The Mesoamerican Reef is an ancient treasure – dating back 225 million years – that provides a unique and valuable service to plant and animal species living along its shore. Its many benefits extend from central Mexico down through Central America. The second longest barrier reef in the world, the reef serves as a natural barrier to storms and hurricanes - and is critical to the survival of the more than 65 species of coral and 500 species of fish that call it home. This biologically diverse area is also a major economic engine for the country of Belize, providing over 500 million dollars in revenue annually with both its inshore and offshore fisheries.
The reef serves to maintain the delicate balance between the area’s economy and environment. In addition to bringing in revenue, the reef supports the health of subtropical lagoons such as Placencia Lagoon, which provides habitat for endangered species such as West Indian Manatee, Morelet’s and the American Crocodile.
Although the health of these lagoons has not been the subject of much study, the recent loss of coastal seagrass habitat may indicate a need for further research. Scientists have noticed that the annual harvest of finfish has been declining dramatically – and it’s giving them a reason for concern. Without intervention this situation could eventually affect several species of snapper, great barracuda, goliath grouper, bonefish, permit and other fish that use the area as a nursery area.
In Belize, the typical method used to provide environmental protection for such habitats is to have them declared a Marine Protected Area. Support to enforce new and existing regulations can be more easily acquired from international aid organizations once areas have achieved this official status.
The goal of this project is to support the creation of a Special Protected Area in Placencia Lagoon. Data from monitoring and research efforts will shed more light upon the current status of the lagoon and provide information necessary to guide future management decisions. The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Fund has supported this group 2009 and believes in their mission.