Eco-Audit finds management efforts “insufficient” to protect Mesoamerican Reef

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

On Tuesday February 7th, the first ever Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef was released and it shows that management efforts by stakeholders of this precious natural resources are “insufficient.” The eco-audit is a follow up to the Reef Report Card which was published in 2010 and evaluates the efforts taken to protect and sustainably manage the region’s coral reefs. It also celebrates management success stories and documents the extent to which recommended management actions have been implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico since the publication of the report card. The eco-audit was launched simultaneously in all four countries and shows an overall score of the 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. By country, the audit shows Belize doing better than the other three countries, with a 3.3 score, followed by Honduras and Mexico who both scored 2.7 and last is Guatemala with a 2.2 score. According to the evaluation entitled 2011 Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries, “Despite some positive management efforts, more needs to be done to protect the region’s coral reefs.”

Dr. Melanie McField, Director of Healthy Reef Initiative explained that the evaluation was carried out by Healthy Reefs Initiative in collaboration with the World Resources Institute and nearly 40 local organizations, government agencies and companies. “We developed a criteria base indicator and measured progress in the ranking system one through five. The story for Belize is a little better because we really had some high score in terms of research, monitoring and education which was one of the themes. Our fisheries based eco system received a really high score, leading the region in fisheries management system,” explained McField. She added that “We need a little more work in [terms] of coastal zone management and private sector involvement in the conservation effort.”

McField, in her statement said that “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.” When asked to elaborate, McField said, “The main thing is the implementation of fully protected areas. We have done a good job in creating marine protected areas. If you look on a map of the country you will see all these marine protected areas; we have NGOs and communities involved but when we look at the amount of sea that is fully protected, the amount of reef and sea grass habitat, it’s not enough. When we start removing the fish, conch and the lobster, then that has implication on the ecosystem, so we need to have a larger percentage of the sea fully protected; we only have a little over 2% fully protected.”

The Mesoamerican Reef extends 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 USD in goods and services each year. “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,” explained McField.

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, 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.
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. 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. A full copy of the analysis can be found on www.healthyreefs.org and www.wri.org/reefs websites.

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