The Mesoamerican Reef System, also known as the Mesoamerican Reef, and often abbreviated SAM ( Sistema Arrecifal Mesoamericano), is a coral reef that extends over approximately 1000 km, along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras .
The Mesoamerican Reef System is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere and the first largest reef in the world, before this title belonged to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The Mesoamerican reef extends along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In the north it starts from Contoy Island at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and continues south along the coast of Belize, with its keys and atolls, Guatemala, and ends near the Bay Islands in Honduras.
The reef system forms the habitat of more than 65 species of stony corals, 350 species of mollusks and more than 500 species of fish. It is an important refuge for numerous protected or endangered species, including sea turtles (green turtle, loggerhead turtle, leatherback turtle and hawksbill turtle), the queen conch, the Caribbean manatee, the American crocodile, Morelet crocodile, The elk horn coral and black coral. The reef system is also part of the habitat of one of the world’s largest populations of manatees, the number of which is estimated between 1,000 and 1,500 individuals. Some areas in the northern part of the reef system, near Contoy Island, are part of the habitat of the whale shark, the largest fish on the planet.The whale sharks, usually solitary, congregate in social groups in these areas to mate.
Coral reefs are threatened by climate change, nutrient discharge through rivers and coastal areas, fisheries and emerging diseases. Particularly, the Mesoamerican reef system is considered a Critically Endangered (CR) ecosystem according to the criteria of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems due to the projection of the negative effects of coral bleaching on the coverage of live corals and fish biomass.
The ecosystem is also the site of two major international conservation initiatives, one already well established and one that is being initiated.
In 1998, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) identified the Mesoamerican Caribbean reef as a priority ecosystem and a globally important ecoregion, so a conservation effort began. Reef in the long term. The same protection policies have been put in place for the Coral Triangle, thanks to the coordinated action of the World Forum for Nature (WWF), The Nature Conservancy and the creation of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), formed by the 6 countries that share the waters of the Coral Triangle (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Timor Leste and Malaysia).
Protected areas in Mexico
Isla Contoy National Park
West Coast National Park of Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc
Puerto Morelos Reef National Park
Cozumel Island Flora and Fauna Protection Area
Cozumel Reef National Park
Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (World Heritage since 1987)