On Wednesday night, we told you about the two-day Reef Restoration Network’s second biennial meeting being held in Belize. It closed off today. The purpose of the meeting is for Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala to exchange information about the advances and challenges they have in restoring the reef. News Five’s Reporter Andrea Polanco tells us more in the following story.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
The Mesoamerican Reef system stretches for more than six hundred miles along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. More than two million people depend on this interconnected ecosystem of coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses, and coastal lagoons. So, the Meso-American Reef contributes directly to the livelihood, and the national economies of these countries. But for a long time this fragile reef system is being degraded. Climate change; unsustainable fishing; Inland agriculture run-off; coastal development; pollution; invasive species and other factors are threatening the integrity and health of this system. So, back in 2012, the four MAR countries started the ground work to establish a network that would look out for the best interest of the Meso American Reef. In 2017, with support from the MAR Fund and Mexico’s Oceanus, they organized themselves and renewed their commitment to get together to find common ways to restore the reef. This week the network is hosting its second biennial meeting in Belize.
Anastazia Banaszak, President, Reef Restoration Network (MAR)
“The Meso-American Reef is a source of economy for many people. Most coastal people rely on protein from fishing for food or for selling the fish or for taking the tourist to see the beautiful sea. The problem that we are facing is that every day the reef seems to be confronting a new challenge. There are many challenges that are causing the reef to degrade. What we need to do is to reverse that trend to try to have healthy reefs again because they are so important to the economy and they are also important for many other reasons. They protect the coast from erosion and they provide pharmaceuticals and lots of other services that the reef provides so we need to re-establish that. We use to talk a lot about conserving coral reefs but now we need to talk about restoring coral reefs because conserving them the way they are is just not enough anymore. So, I think that is the real importance of this network, is that we work in coordination, and learn from each other’s experiences and collaborate and try to make that happen.”
The goal of this network is to see that the MAR thrives as a healthy, productive ecosystem. But for this to happen, the countries that share this resource must work together to restore the reef. Ian Dryesdale of Honduras’s Healthy Reefs Initiative shares how this kind of collaboration can help managers of this resource to plan and better manage and restore the MAR:
Ian Dryesdale, Honduras Coordinator, Health Reefs Initiative
“We have restoration projects in the different countries but they are not comparable right now and everybody is not working at the same level and the same speed. So, the point of creating this network and bringing the four countries together and over seventy-five partner organizations is to have everybody working along the same lines and be able to compare how successful we are being with the restoration projects. For example, we need to have fishing regulations that are across the four countries. Another difficult thing we have is oil exploration. I know that Belize has done a great job in banning off shore oil exploration, but not Honduras, for example. So, whatever happens in one country can greatly and negatively affect the neighbouring country. But also look at the positive side. Coral restoration projects, when they start spawning and putting their gamuts into the water, coral reefs don’t know borders; these are just lines drawn on maps. So, whatever one country is doing positively with coral restoration will also positively affect the neighbouring country.”
Belize is home to eighty-percent of the Meso-American Reef. The reef provides about five hundred million U.S. dollars in services to Belizeans. But the reality is that with increased use and development, coupled with changes in our climate, our coral reefs at risk. And so to help the coral reefs continue to support the economy and to safeguard its biodiversity, Fragments of Hope has planted over sixty-five thousand coral fragments in the last ten years in Belize. Their restoration project is recognized as one of the most successful coral restoration projects in the region. At this network meeting, the organization is sharing some of their best practices with their partners.
Victor Faux, Fragments of Hope
“Sediment and pollution are affecting them, especially with development on the islands now we have a lot more run off from pollution and the sewage system and in turn that can create more algae. If we have algae there won’t be corals naturally recruiting to that area. So, it would be wise to scrub off some of that algae and with the restoration efforts we can put corals back in those areas. We have most of the corals very alive. Ninety-five percent, most of the time.”
While MAR countries come together to plan, they also look to each to learn from their experiences and best practices. According to David Golko who works with coral restoration in Hawaii, this level of network collaboration is exemplary. Golko also lauds the efforts of Belize’s coral restoration project which differs from their work in the Pacific:
David Golko, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources
“This Meso American Reef restoration consortium is rather unique worldwide in terms of these four countries coming together working together developing coordinated actions relative to reef restoration. That is pretty far advanced compared to most other countries dealing with this so there is a lot to learn by being here. Your primary corals that are being restored here are extremely fast growing corals; growing on a range of twenty to twenty-five centimeters a year. In Hawaii, our average growth rate is one to two centimeters a year, so we have extremely slow growing corals. We have relatively rare corals because they are unique to Hawaii which gives us different challenges in terms of how we conduct restoration, therefore we develop different techniques. Once again, coming to a unique meeting like this gives us an opportunity to evaluate those techniques relative to what others are doing.”