Belize’s reef is improving in health Print E-mail
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Thursday, 11 January 2018 00:00

The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) region, which extends across the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, is one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. There is a continuous threat to the health of the reef as well as to the economies and communities that depend on and benefit both directly and indirectly from it. Environmental authorities throughout the region play key roles in the development of strategic and effective solutions to the ever critical environmental problems; one such organization is Oceana Belize.

At an Oceana sponsored event, the Healthy Reef Initiative (HRI) issued their 2018 report card on the state of the MAR. Belize has seen some overall improvement since its last report, from 2.5 to 2.8, tying with Mexico, both only being outdone by Honduras which scored a 3.0. According to Dr. Melanie McField, Director, HRI, the report is an annual assessment of the reef’s health which looks at four specific indicators. These indicators account for coral cover, limited fleshy macroalgae cover, herbivorous fish biomass, such as parrotfish, and commercial fish biomass, such as grouper and snapper.

According to the report, Belize, home to 94 sites, has seen an increase, though slight, in coral coverage as well as the biomass of herbivorous and commercial fish. Unfortunately for the entire MAR, there continues to be a slight increase in the macroalgae cover, which competes with the coral and other healthy facets of the reef.

In Belize alone, there has been a slight decrease in the overall macroalgae cover after the parrotfish was protected in 2009. While the slight increase of parrotfish has allowed for a decrease in macroalgae, according to Dr. McField, “they are not enough”. There are other herbivorous fish such as the longspine urchin which is supposed to assist in this effort but there was a decrease of them in the 1980s. Fortunately, they are reappearing and in the areas that they exist and thrive, there is little to no macroalgae. There is a plan to restore key herbivores into the region. Dr. McField has also stated that there are efforts being made to assist in another problem, the existence of nutrient runoff.