Tackling water pollution in the Mesoamerican Reef

Tackling Water Pollution in the Mesoamerican Reef

The second longest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef, stretches for 600 miles (965 kilometers) along the coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. This massive reef ecosystem supports a wealth of marine life including 500 species of fish and 60 species of coral. Tourism draws millions of visitors to the region each year, placing enormous pressure on the reef.  

One of the main threats to the Mesoamerican Reef is pollution from wastewater. Many communities in the surrounding region have poor wastewater treatment systems resulting in pathogens and pollutants entering the groundwater and, eventually, the sea.  This wastewater is loaded with contaminants and nutrients that, among other factors, cause the growth of dense macroalgae blooms that reduce coral reproduction and threaten to smother the reef.

In addition, the runoff from agriculture, construction, households, and tourism infrastructure damages near shore environments. Inappropriate disposal of waste, improper handling of fuels and other toxic substances adds to the pollution. In 2015, over 50 percent of the reef was in critical or poor condition according to the Healthy Reef Report Card for the Mesoamerican Reef.

What We're Doing

In response to the concerns in the region, the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative or “MARTI” was established in 2006. For the past two years, Sustainable Travel International has led MARTI’s efforts to engage government, hotels, cruise ships and marine recreation providers in the adoption of responsible practices that protect and restore the health of the Mesoamerican Reef. To reduce damage to the reef, one of MARTI’s key priorities is addressing the issue of water pollution in the region.

One way that MARTI takes action is by partnering with organizations such as the Riviera Maya Hotel Association to help numerous hotels incorporate practices for conserving water and energy and reducing waste. Because community awareness and involvement is key to ensuring sustainability, MARTI also focuses on educating residents on reducing water use and preventing water pollution. As for water treatment, the initiative focuses on increasing the number of homeowners and businesses connected to the municipal sewage system. In addition, MARTI trains sewage plant operators to ensure full compliance of treatment plants with federal and state laws.

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