Climate changes endangers the Riviera Maya
Coral reef - Photo: COURTESY

Climate changes endangers the Riviera Maya

Astrid Rivera
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Climate change and pollution are the main threats to the biodiversity of the Mesoamerican Reef

Climate change and pollution are the main threats to the Mesoamerican Reef, part of the Riviera Maya, as they endanger over 5,000 species of fish, corals, invertebrates, and algae, according to experts.

The biodiversity found in the reefs acts as a natural barrier to protect the shores from hurricanes; however, climate change has increased the strength of these phenomena, causing serious damages to the ecosystems.

In order to protect the reef, the Government of Quintana Roo, together with hotel owners of the coast of the Mexican Caribbean and the organization The Nature Conservancy, will create the Trust Fund to Manage the Coastal Area through which several projects will be financed to continuously preserve the reefs and beaches.

The trust fund is set to include the acquisition of an insurance for coral reefs and beaches in order to cover the damages in case of a hurricane and to preserve the natural systems which add value to businesses and communities.

Calina Zepeda, an expert on coral reef restoration with The Nature Conservancy, explained that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes.

Natural disaster damage cost is estimated to be USD$300 billion a year, worldwide; in Mexico, hurricanes Wilma and Emily – which struck in 2005 – caused damages to the shoreline for over USD$8 billion.

According to Zepeda, beach erosion is a growing problem of the tourism industry, since the coral reefs protecting the Mexican Caribbean have been degrading due to pollution, bleaching, and overfishing.

The time it takes a coral to grow depends on the species yet it can take anywhere from one year to four for it to grow 80cm. Sunlight and temperature are also crucial factors, as the ideal water temperature should range anywhere from 27°C to 29°C.

The importance of the reef for the Mexican economy

The expert said that coral reefs reduce 97% of the force of a wave before it reaches the shore, a more effective and less expensive form of protection than building a breakwater or a jetty.

The Mesoamerican Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, which in addition to the diverse ecosystem it houses, provides significant economic benefits for Mexico's tourism industry.

Miguel Ángel Diego, a representative of the Hotel Association of National Park of Puerto Morelos, detailed that the trust fund will be funded from occupancy and related taxes.

“The insurance is a joint effort, purchased with the trust funds; the local community is rescuing an important asset from the damages brought by storms,” said Miguel Ángel Diego, adding that the tourism industry in Cancún raises close to MXN$ 180 million a year from the usage of the Federal Maritime Area, of which 20% will be allocated for the trust fund.

The initial proposal comprises 60 kilometers of the reef and the beach, in the area of Cancún and Puerto Morelos; the government and the hotel & resort industry are also looking to assess a broader area to include the communities of Tulum, Solidaridad, and Cozumel.

The contribution of science

Claudia Padilla, a researcher at the Aquaculture and Fisheries Research Center confirmed that her team is working on a coral reef reproduction project. One of the techniques they are currently developing is the asexual reproduction.

They use coral fragments to reproduce them in control environments and then they take the individuals back to the sea.

They fragments of coral taken are examined to discard any sign of diseases and then they are grown in special tanks. It takes between four to six months for corals to reach the minimum height necessary for them to survive in the ocean.

Civil society organizations and researchers are currently developing a protocol to protect reefs and respond in case of a hurricane through the creation of a brigade, which will clean and assess damages to then develop a mid-term and long-term restoration program.

(Coral reproduction - Photo: Courtesy)


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