Restoring reefs in Central America

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean

Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Belize
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Guatemala
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Honduras
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Mexico
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Nicaragua

Aerial view of coral reef from 6,000 ft. Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize.
© WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH


Extending nearly 700km from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to the Bay Islands off Honduras, the Mesoamerica Reef is the largest reef system in the Americas. This network of coastal wetlands, lagoons and mangrove islands supports nearly 60 coral, 350 mollusk and 500 fish species. Marine turtles, manta rays and sharks can also be found.

WWF has been working in the region for several decades, promoting and supporting reef conservation efforts at local, national and regional levels to combat growing pressures from coastal development, unsustainable tourism projects, pollution and overfishing.


The jewel of Caribbean coral reefs is the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) - extending nearly 700km from the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to the Bay Islands off Honduras. It is the largest reef system in the Americas and includes several world heritage sites.

Coastal wetlands, lagoons, sea-grass beds and mangrove forests provide a habitat for many threatened and endangered species. Unusual geographical features include an array of patch reefs and faros in a deep shelf lagoon, a diversity of reef types in a small geographical area, and large offshore mangrove cays.

In 1997, Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras signed the MAR initiative in Tulum, Mexico, establishing guidelines for its conservation and sustainable development. This offered WWF a unique opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan focusing on ecosystems and transcending political divisions.


1. Establish a protected area with appropriate zoning and management objectives.

2. Develop habitat restoration activities for bird species: long-tailed ground roller (Uratelornis chimaera), subdesert mesite (Monias benschi).

3. Build local capacity for conservation and ecological monitoring.

4. Develop partnerships with development agencies to promote sustainable alternatives.

5. Develop sustainable financial mechanisms.


- A representative system of marine and coastal protected areas will be established within the ecoregion, with strengthened management structures in existing protected areas.

- Greater protection will be achieved for threatened and endangered species and their habitat, focusing especially on coral and marine turtles.

- Improved fisheries management and greater harmonisation of fisheries policy will also be sought.

- The environmental threats and opportunities stemming from tourism development will be better understood by stakeholders throughout the ecoregion.

- The threat from maritime transport will be reduced through the application of internationally recognised environmental standards.

- There will be increased levels of public support for conserving the MAR, and the capacity of civil society and governments to conserve and manage will be increased.

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