Photo by Antonio Busiello

An underwater paradise

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and home to some of the last healthy populations of Caribbean staghorn and elkhorn corals. Its picturesque beaches and dive sites attract visitors from around the world. But it faces significant threats, including climate change, land-based pollution, and unsustainable fishing.

We have nearly 20 years of experience working in the Mesoamerican Reef region (MAR), with an emphasis on building resilient communities and addressing direct threats to coral reefs. We believe that our work in the MAR—pairing cutting-edge science with community engagement and activation—can serve as a replicable model for coral reef conservation efforts around the world.

Saving the MAR’s coral reefs

Our work in the MAR includes four priority sites in Honduras (Roatan, Utila, Trujillo, and Tela Bay) and one in Mexico (Cozumel). Working at a regional level magnifies the results of local conservation efforts.

Honduras coastline

Our work in Honduras focuses on filling a substantial gap in ensuring coral reefs have what they need to survive—clean water.

Our Clean Water for Reefs initiative in Honduras has resulted in measurable improvements to coastal water quality and has set the stage for addressing wastewater pollution across the MAR. Thanks to our efforts with partners in West End, Roatan, over 28.6 million gallons of sewage per year are now being treated, which has resulted in a significant reduction in Enterococcus bacteria since 2013. The nearby Half Moon Bay beach is now a certified Blue Flag beach for its clean water. We currently collaborate with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to update and improve wastewater treatment infrastructure across all of Honduras’ coastal municipalities.

Photo credit: Antonio Busiello
Credit: Antonio Busiello

We have implemented improved management systems for numerous Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Roatan, Utila, Trujillo, Guanaja, and Tela Bay.

We ensure that management plans include actions to reduce fishing pressure, especially for herbivorous fishes that control macroalgal growth and maintain healthy corals. We also address the underlying social and economic drivers of overfishing and create win-wins for communities and the environment by promoting income diversification projects. We take a community-centric approach to ensure local stakeholders have the capacity to manage their own resources. As an example, we recently worked with our partners to establish an informal fisheries co-management system in the Tela Bay, which lead to an improvement in lane snapper and blue runner populations.

An inspiring role model

Our research tells us that if we reduce human impacts on coral reefs in strategic places, we can create the necessary conditions for coral reefs to evolve naturally and survive climate change. The MAR is a great demonstration of what this conservation approach looks like in real life—partnering with local communities to build a network of healthy coral reefs that can adapt to global changes.

Mesoamerican Region Program Staff
Mesoamerican Region Stories

Tela Bay’s 2021 Closed Fishing Season Shows Success

Tela Bay, Honduras—Recent monitoring data collected from Los Micos Lagoon demonstrated a 483 percent increase in fish biomass after a closed fishing season in 2021, signifying both higher quantities and larger sizes of fish. Likewise, it showed an increase in diversity of species and trophic levels.  Los Micos Lagoon often suffers from overfishing, impacting populations… Continue Reading →

Honduras fishers return to shore

With Healthy Fisheries, Everyone Wins

Santos Banegas has been fishing off the coast of Puerto Castilla, Honduras, for the last 35 years. At the start of his fishing career, he remembers routinely catching 300 to 500 pounds of fish a day, which meant he could easily feed and support his family. Today, he’s lucky if he catches 30 to 40… Continue Reading →

Catalogo de especies de bahia de tela

CORAL Creates First-Ever Fish Catalogs in Honduras

Lea esto en español When Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) researchers first began working with fisheries on the North Coast of Honduras, they encountered an all-too-common dynamic: Local fishers held a wealth of knowledge of the various fish species of the region, but that information wasn’t documented anywhere. The local knowledge is passed down from generation… Continue Reading →

Roatan coastline

Could Cleaner Water Mean Farewell for Coral Disease?

Lea esto en español When improperly treated sewage enters the marine environment, it can have devastating effects on a coral reef. Not only does it bring bacteria that can pose a threat to human health, but it also brings nutrients that fuel the growth of algae—a fierce competitor in the coral reef ecosystem. Algae compete… Continue Reading →

Working group meeting in Tela

Want to Protect Fisheries? Involve the Community.

Lea esto en español During a recent interview, Dr. Antonella Rivera, CORAL’s Principal Investigator in Honduras, perfectly summed up our approach to conservation: “If we really want to make a difference with science, we have to involve the people who are most affected.” People and communities are always at the forefront of our work to… Continue Reading →

Honduras coastline

Making the Case for a Biological Corridor

In 2018, a law passed that opened up parts of the Honduran North Coast to commercial fishing—prior, only artisanal fishers were able to fish within certain areas. While some of the coastline lies within marine protected areas (MPAs), we suspected that fish populations along the coastline were all connected. If the MPAs weren’t somehow connected,… Continue Reading →

Paula Urrutia takes a water sample from the aquaculture system

Aquaculture: An Alternative to Overfishing in Honduras

Lea esto en español Could aquaponics and aquaculture be a sustainable alternative to overfishing? According to Julio San Martin Chicas, our Principal Program Coordinator in Tela Bay, Honduras, the answer is yes: If specific fish can be adequately and competitively farmed using small-scale aquaculture, then we can alleviate fishing pressure on the reef. Aquaculture refers… Continue Reading →

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