The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef


The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. “We need to start looking at having a way of managing the whole ecosystem, because you can’t pick away at it piece by piece, you have to truly start being coordinated and managing our resources as a system. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

Transcript of The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Page 1: The Mesoamerican  Barrier Reef

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

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“We need to start looking at having a way of managing the whole ecosystem, because you can’t pick away at it piece by piece, you

have to truly start being coordinated and managing our resources as a system. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

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The Mesoamerican reef helps to stabilize and protect the coasts, and serve as feeding and nursery habitats for marine mammals, reptiles, fishes and invertebrates; many of which have great commercial importance. The Mesoamerican reef, however, has been significantly damaged recently due to a combination of human and natural perturbations, with threats ranging from fishing, tourism and coastal development, land use and agriculture to global climate change. A number of natural disturbances have threatened the reefs, especially coral bleaching, hurricanes and disease outbreaks; all of which may be accentuated by global climate change and thus not entirely natural. Such events are not readily controllable at the local management level, while other human threats are potentially under local, national, or regional control. Reef managers in the region, however, are often limited by the resources available to carry out necessary interventions such as fisheries regulation, protection of coastal habitats, agricultural run-off and sewage pollution reduction, as well as possible restorative activities. The following presentation concludes the threatening effects of global warming and invasive species on the biological diversity of the Mesoamerican Reef, concluding with a proposal to allocate specific funds toward the prevention of these threatening causes.


Map of the world, Mesoamerican Reef highlighted in green (WWF, 2010).

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Global Warming is the gradual increase in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere, believed to be due to the greenhouse effect, caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. The ecosystem is held in a delicate balance, and these rising temperatures have insinuated two major effects on the biodiversity of the Mesoamerican Reef (WWF,2009):

Coral Bleaching

Natural Disasters

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Global Warming Impact



A symbiotic Relationship

How it happens

Toluene: What we do with our production

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Global Warming Impact



A Symbiotic Relationship

How it Happens

Toluene: What we do with our production

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A Symbiotic Relationship..• Corals share a symbiotic relationship with a group of organisms given the

genus name zooxanthellaes (Aquarists, 1998)

• These microbial protists live in hard or stony coral in the coral polyp tissues (Bouche, 2008)

• The symbiotic relation is based on the corals inability to generate sufficient amounts of food and the algae’s ability to undergo photosynthesis and conversion of chemical elements into energy (Bouche, 2008)

• These activities provide the coral with fixed carbon compounds for energy, enhance calcification ,and mediate elemental nutrient flux (Aquarists, 1998)

• The host coral polyp in return provides its zooxanthellae with a protected environment to live within, and a steady supply of carbon dioxide for its photosynthetic processes (Aquarists, 1998)

• The symbiotic relationship allows the slow growing corals to compete with the faster growing multicellular algae because the tight coupling of resources and the fact that the corals can feed by day through photosynthesis and by night through predation (Bouche, 2008)


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How it Happens…MESOAMERICAN REFF Coral Bleaching

• Coral bleaching results from either a decrease in the density of the zooxanthellae or a loss in the concentration of photosynthetic pigment in the symbiotic algae (Corals, 1996)

• It causes a loss of colour, subsequently leaving the coral white, or ‘bleached’, as an indicator of poor health (WWF, 2010)

• Studies of bleached coral in stressed waters show a decrease of 60-90% of the symbiotic algae, and a loss of 50-80% of photosynthetic pigment in the zooxanthellae (Corals, 1996)

• Results in disease, failed reproduction, partial/complete mortality of coral colony (Bouche, 2008)

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EffectMESOAMERICAN REFF Coral Bleaching

• Without the symbiotic relationship in tact, the coral cannot receive a sufficient amount of food to keep it alive

• In 1998, a mass coral bleaching caused significant coral death on the Mesoamerican Reef. A study conducted in Belize and Honduras showed that in areas with clean waters and healthy reefs, coral was able to recover and grow normally within two to three years after the bleaching (WWF, 2009)

• In comparison, corals living with excessive human pressures, such as pollution, coastal development, and runoff, had not recovered even eight years after the event

• The fast-recovering corals were located far offshore• The corals that took longer to recover were located in areas with

significant land-based runoff and heavily populated and developed coastlines

• As a result, coral that cannot recover will not survive and die off

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Global Warming ImpactMESOAMERICAN REFF Coral Bleaching

• Coral reef bleaching is a general response to stress. It has been happening more frequently as a result of global warming raising sea temperatures. Coral species live within a relatively narrow temperature margin, and anomalously low and high sea temperatures can induce coral bleaching. A small temperature change of only two degrees can be attributed to an upwelling of coral bleaching. (Bouche, 2008)

• These higher temperatures act as stressor factors, disrupting zooxanthellae enzyme systems that are responsible for protection against oxygen toxicity. Without this protection, the algae can die off contributing to coral bleaching (National Geographic, 2006).

• Even further, in more extreme cases, if the water temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius, photosynthesis pathways in the zooxanthellae are impaired, causing a disassociation of symbiosis because the algae is no longer able to sustain the coral.

• Sea temperature shocks, a quick raising in the water temperature around the coral, can cause a dysfunction in cell adhesion between the protist and the coral. The coral will release it’s endodermal cells, carrying the zooxanthellae with it (Nation Geographic, 2006).

• Studies have proven temperature (indirectly, global arming) to be a causative factor (Corals, 1996).

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RamificationsMESOAMERICAN REFF Coral Bleaching

The ramifications of dying coral are extremely appalling within the Mesoamerican reef. Coral, in terms of the eco system, provides a habitat and safe sanctuary to over 500 different species of fish, along with the mammoth whale shark, and the endangered salt water crocodile (WWF, 2010). The numerous ecosystems of the Mesoamerican Reef rely on the shelter and nutrients provided by the vast amount of coral. Without this protection and food, the delicate balance of nature will be unevenly weighed. Inversely, other species will begin to decrease because they are no longer able to proficiently hide from predators, or seek the nutrients they need. This catastrophic effect will continue to domino down towards the end of the food chain. Food sources will be depleted to larger fishes who will begin to dye off as a result. These effects do not even take into consideration the exponential increase of other human and environmental stresses. Coral bleaching can lead to a large decrease to the biodiversity of the Mesoamerican Reef, affecting tourism and other commercial operations. Further impact on the poor economies of the Central American countries will leave even fewer resources to conserve the rest of the reef. Bleached corals are effectively starving and susceptible to other stresses including diseases; many will die as a result (Corals, 1996).

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• As a result of increased sea temperature, hurricanes and storms are increasing in frequency and intensity. Studies have proven there to be a strong correlation between an increase in temperature, and an increase in wind speeds during natural disasters over the past few decades. Hurricanes are driven by the transfer of energy from the ocean to the atmosphere. The increased ocean temperature translates to an increase in the kinetic energy of the water molecules, causing the ability of water evaporation to increase. A greater evaporation rate will produce a hurricane with greater intensity because it will allow the storm to easily draw up more air (TIME, 2009).

• Since 1970, ocean temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees Celsius, accounting for the powerful storms. According to research conducted by the Nature Organization, it is estimated that for every one degree increase in surface temperature, there is a resulting 31% increase in the global frequency of a category 4 or 5 storm (TIME, 2009).


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• The base coral frame is fairly resistant and immovable to storms and hurricanes

• Strong storm surge and wave energy can damage and destroy branching corals or smaller coral colonies

• Reef life that consists of soft corals, sponges, and encrusting organisms living at the base coral frame can break away and be pulverized by churning wave surge (TIME, 2009)

• Physical ramifications caused by the storm are usually short term and do not have as great an impact on the Mesoamerican Reef

• Ocean life fragmented by the storm can survive, reattach, and continue growing if conditions are not inhospitable

• Reefs are able to repair branching corals as long as damage has been kept to a minimal around the framework (Corals, 1996)


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• Hurricanes cause the biggest damage to the Mesoamerican reef after the actual storm through the initiation of other stressors that can cause long term effects

• Storms cause an increase in sedimentation• Muddy runoff and sediment get suspended in the water a result of torrential storm down pour• Sediment laden flood waters can completely block sunlight to some shallow reefs• Hurricanes causing large scale flooding carry land based pollutants such as insecticides, fertilizers,

and herbicides into the reef (TIME, 2009)• Hurricane Mitch, a devastating storm that swept through Central America in 1998, destroyed

almost 80% of Honduras’s crops, along with a fragile economy. As Honduras recovered, many pesticides were introduced to the agriculture to protect the banana crops. The Honduras landscape is mostly composed of mountains. Therefore, when it would rain, pesticides and other sediments would be carried down into the oceans, and into the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

• This pesticide runoff damaged the reproductive abilities of the coral, along with the health of the communities that depend on the reef for sustenance (National Geographic, 2006).


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Predators PreyEcosystem

• The Mesoamerican Reef ecosystems are suffering from invasive species• Invasive species are organisms that have been introduced to a habitat or ecological niche, other

than their native environment, often causing negative effects • The new environment contains no natural predators and as a result, allows the species to thrive

and over populate, depleting natural resources for native species (Canada, 2010)• Ecosystems are delicately balanced, introducing new species changes the functions of the

ecosystems by changing nutrient cycling and hydrology, driving native species to extinction through competitive exclusion and niche displacement (Canada, 2010)

• Species are always in constant inter-species competition, invasive species always dominate this competition because they have no natural predators limiting their numbers

• This break in the food chain causes extensive changes in structure, composition, and global distribution of biotic species (GISD, 2000)

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• The lionfish continues to be one of the biggest invasive species in the Mesoamerican Reef today

• This fish is native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, using there lightening fast reflexes and long venomous pectoral fins to catch there prey and defend against predators

• It has become a serious threat to marine ecosystems• It has no natural predators and is beginning to reduce

biodiversity (GlobalGiving, 2011)• Over population is depleting prey for other species

sharing the same ecological niche• These species risk extinction and vulnerability without

food, causing imbalances in population throughout the entire ecosystem (GlobalGiving, 2011)

• The depleted resources are ravishing an economical impact on the fishing industry

• Lion fish are able to produce thirty thousand eggs every four days, and without any competition there is no boundaries to which the species can expand within the reef

• The species were unintentionally introduced in the 1990’s when an aquarium overturned into the Atlantic ocean


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Target the Problem

MESOAMERICAN REFF Sustainable Solutions

The Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund) has put together a proposal to help sustain

the biodiversity of the reef and achieve funding to protect it from global warming impact and invasive species such as the

lionfish. The goals of the MAR fund are to provide long term financial stability for

natural resource management and conservation initiatives in the Mesoamerican region, and to consolidate and allocate donor

contributions to common and strategic objectives in the eco-region (Jumo, 2010).

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To preserve genetic diversity

To ensure the sustainable utilization of marine species and ecosystems

To maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems

The organization is planning to allocate donations to fund a technique to train native species to eat lionfish, and promoting the lionfish fillet for human consumption (a technique that will ease the fishing of native species as well). Both initiatives are very worthy as control management strategies for long term sustainability. Since it is a terrible threat not only to other fish but crustaceans, coral species, and even humans, it is imperative that its population decreases as much as possible.

The MAR fund is dedicated to promoting and implementing transitional solutions for the preservation and sustainable use of the natural resources provided by the Mesoamerican Reef. A first priority of the fund has been to attract significant new funding to the area to support the vital work of preserving the reef (Jumo, 2010).The MAR fund is dedicated to instating more marine protected areas (MPAs) in order to conserve the marine heritage and life support system of the world, and to ensure that where marine resources are used, they are used in an ecologically sustained manner (Jumo, 2010). The fund believes that the MAR area needs to urgently expand this comprehensive system to help rebuild the productivity of the oceans and allow time for the bleached coral to heal undisturbed from other stressors (Jumo, 2010). MPAs have three main objectives (WWF, 2009):

MESOAMERICAN REFF Sustainable Solutions

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• Annual report cards are produced which give detailed information on how the reefs are declining (WWF, 2010)

• Coral nurseries have been set up around Belize and Mexico that grow extremely endangered coral and have been very effective (WWF, 2010)

• Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras have all made agreements to protect the coral reefs and species (Jumo, 2010)

• Protected areas have been established that have made a huge impact on the health of the reef. In these areas, there are many protective features (Science Daily, 2001) , including

- Maintaining endangered species

- Protecting habitat

- Banning excessive fishing

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MESOAMERICAN REFF The ProposalThrough this presentation I would like to propose a new branch of the MAR fund dedicated to research in pursuit of developing scientific methods to quicken the process of reef recovery. Already research has been undertaken to repair coral damage by breeding it on land in tanks of artificial sweetener, harvesting it, then placing back on the damaged reef in the water. Observations show that even though the coral has been raised in laboratories to repair itself, it can grow in the water, despite being acclimated to the conditions where it grew (Science Daily, 2001). With further research it is believed that corals rescued from human impact can be used to help restore reefs elsewhere in the ecosystem. This kind of research can combat the global effects of global warming that is hard to prevent on a local level. Paired with actions to promote sustainability, this research could lead to new discoveries that could help the reef repair within the decade under strict preservation. Investing in research such as this will provide long term solutions to ongoing problems that cannot simply be solved through environmental restrictions. The research will heavily emphasize on finding plausible solutions to coral bleaching by studying algae properties and solutions to strengthen the adhesion of the symbiotic relationship. The zooxanthellae genome will be studied, to see if possible genetic engineering could prevent the impairing of photosynthesis pathways in increasing temperatures.