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Mesoamerican Reef Eco-Audit reveals slower rate of progress in protection  

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Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2021. 10:05 am CST.

By Aaron Humes, Belize City: On Wednesday, in celebration of Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) Day, the Healthy Reefs Initiative’s 2021 Eco-Audit revealed a regional increase in implementation of management actions to two-thirds or 66 percent, up 12 percent from the first such audit in 2011. 

However, this is not fast enough for regional environmental organizations who say the natural resource shared and jealously guarded by Belize, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala is hurting. 

Belize, which hosts the majority of the MAR as the Belize Barrier Reef, leads the way at seventy percent completion and 8 indicators fully completed, but this is only an increase of four percent since 2011. It has been outstripped by Honduras (66 percent; 12 percent increase); Mexico (64 percent, 10 percent increase), and even by Guatemala (62 percent, 18 percent increase). 

The Eco-Audit results come on the back of a decline in overall reef health as recorded in the 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card, and data was collected before the devastating outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease and following back-to-back coral bleaching events since 2015 as well as declining water quality from pollution. 

The region has done well at research, education, and awareness and managing ecosystem-based fisheries; more moderately in establishing marine protected areas and coastal zone management and responding to global issues; and less well at managing sanitation and sewage treatment and promoting sustainability in the private sector. 

“We have known for over two decades what needs to be done – this Eco-Audit is evidence that some efforts are underway but the pace of these actions is far too slow,” said Melanie McField, Director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative. Only three indicators have been fully implemented by all four countries – and this was achieved in 2016 with no additional indicators achieving full implementation at the regional scale in the last four years.   

Belize’s achievements include full implementation of managed access (rights-based fisheries) nationwide and ratifying relevant treaties, but it was unable to prevent the coral disease caused by untreated sewage pumped out to the sea. 

Nicole Craig, HRI Belize Coordinator said: “For quite some time, Belize has been an exemplary leader in conservation, but we cannot get too comfortable. With only a two percent increase since our last audit, it is important now more than ever, for Belize to continue making the tough, but necessary steps to safeguard our marine ecosystems.” 

58 percent of the territorial sea is within marine protected areas (MPAs) but only three percent in fully-protected Replenishment Zones (RZs), which now cover more than 2,000 square kilometers compared to 1,610 square kilometers in 2011. Since 2011, six new MPAs have been designated. 

Fifteen percent of the MAR’s coral reef area is now fully protected in Replenishment Zones (RZs). Parrotfish are now fully protected in Belize, Guatemala, all of the Bay Islands in Honduras, and the Mexican Caribbean. 

The Cartagena Convention’s Land-Based Sources of Marine Pollution Protocol has now been ratified by Belize and Honduras, and several new or improved sewage treatment facilities have been installed in the last four years. 

Regular standardized coral reef monitoring is conducted at least every 2 years and used to guide management and recommendations promoted in widely accessible Report Cards. All data are open-access online at www.healthyreefs.org.  

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