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Surveying climate change impacts on Central America's coral reefs

Placencia, Belize — A WWF survey shows that rising temperatures, altered rainfall and coral bleaching are among the main threats to Central America's Mesoamerican Reef.

The survey, conducted in this small coastal Caribbean village, recorded first-hand testimony from local inhabitants about the impact climate change has had on their marine resources, and by association, on their way of life.

"This is the first time an assessment of this nature has been carried out in the reef region," explained Nadia Bood, a WWF scientist studying the Mesoamerican Reef.

"Placencia was chosen due to its close geographic location to the reef and the fact that the village's main source of income is strongly tied to the coastal area, particularly from fishing and tourism."

Many of the villagers surveyed believed that coral bleaching and overfishing have significantly reduced fish and lobster populations. They believe that responsible fisheries management and stricter control of off-season fishing regulations and illegal fishing are needed to reduce the destruction of the reef system.

The climate change "witnesses" also asserted that the climate is not as predictable as it used to be, with storm systems and rainfall becoming increasingly severe and unpredictable over time. During storms and hurricanes, erosion has been a problem for the peninsula and has been even more of a concern for surrounding islands, where rising sea levels are also having an impact.

Certain locations in Central America and southern Mexico are already prone to extreme weather events such as intense storms and hurricanes, as well as flooding and landslides.

"The results of the survey bring to light that climate change is a serious problem that affects livelihoods directly," added Bood. "This study shows how crucial it is to take immediate actions toward reducing the effects of climate change effects."

The survey complements other scientific work WWF is carrying out, including a report with The Nature Conservancy to assess the physical status of coral reefs throughout the Mesoamerican Reef. Based on preliminary findings for Belize, deeper offshore reefs appear to be more susceptible to bleaching effects. Many of these reefs are those which fishers and marine tour operators depend upon for their livelihood.

END NOTES:

  • The Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second largest barrier reef, stretches more than 700 kilometers from the extreme north of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico down through the Belize Barrier Reef, the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and the island complex of the Bay Islands adjacent to the northern coast of Honduras.
  • The WWF survey, conducted with assistance from the US-based Edelman Public Relations firm, interviewed 22 villagers from Placencia, Belize.