Today the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI) released its 2018 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card which records an improvement in reef health for Belize from ‘Poor’ in 2006 to ‘Fair’ this year, with increases in three of the four indicators over the decade. Melanie MCField is the Director of Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative, Smithsonian Institution
For Belize our Reef help index has increased from the last report card, which was 2.5 and it went up to 2.8. So that is the regional average, so we are right in the average and but it is an improvement and so that it the sum total of these 4 indicators Reef health that we look at. Coral cover has increased. A fish biomass has increased; both commercial fish and the nursery fish rose slightly; but it is an increase. Unfortunately the one indicator that is bad news is the fleshly micro algae. That has continued to increase and that’s the one we don’t want to see. It competes with the coral and the good things for space and it can over grow the reef and make it look fuzzy and brown. We could protect a parrot fish back in 2009 and we have actually now seen in Belize that the bio mass of that fish has been increasing and just this year we noted a slight decrease in the micro algae in Belize. So we have some indication that this is beginning to work. but overall for the whole Mesoamerican reef fleshy micro algae is our biggest problem.
According to Dr. McField, sewage disposal is still a problem affecting the reef.
The difficult thing that we are seeing is nutrients and sewage treatment not being improved over this timeframe and the fact that when you have all these nutrients… and the sewage actually have viruses and other pathogens in it that, that is leading to alga over growth and actually can damage the coral too through viruses and diseases that the coral gets. So that’s the main things we need to work on. I think increasing more herbivores and looking at sewage treatments and other forms of nutrient run off from land.
Oceana Belize’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona, says while it is not a bad report card for Belize, there is definitely room for improvement.
I think the main take away, I don’t know if you remember when we use to get the report cards and I’m hoping everybody use to get the same thing I get on my Report card. It’s like you know Janelle can do better. This is I think the take away from this report card and that Belize can do better. It’s doing better but it can do better. To move from poor to fair is something that we should take note of but definitely I think fair is fair and we need to be good or we need to be in excellent. So I’m really working towards the day that we can get all of Belize’s marine assets in the blue category which should mean that we’re in excellent shape because it cannot be underscored enough that the health of the Belize Barrier Reef is essential and necessary for our everyday lives for so very many of our fellow Belizeans. So that would be a really, really good day and that’s a report card we could frame.
I think one of the main things we need are more replenishment zones, 3% of our territorial sea is in these protected zones. Protected area that actually don’t allow fishing, only 3% that’s not enough. In those areas we see abundance of fish. We see a higher health than anywhere else but 3% can’t restore 97% so there is a target to have 10% in full protection and I hope we can, if we meet that target and begin to monitor that. I think we’ll see that it is actually probably worth it to even go up to 20% because then that will recede and you’ll have so much more in the other areas. So working on the marine protected areas, those replenishment zones and also working on sewage treatment and getting more herbivores on the reef.]
Honduras had the highest reef health index of 3.0, followed by Belize and Mexico with 2.8, and Guatemala with 2. Among the 319 reef sites surveyed, 1% was in ‘very good’ condition, 13% in ‘good’, 32% in ‘fair’, 37% in ‘poor’, and 17% in ‘critical’.