Fishy Parents Rejoice: Grades Rise, Few Fails on Caribbean’s Original Coral Reef Report Card

Healthy Reefs have fish for future generations.

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

This article was created in cooperation with iLCP Partner Healthy Reefs for Healthy People, one of the valuable organizations we joined with during our 2014 Mesoamerican Fish Refuge Campaign.

Healthy Reefs have fish for future generations.

A report card for the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere gives hope that it may earn this year’s award for “most improved,” or perhaps “happiest fish.”

While many coral reefs continue to decline, the good news in the western Caribbean records a real increase in the amount of parrotfish, commercial fish (snappers/groupers). The report highlights almost a decade of improvement for the Mesoamerican Reef system, located south of the Gulf of Mexico and bordering the countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The front cover of the 2015 Report Card for the Mesoamerican Reef.

Using techniques pioneered by the Healthy Reefs Initiative, the 2015 bilingual report card condenses abundant data for the Mesoamerican Reef into a number that translates roughly into a grade of C+ (or fair), and it shows strong improvement since 2006’s grade of C- (poor). Three of the report’s four major factors have improved from “poor” to “fair”: coral cover, herbivorous fish (such as parrotfish), and commercial fish. The regional grade for fleshy macroalgae, which can smother corals, remains poor.

Another major finding is that marine parks flourish in no-take zones, in comparison to parks that allow fishing. While the region’s four countries offer partial protection to more than 20 percent of their reef area, only 3 percent excludes fishing and other extraction completely. Since 2006, HRI researchers have —> Read More