13 Extraordinary Facts About the Mesoamerican Reef Off the Coast of Honduras
Everybody knows about the astounding Great Barrier Reef off the shores of Australia, but have you heard of the Mesoamerican Reef? It’s equally impressive!
In Mexico, it’s near Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel Island. Its colors, biodiversity, and beautifully fragile corals never cease to amaze.
Let me take you today on a snorkeling tour. Let’s explore the fascinating underwater world of the Caribbean ocean and the Mesoamerican Reef.
13 Fascinating Facts about the Mesoamerican Reef
There are so many incredible things about the Mesoamerican Reef that it was a challenge to choose the most important ones. I selected the following 13 facts, which I’m sure you’ll find fascinating.
1. It’s the Largest Reef in the Western Hemisphere
How long is the Mesoamerican Reef? The second-largest reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Mesoamerican Reef stretches for 625 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers). That’s why it’s so crucial for coastline ecosystems.
2. It Touches the Coasts of 4 Countries
Where is the Mesoamerican Reef? On the Mesoamerican Reef map, it extends along the coast of four countries—Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
It starts at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, close to Isla Contoy, and extends south to the Bay Islands of Honduras. Therefore, its preservation requires cooperation between these four countries.
3. It’s Home to 65 Types of Hard Coral
Corals have earned the name of the “rainforests of the sea,” as they support about 25% of marine life! The Mesoamerican Reef has 65 types of corals.
Corals look like plants, but they’re actually animals. Their vibrant colors are due to various types of algae growing on their tissues.
4. 500 Fish Species Live There
The marine ecosystem provides the foundation of the local economy of Honduras. The fishing industry depends on Mesoamerican Reef fisheries. The main species are lobster, conch, snapper, and grouper, as well as tuna and barracuda.
5. It’s Home to One of the Important Fish in the Caribbean
I’m talking about Parrot Fish. They’re one of the largest herbivore fish and the most colorful ones. They eat harmful algae that hurt the corals. When the parrotfish disappear due to overfishing, the coral reef declines.
6. It Has Five Species of Marine Turtles
Who doesn’t love these beautiful marine giants? The Mesoamerican Reef is home to five sea turtle species: sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, loggerhead turtle, and green turtle.
Why are turtles important for the reef? They’re carnivorous; they crush crabs and shells when they eat. The excreted rests of the crustacea are the source of calcium for hundreds of marine species.
7. It has the World’s Largest Congregation of Whale Sharks
Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, are usually solitary animals. However, they like to congregate in bigger groups near the Mesoamerican Reef to eat and mate. They are especially numerous close to Isla Contoy.
8. It’s Home to the Largest Population of Manatees
The Mesoamerican Reef is also home to mermaid-like animals, manatees. If you have seen them, you know how special they look. There are about 1,000 to 1,500 manatees close to the reef. Meeting these giants is a totally unforgettable experience.
9. The Red Lionfish is an Invader
Unfortunately, the reef is so attractive that other non-native species want to enjoy the area. The red lionfish, originally from the Indo-Pacific area, has been damaging the reef’s delicate ecosystem for years.
They eat cleaner shrimps and algae that keep the corals clean and healthy. They need only a few months to completely clean the area of the reef-tending species and cause its death. They also eat lobsters, affecting the local fishing industry.
10. One to Two Million People Depend on the Reef
The marine resources from the reef are crucial to this culturally diverse part of the world. The livelihood of native Miskito, Garifuna, Caribbean Creole, Q’eqchi’, Mopan, Yucatec Maya, and Mestizo people depend on it.
The coral reef and the mangroves also protect the land from devastating storms and hurricanes.
11. The Reef is Critically Endangered
Unfortunately, the Mesoamerican reef, like many others in the world, is endangered. Only 10% of it is healthy. It has been in decline for years, and despite many preservation programs, its recovery is still too slow to stop the process.
Tourism and coastal development that destroys the mangroves and pollutes water is not helpful. Agricultural runoff is seriously harmful. Increasing sea levels and rise in water temperatures are also dangerous for the Mesoamerican reef and its dwellers.
12. Planting Mangroves Helps the Reef
Mangroves are extremely important for the reef. They help the coastal area withstand storms and hurricanes that can devastate the reef. This happened in 1998 in Belize, destroying almost 50% of the local reef.
Mangroves are also nurseries for all the fish that are essential to the delicate balance of the Mesoamerican reef ecosystem.
13. There are Nurseries for Corals
The World Wildlife Fund and other local organizations build “nurseries” for the reef area to raise resilient corals to resist diseases and warmer water temperatures. The corals are raised and then planted onto the reef. There is still some hope!
Help Preserve the Great Mesoamerican Reef
Coral reefs are dying due to coral bleaching caused by higher water temperatures. This is due to the increasing greenhouse effect, and farming is one of the culprits. If people ate less meat, our oceans would be healthier. You can start with yourself and convince your friends.
Symbolically adopt a green turtle, one of the five turtle species of the Mesoamerican Reef System, the only herbivore one. Support the Mesoamerican reef and other coral reefs by donating to Coral Reef Alliance.
Remember, while preparing your trip to Latin America, follow sustainable tourism guidelines. For example, if you want to snorkel in the Mesoamerican Reef, don’t use sunblock, lotions, or oils. You’ll be able to get to know local conservation programs and organizations if you know some Spanish. Talking to people in the community and seeing their perspectives is a super enriching experience.
Sign up for a free trial class with one of our certified, native-speaking teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy to prepare for your adventure off the coast of Honduras!
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