The first-ever Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) countries finds that despite some positive management efforts, more needs to be done to protect the region’s coral reefs. The evaluation, entitled “2011 Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries,” was carried out by the Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI), and nearly 40 local organizations, government agencies and companies. The results are being launched simultaneously in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
The evaluation scored overall reef management as Fair (2.7 out of 5) across the region and for all thematic areas. This score indicates that, in general, the MAR ecosystem is not being adequately managed. The scores by country are: Belize 3.3, Honduras 2.7, Mexico 2.7 and Guatemala 2.2.
“Our evaluation has documented some positive steps in protecting reefs throughout the Mesoamerican region. However, there are many actions needed to protect the reefs that have been under discussion for decades. It’s time to complete and implement these actions,” said Dr. Melanie McField, director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative. “Reefs are a vital part of this region, providing both economic and cultural value to people in this area. We hope that this information will help to ensure that reefs can thrive for generations to come.”
The Mesoamerica Reef extends over 1,000 kilometers (over 600 miles), from Mexico to Honduras, and includes the Western Hemisphere’s longest barrier reef, located in Belize. Economies in the region are highly dependent on marine resources, especially from tourism and fishing industries. In Belize alone, the reef is estimated to contribute approximately $395 to $559 million (U.S.) in goods and services each year.
The Eco-Audit was developed and implemented using twenty-two standardized management indicators across seven thematic areas. This includes: Research, Education and Awareness, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Global Issues, Coastal Zone Management, Sustainability in the Private Sector, Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management, and Sanitation and Sewage Treatment. Over 300 supporting documents were provided as verification of the results.
“Through this highly collaborative process, involving diverse stakeholders, we have developed a collective understanding of reef management efforts supported by robust data,” said Benjamin Kushner, research analyst, World Resources Institute. “We hope that our transparently verified and publicly available results help coastal and fisheries managers, tourism operators, and others make smart decisions to create a healthy environment for reefs.”
“Stakeholders are now demanding unprecedented levels of transparency from organizations and governments, since our current economic and social conditions have been affected by unethical practices and a lack of transparency,” said Antonio Grijalba of PricewaterhouseCoopers Costa Rica. “This initiative has been a challenging process for HRI, but is a very important step to improve the transparency and accountability of the MAR region, align efforts to address the most critical issues, and share best practices to improve performance.”
To ensure the quality of the results, the financial and management auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers Costa Rica reviewed the methodology and provided feedback on the processes and indicators, and the quality of the verification documentation.
The analysis revealed several key successes, including:
- The extent of territorial sea included in MPAs is relatively high across the region;
- Harmonization of regulations for the lobster fishery was a major regional success; and
- There have been long-standing efforts to monitor reef health across the region, complemented by good availability of information on reef condition and threats.
However, it also showed key shortcomings, including:
- A number of MPAs have been created, but their management is mostly inadequate;
- Wastewater is not being treated at standards necessary to protect coral reefs; and
- There is a lack of comprehensive coastal zone planning that has resulted in poorly planned and sited coastal developments.
This first Eco-Audit provides the foundation for subsequent Eco-Audits, which will be implemented every two years, assuring a routine accounting of efforts to improve the health of the MAR.
Melanie McField, Director, Healthy Reefs Initiative (Belize City, Belize)
Michael Oko, Director, Media Relations, World Resources Institute (Washington, D.C.)