Mesoamerican Reef Fund (2014)

HRI Reef Health Database

For information on the proceeding phase of this grant, please click here.  

BackgroundHRI logo

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People (HRI) is a collaborative initiative that generates user-friendly tools to measure the health of the Mesoamerican reefs, and delivers credible reports to improve decision-making to sustain social and ecosystem well-being. HRI serves as a regional forum for information and networking among individuals from a variety of sectors, including science and conservation partners, managers, and the general public, to help improve understanding and support for reef management and marine stewardship. HRI holds an annual partner meeting, and staff members attend at least 30 partner workshops and symposia. With previous support from JRS, HRI developed an open-access online database and visualization tool for Healthy Reefs data and Reef Health Report Cards.

Key Objectives and Activities

This project will enhance the sharing and utilization of data on reef health and biodiversity through their database as well as increase publications and current knowledge of reef biodiversity data from the region to help make better management actions and decisions. Providing easier and better access to more detailed reef health and biodiversity data will support those studying marine science at all levels, from scientists to students. HRI has produced a fully integrated data entry portal that greatly improves the efficiency, transparency and reliability of data compilation and analysis. The database is the foundation of the 2015 Mesoamerican Reef Eco-Health Report Card, which was launched in May 2015. HRI’s reef health database also helps facilitate the adoption and application of standardized eco-health indicators by managers, policy makers, and conservation leaders by integrating them into existing plans and evaluations.

Planned Outputs

  • Use database to prepare graphics, maps, and data for 2015 and 2016 Report Cards.
  • Present the database to the scientific community.
  • Develop and implement a plan for continued maintenance of the database.
  • Ensure fully functional, well-maintained database providing easy access to reef health data through the end of 2016.

Planned Outcomes

  • Increased access by regional reef managers and scientists to improved reef health data.
  • Broader awareness of the database and use for science and management.
  • Online tracking tools and annual surveys of partners and scientific literature/publications assess and improve database use.

Primary Software Platforms

The online data entry portal uses the public domain database MySQL and the interface itself it written using the open source programming language Perl. The database system uses DevInfo, a web application for organizing, storing and visualizing data. The software’s visualization tools are easily customizable and it 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. The visualization tool is a web portal used to visualize layers of georeferenced information, over-layed on Google´s Satellite Imagery. Through this tool, users can 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.

Related Publications

  • Suchley, A; MD McField; L Alvarez-Filip (2016) Rapidly increasing macroalgal cover not related to herbivorous fishes on Mesoamerican reefs. PeerJ4:e2084. (link
  • McField, M; Drysdale, I; Flores, MR; Pott, R; Petersen, AG (2017) Collaborative, adaptive management of the Mesoamerican Reef, ch. 9, p. 201-220. Handbook on the Economics and Management of Sustainable Oceans, Edward Elgar Publishing. (link)

Results to Date

  • The 2015 Healthy Reefs Report Card was released on May 13, 2015; see this JRS News Post. Recommendations from the report have already resulted in the protection of parrotfish in Guatemala, expansion of fully-protected (no-take) zones in all four participating countries, and pollution-reduction projects in collaboration with tourism and other conservation organizations.
  • The 2015 and 2016 regional partners meetings were convened, bringing together over 40 marine conservation professionals from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. 
  • The 2016 Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries was launched on March 10, 2016, generating over 50 media stories and several policy commitments to further improve scores.
  • Completed first certification of trainers course in AGRRA reef monitoring methodology, with 12 biologists from among all four countries becoming fully certified instructors.
  • Completed three training courses in reef monitoring for new or refresher field biologists, certifying more than 120 field researchers over the last 7 years.
  • HRI led teams completed 153 reef monitoring sites, all entered into the HRI Database in preparation for the 2017 Report Card.
  • The database and mapping portal are now available online, with more than 361 registered users. The data are already being used in academic research and several publications using reef data are currently in review.

Lessons Learned

This project builds on the previous phase of database construction, which was instructive in several ways. One should expect delays in the start-up and design phase of the work. In addition, if the database includes data contributed by other organizations, projects should build in additional time to allow for logistical planning, schedule conflicts, etc. The second major lesson was the importance of querying users about their needs and capacity. HRI used Survey Monkey to solicit feedback from partners, which guided the training plans for the database. Partners all reported a desire for more assistance with data analysis and instant graphical and map-making tools incorporated in our database. Lastly, database development must be accompanied by building capacity in the hosting organization and the user groups; home-made videos and YouTube tutorials can be very effective and low-cost training options.

HRI works closely with a diverse group of partners, including the governments of all four participating countries, NGOs, and academic institutions. As such, HRI must carefully navigate fluctuating political tensions and competing interests among its partner organizations. For example, a territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize added a layer of complication to the protection of the recently discovered Cayman Crown Reef. However, HRI was able to identify and inform key organizations and individuals that could move forward the idea of protecting the reef in each country. Additionally, through facilitating on-site visits of the reefs, HRI helped bridge industrial, government, and NGO interests to secure the inclusion of reef areas near Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Biosphere reserve. 

The database and Eco-Audits provide a nexus of information, status updates, and goals for the marine conservation community. In many instances, the time lag, and limited scale of ecosystem health data impedes effective management and policy. HRI’s thorough and up-to-date assessments of reef health are crucially important to management plans; they provide a snapshot of progress against targets, increasing accountability and transparency. In addition, timely and accurate information is the foundation of effective adaptive management strategies. The HRI database and its administration are a great example of how tightening the data-management feedback loop can focus and improve conservation.

Project Director Biography

Melanie McField is the founder and Director of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI), a multi-institutional effort to track the health of the reef ecosystem and the management progress in ensuring its long-term integrity. HRI produces a biennial Report Card on the health of the Mesoamerican Reef involving more than 200 reef survey sites and collaborating with more than 65 partner organizations. HRI also created and produces the first-ever multi-national Eco-Audit, evaluating the reef management efforts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Melanie is employed through the Smithsonian Institution Trust and has research interests focused on coral reef ecology, bleaching, contamination, and management evaluations – including Marine Protected Areas and broader level ecosystem management.

Notes from JRS

JRS previously supported HRI with a two-year grant (June 2012 – July 2014) that enabled the development of their new online database and visualization tool. The work of the HRI is an inspiring example of regional partnerships and cooperation, and high quality biodiversity data being directly used to inform conservation action as well as policy development and implementation. JRS was pleased to award this modest follow-on grant to help maintain and refine the database. The Foundation faces the general challenge of how to support the sustainability of data and information products. This funding has helped HRI incorporate the database maintenance into regular operations and budgets and the transfer of the database to Smithsonian servers. For JRS, the 24 months of this grant gave us an opportunity to continue to learn from this effort so we might recognize, develop, or support similar efforts.  We are encouraged by the ongoing influence of this project and role of strong information systems to facilitate partnerships and communications and to create a strong scientific foundation for policy monitoring and recommendations.

Last Updated: April 11th, 2017

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