The Mesoamerican barrier reef system (MBRS) extends over four countries, from the tip of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico down to Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. It is the second largest barrier reef in the world and the home to over 500 fish species as well as numerous endangered species such as the Loggerhead turtle, Nassau and goliath groupers and black coral. There are an estimated 2 million people directly linked to the MBRS coastal environments, depending on the health of the ecosystem for food, water, livelihoods and income. Its marine and coastal ecosystem provides the foundation for the Yucatan peninsulas multi-billion dollar tourism industry. These activities are continuing to increase in the area, placing varying degrees of pressure on the natural ecosystems of the MBRS.
Due to its importance, a program known as the synoptic monitoring program (SMP) was developed to assess the health of the reef. The MBRS SMP was designed as a standardized methodology to monitor changes in ecosystem health with the aim of improving the management of the coastal and marine resources.The Marine Conservation Expedition run by GVI in collaboration with Amigos de Sian Ka’an, is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve,Tulum, Mexico, in a place called Pez Maya.This programme trains volunteers on the SMP methodology in order to monitor fish, coral, algae and other sessile organisms in the reef .
Following learning a list of target species and the SMP methodology, volunteers are able to monitor within 100m of GPS marked sites. The SMP method Pez Maya uses involves belt transects. It is designed to measure the density and sizes of selected Caribbean key fish species, such as predators, herbivores, and “indicator” species, many of which are commercially exploited. For each transect, volunteers record the following information: recorder’s name, date, time of start of transect, Site name and GPS location, transect number
Jaguars have been practically eliminated from Mexican territory because of the destruction of their habitat. In spite of this, they are still found in remote areas where development is minimal, and even in areas near rural villages. Jaguars have suffered deliberate persecution as hunting trophies and as a perceived threat to cattle. They are also included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) so any international trade of this species, it’s parts (often in demand for Chinese traditional medicine) or it’s hunting is strictly prohibited.
Amigos de Sian Ka’an with the El Eden reserve are taking part in the Jaguar corridor initiative to try to help extend the current range of this vital predator. The territory of the female jaguar is about 25 and 40 km2 and it can lap with the territories of other females, but the animals avoid encountering each other if possible. The territories of male jaguars are twice as large.Jaguars are the largest predators in Tropical America, and they need enormous land extensions for their conservation.
This November we have been lucky enough to observe jaguar prints on base and, just one kilometer from the base, a lucky staff member even sighted a female with two cubs. Whilst following the jaguar prints South along the beach, two staff members discovered the carcass of a Green Sea Turtle dragged into the undergrowth bordering the sand.
Acting quickly, CONANP in conjunction with Amigos de Sian Ka’an have set up five camera traps with the purpose of comparing the characteristics of these individuals with other sightings in the area, they have also confirmed that a jaguar was responsible for the death of the Green Sea Turtle found by the staff. Amigos de Sian Ka’an and CONAMP hope to investigate the range and prey of the Jaguars moving through the area. In Mexico there are sixteen areas that have been deemed important for the conservation of the species, eight of those are primary priority areas, like the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, with confirmed jaguar populations present
As the Marine turtle festival is coming soon we would like to share an article about environmental education and marine turtle conservation in Quintana Roo state. Thanks to Ana Mancera, Lluvia Soto and all the people involved in writing it. We hope you will enjoy it and get to know more about the work that is done in the Area!!Environmental education is an instrument to raise awareness in the community regarding both global and local environmental threats, and the relationships and interactions between man and his environment. In addition, it helps serve to inform and remind us about the importance of all living beings and ecosystems on Earth, and to promote their use in a way that guarantees the sustainability and quality of life for current and future generations.The State of Quintana Roo is the primary tourism destination in Mexico, visited annually by national and international tourists, who are attracted by the beauty of our beaches, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the presence of the third largest barrier reef system in the world, Mayan culture, and the native plants and animals found in its ecosystems.Given these characteristics, and considering its 865 kilometers of coastline along which sea turtles nest, environmental education is of great importance. Through it, participants learn about the species of sea turtle found along our beaches; their biology (physical characteristics, feeding behaviors, reproductive cycles, etc.); their distribution, and their interactions with the coastal ecosystems.This type of environmental education needs to be directed towards the diverse sectors found in our State:1. The general population of Quintana Roo2. Tourists, both national and foreign3. Service providers (guides, tour operators, etc.) that lead sea turtleobservation activities either near the reefs or on beach walks at night4. Operators of large and small hotels along the coast5. Governmental agencies, which experience personnel changes with theperiodic changing of administrationsThrough workshops, talks, public events, brochures and documentaries it is possible to explain the importance of the presence of sea turtles, what to do when we encounter them on the beach, and why we should avoid consuming sea turtle products. In addition, it can ideally help us in building a culture of conservation, in which green practices are applied for dealing with environmental problems, helping to promote sustainable development.
The invasion of lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, into the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea is not only one of the most rapid in marine history but also having extremely detrimental effects to local species and ecosystems.
Recently introduced via un/intentional release, they have spread extremely quickly throughout the Caribbean, since their first sightings around Florida in 2000, they have spread as far south as Venezuela within 10 years1.
While in their native habitat, lionfish breed seasonally, invasive lionfish in the Atlantic have been documented breeding all-year round2. They can produce between 4000 and 30,000 eggs each time they spawn which are then dispersed great distances along oceanic surface currents, during an estimated pelagic larval duration of 20 to 35 days, before settlement3. Unlike other fish species, Lionfish can settle on and inhabit nearly all marine habitat types and depths between surface levels to over 300m, in temperatures between10-35 degrees Celsius4,5. However, with the rising sea temperatures due to global warming, this potentially invasive region is increasing. Lionfish are also generalist carnivores that can consume over 70 species of fish, up to half their own body length, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species6. On heavily invaded sites, lionfish consume native fish at unsustainable rates. As such, food competition can also lead to depleting food sources for native carnivores.
Here at Pez Maya we have been collecting information on the invasive lionfish so as to document its effects on the local ecosystem. So far this year the average number of sightings per dive per week has been slowly increasing.
As well as a steady increase in the average number of sightings per dive, there is also a noticeable increase in the sizes of lionfish seen on our dive sites. This general increase in size supports theories that invasive lionfish are larger than they are in their native ranges7, suggesting higher levels of local prey consumption and lionfish reproduction this year. In fact, we caught three individuals, one male and two females, that had fully developed and spawning capable gonads or very developed gonads nearing spawning capability.
Lionfish can inhabit nearly all habitat types, including important nursery areas such as mangroves and lagoon areas, and other areas with high levels of trophic interaction such as the fore-reef and reef crest. As such we have frequently observed lionfish within the reserve at our inner-reef dive sites, such as “Gardens”, which are commonly used as a nursery habitat for juvenile reef fish. Invasive adult lionfish, however, have been documented as having a preferred microhabitat of complex topographical structures, especially overhanging structures, and lots of coral cover8, such as our dive site “Special K”. As such, the invasive lionfish exhibited similar patterns of microhabitat occupancy as two local, and already over fished, species; the Grouper and Snapper complex, as seen at our local dive site “Hang 10”. The additional stress put on these species through this direct food competition is hindering any efforts to replenish the declining Grouper and Snapper populations.
As discussed before, on heavily invaded reefs lionfish can consume prey faster than their production on, or recruitment to, the reef. As such, the additional stress put on these species through this direct food competition is hindering any efforts to replenish the declining Grouper and Snapper populations. Also, the lionfish is having a negative impact on the Meso-American barrier reef system through the unsustainable consumption of newly recruited herbivorous species by invasive lionfish is limiting algal grazing on a reef system that is already in threat of a shift to an algal dominated reef.
Lionfish feed primarily on teleosts, fish with bony skeletons, which include the majority of the local marine species, and few other crustaceans, primarily shrimps, more commonly consumed by smaller classes of lionfish. However, lionfish are generalist consumers and will quickly abandon their usual diet for any abundant food source.
Because lionfish captured and removed from an area would “be replaced largely through larval recruitment rather than migration of older individuals”9, “localized control efforts would need to be carried out frequently in order to maintain a younger, smaller population”10, which can be very costly and makes eradication programs extremely difficult.
However, the data collected here is very useful for future planning of local control efforts and will hopefully be used to co-ordinate our future lionfish control efforts which, if implemented well, can control local populations and even generate income for local communities. Also, and possibly more importantly, lionfish ceviche is a very welcome addition to base cuisine
1: Morris, J (2009): Biology, Ecology, Control and Management of the Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish: An Updated ntegrated Assessment
2: Morris, J (2011): Oogenesis and spawn formation in the invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans)
3: Green, S (2011): Potential effects of climate change on a marine invasive: The importance of current context
4: Biggs, C (2011): Multi-scale habitat occupancy of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) in coral reef environments of Roatanm Hondorus
5: Kimball, M: (2004) - Thermal tolerance and potential distribution of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/ miles complex) on the east coast of the United States.
6: Green, S (2012): Invasive Lionfish Drive Atlantic Coral Reef Fish Declines
7: Green, S (2011): Indo-Pacific lionfish are larger and more abundant on invaded reefs: a comparison of Kenyan and Bahamian lionfish populations
8: Biggs, C (2011): Multi-scale habitat occupancy of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) in coral reef environments of Roatanm Hondorus
9: Barbour, A: (2011): Evaluating the Potential Efficacy of Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans) Removals.
Today we are lucky enough to have a diary extract from one of our staff members in Pez Maya, Joanna Richardson...
Having completed my volunteer and scholar phases at Punta Gruesa (Mahahual) 'turtling' as it's referred to was new to me. I was so excited to find that we have turtles nesting on the base beach. In the morning a staff and volunteer member walk the beach playing detective, looking for turtle tracks and locating nests. This I found exciting enough, but last night we decided to take an impromptu turtle walk, we kept as quiet as possible, pointing at anything that could possibly be a turtle, then from the sea about 20 meters infront of us emerged a large Green turtle, it was an amazing sight watching her pull herself out of the water and navigate the steep sand bank that had formed infront of her, she made three false nests, which included a period where she disappeared off into the mangroves, we watched on for a further 45 minutes until she returned to the water leaving some very excited staff and volunteer members behind.
The excitement continued this morning when whilst on our way to beach clean we discovered a newly hatched hawksbill turtle, unfortunately it had a slightly stunted front flipper and so was quickly named Nemo by the volunteers. With a little help he found the sea and happily swam off to begin his many adventures, may he be as lucky as his namesake!
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GVI Charitable Trust Manager