For the past two weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to scuba dive and explore coral reefs in Roatán, Honduras, and were fortunate to connect with the local chapter of the Mesoamerican Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative. Here in Honduras, the organization is responsible for coral restoration and marine ecology surveys, while accumulating their findings for a biennial report grading the health of the coral reef.
The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) involves a collaborative partnership of NGO’s, Universities, ecological foundations, and dive centers throughout Mesoamerica, with the goal of providing a standardized analysis of scientific data to improve reef ecosystems. The countries involved in the initiative are México, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, which share the Mesoamerican Reef ecosystem.
Every two years since 2008, Healthy Reefs publishes a report card for the Mesoamerican reefs. The Report Card is printed in a multilingual colored book and distributed throughout the region, the report is also available to download online. We look forward to reading the 2017 Report Card to be published later this year.
To create the evaluation, organizations around Mesoamerica look at links between reef health and human health by quantifying, among other variables, number of spiny lobsters, Diadema sea urchin abundance, and any coral diseases found. The four main indicators used to create the “Reef Health Index” are live coral cover, macroalgae cover, herbivorous fish (parrot and surgeon fish) and commercially important species (grouper and snapper). The collected data is then used to create a metric for overall ecosystem health and scores are given, from 1 (critical) to 5 (very good).
While this metric is broad, the method serves as a standardizes way to compare coral reef health over time and over a large region. We especially like how this study incorporates condition of the reef ecosystem and how this may be influencing local people and their livelihoods. This critical link between humans and coral reefs, for me, is the most pressing reason to protect marine ecosystems.
The report looks at over 200 reefs, and the Bay islands of Honduras, in particular the West End of Roatán, where we are diving, is noted as being some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean! And we would strongly agree with this metric, Roatán has some of the healthiest Caribbean reefs we’ve seen in a while.
What we really like about the Healthy Reefs Initiative is they are promoting a standardized analysis, which is accessible for managers, policy makers, researchers and other leaders. The project unites the region with an overarching goal of tracking positive reef change over time by providing an open forum for sharing information with an agreed upon standard to collecting scientific data.
The ocean is a big place and coral reefs are connected on a much larger scale than any one scientist could study. By connecting various organizations throughout the region Healthy Reefs is able to track big picture progress.
Next time you go scuba diving in Mesoamerica, we encourage you to download the Report Card and get connected with one of the many participating entities in the project. If you are planning to visit Roatán you can visit the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) and the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) to learn more about healthy and vibrant reefs in the Bay Islands.