Great news this week from the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI), which released the 2015 Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) Report Card. Drawing on assessments of 248 reef sites along 1000 kilometers of the Caribbean coastlines of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, the current report card provides encouraging evidence that, overall, the health of coral reefs in the region has improved from the last report card, released in 2012. HRI’s report cards are written to offer a comprehensive and accessible overview of reef health to managers and decision makers, enabling them to evaluate conservation needs and the efficacy of current strategies.
JRS Biodiversity Foundation helped fund HRI’s launch of the Mesoamerican Reef Health Database with a grant in 2012 and followed up with additional funding in 2014 to support the sustainability of this invaluable multinational effort to assess and improve the health of these critical habitats. HRI demonstrates an ongoing commitment to providing up-to-date information on reef ecosystem health to facilitate effective adaptive management strategies. This report card follows HRI’s release of the 2014 Eco-Audit.
The 2015 report card shows evidence of positive changes in MAR ecosystems including increases in coral cover over the past 8 years, more robust herbivorous fish populations, and a decrease in the number of sites that are considered to be in “critical” condition, the most in need of protection. In addition, HRI noted that fully-protected marine areas have been effective in providing habitat for large fish. This is important because larger fish have higher fecundity, and can contribute more to replenishing fish populations in nearby habitats outside protected areas. There are still areas in need of improvement, namely, the majority of reef sites (57%) are still in poor or critical condition, and fleshy algae that can smother corals has doubled in the past 8 years. The health of reefs is critical not only for the preservation of the astounding biodiversity they contain, these habitats also provide food for nearby communities as well as protection from destruction of land by storms and hurricanes.