The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), also popularly known as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef, is a marine region that stretches over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The reef system includes various protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Belize), Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park. Belize's coastline, comprising the Belize Barrier Reef, is home to approximately 80% of MBRS. The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef and Belize's three offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries—collectively termed, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System—has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1996).
Isla Contoy is a small island in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, approximately 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres. The island is only 8.5 km (5.3 mi) in length and has an area of 3.17 square kilometres (1.22 sq mi).
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.
Belize is an independent and sovereign country located on the north eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22,970 square kilometres (8,867 sq mi) and a population of 387,879 (2017). Its mainland is about 180 mi (290 km) long and 68 mi (110 km) wide. It has the lowest population and population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.
The reef system extends along the coast of four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. It begins near Isla Contoy on the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and continues south alongside the Riviera Maya including areas like Cozumel and Banco Chinchorro. It then continues south down the eastern coast of Belize including many cayes and atolls. It extends past the north-east corner of Honduras and ends in Nicaragua.
Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the eleventh most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.
Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.
Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.
The reef system is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk and more than 500 species of fish.There are numerous species that live in or around the reef system that are endangered or under some degree of protection, including the following: sea turtles (green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, leatherback turtle, and the hawksbill turtle), the queen conch, the West Indian manatee, the splendid toadfish, the American crocodile, the Morelet's Crocodile, the Nassau grouper, elkhorn coral, and black coral.
Fish are gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. They form a sister group to the tunicates, together forming the olfactores. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish as well as various extinct related groups. Tetrapods emerged within lobe-finned fishes, so cladistically they are fish as well. However, traditionally fish are rendered paraphyletic by excluding the tetrapods. Because in this manner the term "fish" is defined negatively as a paraphyletic group, it is not considered a formal taxonomic grouping in systematic biology, unless it is used in the cladistic sense, including tetrapods. The traditional term pisces is considered a typological, but not a phylogenetic classification.
The green sea turtle, also known as the green turtle, black (sea) turtle or Pacific green turtle, is a species of large sea turtle of the family Cheloniidae. It is the only species in the genus Chelonia. Its range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but it is also found in the Indian Ocean. The common name refers to the usually green fat found beneath its carapace, not to the color of its carapace, which is olive to black.
The loggerhead sea turtle, also called commonly the loggerhead, is a species of oceanic turtle distributed throughout the world. It is a marine reptile, belonging to the family Cheloniidae. The average loggerhead measures around 90 cm (35 in) in carapace length when fully grown. The adult loggerhead sea turtle weighs approximately 135 kg (298 lb), with the largest specimens weighing in at more than 450 kg (1,000 lb). The skin ranges from yellow to brown in color, and the shell is typically reddish brown. No external differences in sex are seen until the turtle becomes an adult, the most obvious difference being the adult males have thicker tails and shorter plastrons than the females.
The reef system is currently suffering an invasion by the red lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles), which is native to the Indo-Pacific region. Lionfish severely damage the reef ecosystem by eating nearly every reef-tending species, such as cleaner shrimp and other species that eat algae. These animals keep the corals clean, alive, and disease-free. Lionfish eat up to 90% of the reef-tending species in a given area within just a few months, which can result in a quick death for a reef. Valuable commercial species, such as lobster, are being negatively affected by the spread of the lionfish due to the enormous appetite of the invasive lionfish.
The red lionfish is a venomous coral reef fish in the family Scorpaenidae, order Scorpaeniformes. P. volitans is natively found in the Indo-Pacific region, but has become an invasive problem in the Caribbean Sea, as well as along the East Coast of the United States. This and a similar species, Pterois miles, have both been deemed invasive species. Red lionfish are clad in white stripes alternated with red/maroon/brown stripes. Adults in this species can grow as large as 47 cm (18.5 in) in length, making it one of the largest species of lionfish in the ocean, while juveniles are typically shorter than 1 inch (2.5 cm). The average red lionfish lives around 10 years. As with many species within the family Scopaenidae, it has large, venomous spines that protrude from the body, similar to a mane, giving it the common name lionfish. The venomous spines make the fish inedible or deter most potential predators. Lionfish reproduce monthly and are able to quickly disperse during their larval stage for expansion of their invasive region. No definitive predators of the lionfish are known, and many organizations are promoting the harvest and consumption of lionfish in efforts to prevent further increases in the already high population densities.
Cleaner shrimp is a common name for a number of swimming decapod crustaceans, that clean other organisms of parasites. They belong to any of three families, Hippolytidae, Palaemonidae, and Stenopodidae . The last of these families is more closely related to lobsters and crabs than it is to the remaining families. The term "cleaner shrimp" is sometimes used more specifically for the family Hippolytidae and the genus Lysmata.
The reef system is home to one of the world's largest populations of manatees, with an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 of them.
Some northern areas of the reef system near Isla Contoy are home to the largest fish on the planet, the whale shark.The normally solitary whale sharks congregate there in social groups to eat and to mate.
The whale shark is a slow-moving, filter-feeding carpet shark and the largest known extant fish species. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 18.8 m (62 ft) The whale shark holds many records for size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate. It is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon and the only extant member of the family Rhincodontidae, which belongs to the subclass Elasmobranchii in the class Chondrichthyes. Before 1984 it was classified as Rhiniodon into Rhinodontidae.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is considered critically endangered according to the criteria of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.
Cozumel is an island and municipality in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, opposite Playa del Carmen, and close to the Yucatán Channel. The municipality is part of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
A cay, also spelled caye or key, is a small, low-elevation, sandy island on the surface of a coral reef. Cays occur in tropical environments throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The Gulf or Bay of Honduras is a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea, indenting the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. From north to south, it runs for approximately 200 km from Dangriga, Belize, to La Ceiba, Honduras.
The Cayos Cochinos or Cochinos Cays consist of two small islands and 13 more small coral cays situated 30 kilometres (19 mi) northeast of La Ceiba on the northern shores of Honduras. Although geographically separate, they belong to the Bay Islands department and are part of Roatán municipality. The population numbered 108 at the 2001 census. The total land area measures about 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi).
A barrier reef is a type of coral reef formed offshore. It may also refer to:
Monkey River is a coastal watercourse in southern Belize that rises in the Maya Mountains and discharges to the Caribbean Sea near Monkey River Town. One of Belize's major rivers, Monkey River has northern headwaters which originate in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where the Swasey Branch drains the East Basin of that wildlife sanctuary. Further south, the Bladen Branch watercourse drains the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains including the ancient Mayan settlement areas of Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. These two watercourses join to form the Monkey River approximately 16 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Monkey River. The Monkey River is readily navigated throughout the year using small boats, but navigation above the major confluence becomes more difficult due to lack of depth when the dry season starts about February. Habitats in this watershed provide cover for such diverse species as the ocelot, jaguar, Guatemalan black howler, bare-throated tiger heron, Morelet's crocodile, fer-de-lance and manatee.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 meters (980 ft) offshore in the north and 40 kilometers (25 mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300-kilometer (190 mi) long section of the 900-kilometer (560 mi) Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya and up to Honduras, making it as of 2019 the World's largest coral reef system in the world. It is Belize's top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors. It is also vital to the country's fishing industry.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a marine reserve close to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize. It covers approximately 18 km² (4,448 acres) of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest. Hol Chan is Mayan for "little channel".
Wild Caribbean is a four-part BBC nature documentary series exploring the natural and cultural history of the Caribbean Islands and Sea. It was first transmitted in the UK on BBC Two in January 2007. The series was produced by the BBC Natural History Unit and narrated by actor Steve Toussaint. This series also aired in Australia on ABC1 each Sunday at 7:30pm from 15 February 2009.
The Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE) program began with a collaborative field project conceived by six National Museum of Natural History scientists during the early 1970s. The scientists interests included a range of disciplines central to reef ecology, including: invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, botany, carbonate geology, and paleobiology. The primary work site is the Carrie Bow Marine Field Station, a research station at Carrie Bow Cay on the Meso-American Barrier Reef in Belize. The program is an extended duration study of coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass meadows, and the sandy bottoms. It has been a functioning research program since the early 1970s when it was called the Investigations of Marine Shallow-Water Ecosystems (IMSWE)
Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve (BCNPMR) is a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern part of Ambergris Caye in Belize.
The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is off the coast of the island of Cozumel in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The Cozumel reef system is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world. Even though almost the entire island of Cozumel is surrounded by coral reefs, the park only encompasses the reefs on the south side of the island. It begins just south of the International Pier and continues down and around Punta Sur and up just a small portion of the east side of the island.
Glover's Reef is a partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast of Belize, approximately 45 kilometres from the mainland. It forms part of the outermost boundary of the Belize Barrier Reef, and is one of its three atolls, besides Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef.
Half Moon Caye is an island and natural monument of Belize located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. This natural monument was the first nature reserve to have been established in Belize under the National Park Systems Act in 1981 and first marine protected area in Central America. This is also Belize's oldest site of wildlife protection since it was first designated as a bird sanctuary in 1924 to protect the habitat of the red-footed booby birds.
The Sapodilla Cayes are an uninhabited atoll in the Gulf of Honduras. They are in the Toledo District of Belize.
Turneffe Atoll is located southeast of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, off the coast of Belize in Central America, 20 miles from Belize City, is one of three atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef, besides Glover's Reef and Lighthouse Reef. It is approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, making it the largest coral atoll in Belize and in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve on November 22, 2012.
Pterois is a genus of venomous marine fish, commonly known as lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Also called zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, tastyfish or butterfly-cod, it is characterized by conspicuous warning coloration with red, white, creamy, or black bands, showy pectoral fins, and venomous spiky fin rays. Pterois radiata, Pterois volitans, and Pterois miles are the most commonly studied species in the genus. Pterois species are popular aquarium fish. P. volitans and P. miles are a recent and significant invasive species in the west Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and Mediterranean Sea.
Lighthouse Reef is an atoll in the Caribbean Sea, the easternmost part of the Belize Barrier Reef and one of its three atolls, the other two being Turneffe Atoll and Glover's Reef. Lighthouse Reef is located about 80 kilometres (50 mi) southeast of Belize City. The atoll is of oblong shape, approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi) long from north to south, and about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) wide. It forms a shallow sandy lagoon with an area of 120 square kilometres (46 sq mi) and a depth between 2 to 6 metres deep.
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