estimated to contribute approximately $395 to $559 million USD in goods and services each year. "Reefs are a vital part of this region, providing both economic and cultural value to people in this area. We hope that this information will help to ensure that reefs can thrive for generations to come," explained McField.

The Eco-Audit was developed and implemented using twenty-two standardized management indicators across seven thematic areas. This includes: Research, Education and Awareness, Marine Protected Areas, Global Issues, Coastal Zone Management, Sustainability in the Private Sector, Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management, and Sanitation and Sewage Treatment. Over 300 supporting documents were provided as verification of the results.

To ensure the quality of the results, the financial and management auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers Costa Rica reviewed the methodology and provided feedback on the processes and indicators and the quality of the verification documentation. This first Eco-Audit provides the foundation for subsequent Eco-Audits, which will be implemented every two years, assuring a routine accounting of efforts to improve the health of the MAR. A full copy of the analysis can be found on and websites.

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