The Meso American Reef
By Robert & Joanne Birce of Alma Libre
The Mesoamerican Reef (M.A.R.) system is nearly 700 miles long, beginning at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula it stretches through the Caribbean waters of the Mayan Riviera all the way to Belize and onto the northern tip of Honduras. It is the largest coral reef system in the Atlantic and the second largest coral reef in the world.
We spoke with Dr. Paul Blanchon, a geologist who is studying the reef at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) research centre in Puerto Morelos. Dr. Blanchon tells us that the M.A.R. is approximately 7,000 years old and is unique to the Western Hemisphere not only for its size, but also because of its array of reef types with more than 65 species of corals and 500 species of fish.
The M.A.R. is part of an interconnected system of currents and environments. It is one of the region's greatest natural assets. The massive structure provides an important defense against storms and coastal erosion. The reef system is made up of four elements; the mangrove, the beach, the reef and the shallow shelf. Each one of theses elements is interconnected to work with the others to keep the reef healthy and functioning. Damage to one element will affect them all.
Reefs can only thrive in waters that are free of excess nutrients like open-ocean water. Reefs are most commonly found around river-less oceanic islands in the Tropics and are less common along coasts with large inlets.
With very few rivers, the Yucatan Peninsula is an ideal location for a healthy reef. Unfortunately, coastal development adds nutrients directly into the reef system and therefore gradually creates conditions unsuitable for reef development.
In Puerto Morelos, the community is aware of the reef system links and has made a concerted effort take care of all the elements of the reef. As a result, the reef is very healthy, filled with hundred of fish, sea creatures and corals.
The best way to appreciate the reef is to go have a look for yourself. Come to Puerto Morelos, strap on a snorkel and check out the thriving community just off our beach.
Alma Libre Bookstore has lots of books to help you identify and get to know your new underwater friends.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Paul Blanchon