About the Area
This network of habitats supports nearly 60 coral, 350 mollusk, and 500 fish species. In addition, the ecoregion contains important examples of coral and lagoon formations called atolls, which are reefs built on sunken islands.
Characteristic species of this system include Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus), Caribbean manatee (Trichetus manatus), Magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), Red-footed booby (Sula sula), Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and the Olivaceous cormorant (Phalacrocorax olivaceous).
Sharks such as Bull shark (Carcharhinus leuca), Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Reef shark (C. springeri), and Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) can also be found in this ecoregion.
Several species of manta rays, including Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana), Cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus), and Yellow stingray (Urolphus jamaicensis) are also found here. Other species include Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), and Spotted moray eel (Gymnothorax ocellatus).
Hurricanes are one of the principal disturbance factors in addition to rapidly growing pressure from coastal development, tourism, deforestation for agriculture (resulting in siltation from soil erosion), and pollution from herbicides and fertilizers. Commercial and recreational overfishing, as well as oil spills, also threaten the integrity of this reef system.
Eastern Central America, off the coast of Belize and Mexico
Why are hammerhead sharks so called?
Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena) have a curiously flattened head which resembles a hammer. Their eyes are situated at the end of each side of the hammer. The flat head helps the shark keep its balance as its pectoral fins are very short.