Mesoamerican Reef Fund (2012)

Meso-American Reef Health Database (2012)

Project Details

Grantee Organization: Healthy Reefs Initiative
Grant Amount: $127,270
Contact: Melanie McField
Contact Email: mcfield 'atsign'
Funding Dates: 6/15/12 - 6/14/14
Project Links:

UPDATE: JRS awarded follow-up grant to continue the work of the project. Please click here to view.

BackgroundHRI logo

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People is a collaborative international initiative that generates user-friendly tools to measure the health of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) Ecosystem, and delivers scientifically credible reports to improve decision-making that effectively sustains social and ecosystem well-being. The signature products include biennial Report Cards on the health of the Mesoamerican Reef ecosystem, including collaborative management recommendations, and Eco-Audits of the four countries that evaluate the implementation of these recommendations. HRI also serves as a regional hub of marine conservation information for scientists, media, governments and conservation partners. Over fifty local, regional, and international organizations are now partnering on this Initiative.

Key Objectives and Activities

  • The project aims to engage bioinformatics experts to develop one integrated database that HRI partners, managers and scientists can access online. The online database will provide a user-friendly web interface that allows data exploration, visualization and direct downloading.
  • The JRS-funded project will also support a training course in reef monitoring and database utilization in order to expand the current number of reef sites monitored by HRI.

Planned Outputs

  • A user-friendly online data entry portal, database, and mapping/visualization tools.
  • Enhanced field data collection improving the spatial scope of the data for 2014.
  • Collaborative criteria-setting, evaluation and introduction to the database (beta version) in 2013 Regional Partners meeting.

These outputs are enhancing HRI’s capacity for data management, collaboration, and analysis. As the volume of data HRI manages continues to increase, the time is right to establish a rigorous database and online data visualization tool that will support data interpretation and analysis at a variety of scales and levels of detail.

Planned Outcomes

HRI has demonstrated the success of its Report Cards to catalyze more effective reef management decisions by making the information easy to understand, providing clear management recommendations, and engaging the media and general public.

More efficient and strategic decision-making will be achieved through the implementation of these recommended management actions, which are routinely measured through the biennial Eco-Audits. Progress to date includes: full achievement of the 20% of sea within marine protected areas – throughout the entire MAR region; improved MPA management; increased area under full protection; increased protection of parrotfish and grouper spawning sites; improved sewage treatment; and adoption of coastal zone management plans.   The eventual outcome of these management efforts should be a measurable improvement in reef health, to be observed in future Report Cards.

Results to Date

  • Completed Beta version of online data entry portal and database and visualization tools
  • Convened 2013 Regional Partners meeting to introduce the database and get feedback on edits
  • Finalized 2014 Eco-Audit criteria during regional meeting and completed audit process
  • Successful simultaneous launches of 2014 Eco-Audit in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
  • Fully achieved one target of getting 20% of territorial sea within marine protected areas within the Mesoamerican reef ecoregion, for all four countries.
  • All four countries now have some area under full protection from fishing, with 3% overall.
  • Increased protections for parrotfish and grouper spawning aggregations.
  • Increased collaboration with the private sector in eco-labeling and certification schemes.

Related Publications

  • Arkema, KK; et al. (2014) Assessing habitat risk from human activities to inform coastal and marine spatial planning: a demonstration in Belize. Environmental Research Letters. 9 (11): 114016 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/114016
  • Rodríguez-Martínez RE, AT Banaszak; MD McField; AU Beltrán-Torres; L Álvarez-Filip (2014) Assessment of Acropora palmata in the Mesoamerican Reef System. PLoS ONE. 9(4): e96140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096140 (link)

Primary Software Platforms

Data Portal:

  • The online data entry portal uses the public domain database MySQL and the interface itself it written using the open source programming language Perl.


  • HRI’s database system uses DevInfo, a web application for organizing, storing and visualizing data.  The software´s visualization tools are easily customizable and it also allows HRI to share visual representations through social networks and export data in several formats (csv, xls, png).
  •  DevInfo is developed on the ASP.NET programming language and it uses a JavaScript API for the data visualization tools.

Visualization Tool – Geoportal:

  • HRI’s visualization tool is a web portal used to visualize layers of georeferenced information, over-layed on Google´s Satellite Imagery. Through this tool, one can visually pinpoint any of the evaluated coral sites, as well as other data associated with them.
  •  The geoportal uses a software stack called Opengeo Suite, which is composed of a PostGIS enabled database, a Java map server and JavaScript APIs for the web viewer.

Lessons Learned

The HRI team has learned that developing a database to meet the needs of all its partners is a very complicated process with a lot of difficult up front decisions on how to design the database – with many technical challenges. Their timeline got a bit behind schedule up front because they had many conflicting options about which pathway to choose in terms of software, etc.  In the end they believed it was a good decision not to rush this process and let the discussion be full and involve many stakeholders. HRI will always have compromises in terms of cost, functionality, and ease of use.

The glitch-detection and correction process also proved to be more complex and time-consuming than originally envisioned.  HRI shared the Beta version with all 50 or so partner organizations and got a lot of feedback – which was useful – but sometimes conflicting or impossible to fully implement. In the end, HRI decided they just needed time to communicate back to make sure everyone understands the technical issues and capacities. HRI strives for ease of use and to build in more functionality over time, as its partners become more familiar and comfortable using the database.

Notes from JRS

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People (HRI) is a collaborative international initiative that generates user-friendly tools to measure the health of the Mesoamerican Reef, and delivers credible reports to improve decision-making that effectively sustains social and ecosystem well-being.  Our support will integrate the data that is currently held in disparate databases and spreadsheets into a single online database and suite of visualization tools.  This investment reflects that while other environmental donors support conservation efforts, there is often an unmet need to finance the hardware and software tools to make biodiversity information widely accessible and more valuable.  The health reef report cards and Eco-Audits are uniquely broad in their geography, diverse indicators, focus on management actions, and broad participation.  We aim to learn whether and how this might be a model for integration and collaboration for better biodiversity data and, therefore, better informed policy and conservation acton.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

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