Efforts to Protect the Mesoamerican Reef
Mexico’s National Protected Area Commission (CONANP) has entered into a strategic partnership with Sustainable Travel International, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to conserving the planet’s most vulnerable destinations. The partnership was formalised at the Sustainable and Social Tourism Summit in Cancun.
Through this partnership, Sustainable Travel International and CONANP aim to transform reef conservation in the Mexican Caribbean by engaging tourists and local communities in monitoring, protecting, and creating awareness about the Mesoamerican Reef.
The Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second largest reef system, stretching 600 miles along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. This immense and biodiverse ecosystem sustains the region’s tourism industry by attracting visitors, creating jobs, and protecting coastal areas from storms. Every year, more than 12 million people travel to Mexico’s Caribbean coast, many of whom participate in reef-based activities such as diving and snorkeling. In turn, the reef supports the livelihoods of nearly 2 million people and generates $6.2 billion in annual economic returns.
While tourism provides valuable economic benefits, it also places added pressure on the Mesoamerican Reef – an ecosystem that is already in a fragile state due to climate change, unsustainable fishing, and pollution. According to the 2018 Healthy Reefs report card, over half of the reef is in poor or critical condition. In June 2018, scientists discovered a rapidly spreading coral disease outbreak, known as “Síndrome Blanco,” that is killing over 20 coral species on the reef. Approximately 30% of affected coral species have already died, some of which took hundreds of years to grow.
The new partnership between CONANP and Sustainable Travel International seeks to protect the reef’s 900+ marine species from these devastating impacts and ensure the prosperity of communities that depend on the reef. Through this collaboration, Sustainable Travel International and CONANP will devise practical and innovative solutions that harness the power of Mexico’s booming tourism industry as a vehicle for reef conservation.
Read Mark Bibby Jackson’s experience along the Mesoamerican Reef in Roatan Honduras and Banana Republics.
One such solution that is currently being piloted in the region is Sustainable Travel International’s Natural Environment Marine Observers (NEMO) program. NEMO is a citizen-science programme that empowers visitors to contribute to the conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef by:
- Raising awareness about the reef and how to conserve it;
- Collecting monitoring data for marine scientists on reef health and threats; and
- Funding reef conservation expeditions by a response team comprised of CONANP, Healthy Reefs Initiative, and BARCO LAB, to eradicate threats and keep the reef healthy.
Through the NEMO programme, the partnership aims to reduce human impacts on the reef and ensure long-term economic opportunity for the millions of local people who depend on it. In addition to using monitoring data to take actions that reduce contamination, eradicate coral disease, and restore ecosystem balance, the partnership will prioritise ground-up education for the many young people who will shape the future of Caribbean tourism.
“Conserving a marine destination as expansive and biodiverse as the Mesoamerican Reef is no small task. We realised that there is a tremendous untapped opportunity to engage the people who are out exploring these places in protecting them,” says Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International. “Through this partnership with CONANP, that’s exactly what we aspire to do – link tourism and conservation to chart a new course for the Mesoamerican Reef.”
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