Mesoamerican Reef

Known as the jewel of the Caribbean, the Mesoamerican Reef is a rich tapestry of coral reefs, mangrove forests, coastal wetlands and diverse marine life. Although the reefs have survived seasonal onslaughts of hurricanes and other natural disasters, they may not be so well prepared to withstand the impact of human activity.

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Aerial view of coral reef at Laughing Bird Caye, Belize.
© Anthony B. RATH / WWF-Canon

Under the sea

Stretching nearly 1,000km from the northern tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean coasts of Belize and Guatemala to the Bay Islands off northern Honduras, the Mesoamerican Reef is the largest reef system in the Americas and only second in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.

Coastal wetlands, lagoons, mangrove forests and seagrass beds provide habitat for numerous coral and fish species, and act as an important defense against storms and coastal erosion.

It is also home to one of the world's largest population of manatees, mammoth whale sharks, several species of marine turtles and other amazing marine life.

Reef protection

Although the Mesoamerican Reef has managed to survive the intensity of seasonal tropical storms, it may not be so well prepared to withstand the impact of people.

Coastal development, unregulated tourism, pollution and overfishing threaten the reef system.

Climate change
is another serious problem.

WWF is working in Central America with coastal communities on the ground and in the water to reduce the reef's vulnerability to these ongoing threats.

Protecting this Caribbean treasure is a conservation priority.

Surviving climate change

Coral bleaching due to temperature rise, Indo-Pacific Ocean. / ©: WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND
Coral reefs around the world are under threat from coral bleaching caused by climate change.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen FREUND
Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on the Mesoamerican Reef, ranging from coastal flooding linked to rising sea levels to increased mass coral bleaching due to warming seas.

This will affect the reef's fragile biodiversity and the millions of people who depend on it for their livelihoods.

WWF is working with coastal communities along the reef to develop climate change adaptation strategies. This includes coral reef and mangrove forest conservation and restoration, and establishing marine protected areas.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Gustavo Ybarra
Sustainable traps are helping in the fight against the overfishing of spiny lobsters in the Mesoamerican reef.
© WWF-Canon / Gustavo Ybarra
Nassau grouper (<i>Epinephelus striatus</i>), Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize. / ©: WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH
Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize.
© WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH

Where is the Mesoamerican Reef?

The Mesoamerican Reef is highlighted below in orange.


View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

What WWF is doing

    • The Mesoamerican Reef system stretches over 1000km, spanning the eastern coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.
    • More than 2 million people live in coastal communities across these 4 countries.
    • The reef hosts more than 65 species of stony coral and more than 500 species of fish.
    • It is also home to one of the world's largest populations of manatees, an estimated 1,000-1,500.
    • The endangered American crocodile and Morelet's crocodile are found along some parts of the coast and on some offshore cays.
    • Several dolphin species, including the bottlenosed dolphin, spotted dolphin and rough-toothed dolphin, are found in the reef's coastal waters.
    • Commercially exploited fish species include spiny lobster, queen conch, shrimp, grouper and snapper.

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