In March of 2011, Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced official plans to drive an additional twenty-five million tourists to Mexico over the next seven years. As one of the country's most important tourism draws, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef will face significant impacts from this edict--especially because tourism is already cited as one of the top contributors to poor reef health in the area. Ironically, the push to expand tourism could degrade the very attraction that tourists come to experience.
To prevent that undesirable outcome, CORAL has stepped up our efforts with the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI). Since 2006, the MARTI partners have been working directly with tourism stakeholders, including marine recreation providers, cruise lines, and hotels, to reduce their impact on the marine environment. CORAL, a founding member of MARTI, has been central to these efforts, spearheading the initiative's work to promote sustainable marine recreation practices. In 2011, CORAL also assumed a more extensive leadership role as the secretariat of MARTI's steering committee for the next two years.
With CORAL's support, MARTI recently achieved two major milestones in ensuring its long-term success: appointing a diverse and talented board of advisers and hiring its first director general, Thomas Meller. Thomas is in charge of coordinating all partner efforts and identifying creative new ways to engage the tourism industry.
"In five years, MARTI has become the most important sustainable tourism initiative in the Mesoamerican Reef region," says Thomas. "I look forward to integrating the individual strengths and expertise of our six partners to build an even stronger initiative that will achieve our vision--transforming tourism into a force for biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development."
Thanks to your support, CORAL has been expanding our successful work with marine tourism operators and integrating our efforts with those of other MARTI partners. With nearly 50 conservation leaders trained as educators through our CORAL Reef Leadership Network in Mexico, our sustainable marine recreation trainings have reached nearly all marine tourism operators on the island of Cozumel--that's more than 700!--and we are now ramping up our efforts in Playa del Carmen and other key tourism destinations on the mainland.
"For MARTI to be successful," Thomas says, "we need to emulate CORAL's Cozumel model, working with marine parks, governments, private businesses, and local communities to save coral reefs throughout the entire Mesoamerican Reef region."
In our last report, we shared information about the work our CORAL Reef Leaders are doing in Hawaii. In Mexico, these critical volunteers are actively working with local businesses to increase their environmental sustainability.
Over the last couple of years, CORAL, with the help of our Leaders, has educated nearly all of the marine tourism operators on the island of Cozumel—that's over 700 individuals! Now, we’re stepping up our efforts on the mainland. We’ve trained five new Leaders in the Cancun area, and they are already leading sustainable marine recreation workshops in key locations like Puerto Morelos, a dive destination just south of Cancun.
Stakeholders in Puerto Morelos, some of whom are pictured in the accompanying photo, have welcomed CORAL’s help to improve their sustainability. We have already reached more than fifty of the two hundred tour guides who work in the town’s national marine park, and we plan to educate the remaining guides about sustainable marine recreation practices in the next few months.
Why is this important for coral reefs? In March of 2011, President Felipe Calderón announced official plans to drive an additional twenty-five million tourists to Mexico over the next seven years. As one of the country’s most important tourism draws, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef off the coast of Mexico will face significant impacts from this edict—especially because tourism is already cited as one of the top contributors to poor reef health in the area. Ironically, the push to expand tourism could degrade the very attraction that tourists come to experience.
By working with tourism operators, we are helping to ensure that these visitors have a much reduced impact on the ecosystem and that Mexico's reefs—and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods—thrive for generations to come.
Thank you for your support of our work in Mexico, and in other locations around the world. And best "fishes" from all of us at CORAL for a wonderful holiday season.
The Coral Reef Alliance's success in its project sites around the world is built on a strong network of community members, including our CORAL Reef Leadership Network (CRLN).
By training a network of qualified local CORAL Reef Leaders to conduct and sustain educational outreach and disseminate best practices, CORAL is in essence "training the trainers." The CRLN identifies and recruits respected and motivated local leaders in the marine community so members have the credibility and background knowledge necessary to inspire trust. The leaders' presence on site ensures continuity in an industry known for high turnover and serves as a touchstone on coral conservation in the region.
Training provides leaders with the knowledge and skills to effectively convey CORAL’s educational curriculum about reef conservation, resource management, and sustainable tourism practices to marine recreation providers. Under the guidance of CORAL's field staff and with a stipend to sponsor their efforts, CORAL Reef Leaders are empowered to teach CORAL’s Sustainable Marine Recreation workshops and conduct collaborative outreach in their local region.
In Hawaii, our CORAL Reef Leaders have been also directly educating tourists and encouraging them to follow best practices. They are doing this through our reef etiquette signs. By finding locations for the signs and working with local businesses and communities to install them, our leaders are reducing tourism impact on nearshore reefs. As of September 1, 2011, forty-three signs have been installed over three islands, with five more pending installation. You can find a full list of signs and locations at http://www.coral.org/hawaii_reef_signs. And if you happen to be traveling to Hawaii, please visit one of the signs to see your donations at work.
Thanks to your support, we are able to ensure the continued growth of this important program. Mahalo!
When we updated you on our mangrove replanting effort in Belize last March, we had just finished planting over 100 mangrove seedlings in several high priority areas of San Pedro. We have been monitoring the sites since then and are pleased to report that at one of the sites, 39 encasements were set up and 39 now have healthy and growing mangroves; that's a 100% success rate during one of the more challenging times in development. One of the other sites had 17 encasements set up, but due to "fill" (dirt piled up by the property owners to block waves), 2 of the mangroves have been damaged. We are currently working to fix this issue.
We know that it could be years before we know the ultimate success of this endeavor, but we are grateful for your support that has given us the resources to even get this far. Thank you!
Mangroves are extremely beneficial to coral reefs. Not only do mangroves act as a natural purifier to prevent harmful pollutants from reaching reefs, but their root systems also provide a breeding ground and nursery for many reef species. Unfortunately for both mangroves and reefs, the high demand for beachfront property in Belize has led to an alarming rate of mangrove destruction. Coastal developers have traditionally favored clearing mangroves and constructing seawalls to prevent erosion, even though mangroves do a better job of minimizing erosion, while providing important coastal habitat.
It's with that background that the Coral Reef Alliance launched a mangrove replenishing effort in San Pedro. With our local partners, as well as renowned mangrove expert Bob Riley, we hosted a workshop on how to effectively restore mangrove habitat and enlisted volunteers to plant nearly 100 seedlings in three high-priority locations along the coast. The attached link takes you to our YouTube page where you'll find a great video with more detail on the project.
While it will take a few years for the seedlings to develop root systems, the ultimate return on investment will be worth the wait. "We are confident that these sites will serve as models to educate coastal developers on the importance of maintaining mangrove habitat," says CORAL's Belize Field Rep. Val Rosado. "Development is essential to our local economy, but it must be done in a responsible way."
Thanks for your support of this exciting project!
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Asst. Director of Development