The Reef Report Card
The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative has put together the latest Reef Report Card. It's the annual assessment of the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System - which passes through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.
To measure the comparative health of the entire system, marine biologists have sampled 319 different sites along the reef, looking for indicators of a healthy reef system.
After collecting all that data, they can then determine which part of the reef system has improved, and which parts are in danger.
Well, this year's report card is ready, and according to the experts, at this point, the health of Belize's reef, unlike its mesoamerican neighbors, has improved. And initiative director Melanie McField told us that on this report card day Belize is at top of the class:
2020's Mesoamerican Reef report card was released this morning and this year the initiative had good news for Belize but not so encouraging news for the rest of Mesoamerica.
Melanie McField - Director, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"For Belize, in particular, we've seen an improvement in the reef health so Belize now has the highest reef health index of the mesoamerican reef we've scored a 3 out of 5 and that's gone up from the last report. So, we saw an increase in ParrotFish and the Herbivorous Fish biomass. We protected them in 2009 and it just has taken a while for those populations to increase and so now they are doing their job which is reducing macroalgae, which is the other improvement that we measured. We actually have a slight decrease in this fleshy microalgae that tends to overgrow the reef so those are two really good things. The commercial fish is kind of stable and dropping so the commercial fish is the thing that for Belize we still need to work on, and that I think the main recommendation we have are these replenishment zones. You need areas of the reef that you do not fish, you let the fish get large then they can reproduce and produce many more babies and it goes out into the larvae into the ocean and re-seeds it's like re-planting and re-seeding the reef with more fish. On the Mesoamerican reef scale what we saw was actually a decline in reef health. It's the first time in our 12 years of monitoring that we actually had a decline. We've had these gradual increases all along and then it took a dive and that was due to Honduras so in the last two years they have seen a real crash in the herbivorous fish population in Honduras it was reduced by more than half and their commercial fish also was reduced by more than half so they've had pressures like on the fisheries and not enough of the area closed to fishing and not enough enforcement."
And, in order to avoid the pitfalls, Honduras has encountered, Belize is employing what Fisheries Administrator Beverley Wade calls a management basket of best practices for the protection of our reef.
Beverley Wade - Fisheries Administrator
"What we're now looking at is how can we now create the effectiveness of that protection by looking at the no-take areas how do we now strengthen functionality how do we now strengthen the integrity of that network of protected areas that we have now put in place and so we're now working. Government has already made a policy decision that it will now look at putting in new legislation that will increase our current no-take zones that are currently around prescribed. We've protected key species we've increased our marine protected areas and we've just passed a very robust and innovative fisheries legislative framework and so what I think today is reflecting is all of those things that Belize has put in I would dare say a management basket and we are now seeing some of the fruit of that. What we now have to do is to now invest and ensure that they're effectively employed."
And one such strategy presented this morning has to do with a crustacean that can help clean up the reef.
Nicole Craig - Country Coordinator, Healthy Reefs Healthy People
"In the report card we talked about a crab project that we're running essentially the Caribbean crab which is a very large crab that lives on our reef is a herbivore so as we're identifying that the macroalgae problem is becoming extensive we need to address it somehow. So the first part of that was the parrotfish ban. But then we wanted to be able to help the situation by providing even more herbivore's. These crabs we're expecting will help to reduce the number of microalgae on the reef. One of the other side effects I guess positive side effects of this project is actually being able to help fishermen find additional income. So, once we've worked through the process of how to raise the crabs. We will be able to pass that knowledge on to the fishermen and we would like to essentially strike a deal. If you learn how to grow these crabs maybe 20 or 30% you put back on the reef and the remaining percentage is yours for you to sell to earn income."
And How can you help Belize to the best possible score on next year's reef report card? Healthy Reefs says it has to do with being a conscious consumer. We need to respect fishing season and size limits, encourage our fishermen to abide by no-take zones, and do our utmost to uphold the new single use-plastic ban.
And McField says that G.O.B's role in securing next year's high score will be to pass replenishment zone legislation, taking advantage of credits from climate change opportunities, and making sure to closely follow coastal management plans.