The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – Caribbean’s Largest Marine Habitat

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The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world is a part of the Caribbean Sea and stretches 600 miles south-east alongside the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

A recent BBC documentary — Caribbean with Simon Reeve — highlighted that the reef is home to a stunning array of coral life forms and this underwater wilderness provides a natural habitat for hundreds of fish species, marine turtles and sharks, including more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk and more than 500 species of fish. The Mesoamerican Reef system is also home to an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 manatees, one of the largest populations in the world. In addition, fish and shorebirds live along the coast and help protect the coastline from the force of hurricanes and strong storms.
Manatee Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Manatee. Photo: ©Flickr/KeithRamos.

Being a prime tourist destination, millions of visitors flock to the region’s beaches and tropical waters to snorkel and scuba dive. However, these activities continue to place pressure on its fragile reef environments, threatening the livelihood of millions of people who live in local fishing communities as overfishing and pollution take their toll.

Numerous species which live in or around the reef system have been classified as endangered or needing protection. These include various species of sea turtles, the Queen Conch, the West Indian Manatee, the Splendid toadfish, the American crocodile, the Morelet’s Crocodile, the Nassau grouper, Elkhorn coral, and black coral.

As a result, conservationists are now advocating for strict regulations which prohibit the catching of parrot fish, a species which cleans and helps to replenish the reef. The parrot fish eats the algae extracted from chunks of coral, which is pulverized with its grinding teeth to get to the algae-filled polyps inside. The sand excreted by the parrot fish consists mostly of undigested coral which helps to protect the reef from further damage.

Parrot Fish Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Parrot Fish. Photo: ©Flickr/Waywuwei.

Top photo: Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Hawksbill Turtle. Photo: ©Flickr/ThomasWiborg.

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The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world is a part of the Caribbean Sea and stretches 600 miles south-east alongside the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.   It's a great place to go snorkeling or scuba diving.

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