Divers and snorkelers can fight coral disease on the Mesoamerican Reef by sharing #SupportNEMO photos

Sustainable Travel International launches a social media campaign that empowers visitors to play a role in monitoring and conserving the Mesoamerican Reef by sharing photos of the coral, pollution, and marine life they see while exploring the reef

COZUMEL, MEXICO (October 22, 2019) – The nonprofit Sustainable Travel International is launching its #SupportNEMO social media campaign to fight a mysterious coral disease that is ravaging the Mesoamerican Reef. The campaign takes an innovative, citizen-powered approach to reef conservation by engaging divers, snorkelers, and other visitors in monitoring the disease by sharing photos of what they see while exploring the reef. 

The #SupportNEMO campaign is the first phase of Sustainable Travel International’s larger NEMO (Natural Environment Marine Observers) program which aims to reduce human impacts on the Mesoamerican Reef and empower visitors to more actively protect it by:

  1. Raising community awareness about the reef and how to conserve it  
  2. Collecting monitoring data for marine scientists on reef health and threats;
  3. Informing and funding response expeditions to eradicate threats and keep the reef healthy

The “White Syndrome” Coral Disease

The Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second largest reef system, stretching over 600 miles (1000+ kilometers) from Mexico to Honduras. Every year, more than 16 million people visit the Mesoamerican Reef, many of whom participate in reef-based activities such as diving and snorkeling. While tourism to the reef provides valuable economic benefits and supports nearly 2 million livelihoods, it also creates harmful impacts, such as pollution and physical damage, that endanger the fragile ecosystem. 

In June 2018, scientists discovered a coral disease outbreak, known locally as “Síndrome Blanco” (White Syndrome) that is killing over 20 coral species and spreading rapidly across the Mesoamerican Reef.  In just a matter of weeks, the disease can destroy entire coral structures, some of which took hundreds of years to grow. While the cause of the outbreak is still unknown, scientists believe that it may be due to poor water quality and that it is the same as the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) that has affected over half of the Florida Reef Tract and spread to the Caribbean. 

“The Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) spreads incredibly fast and has a very high mortality rate. For the more than 20 coral species afflicted by this disease, the amount of coral lost in the first six months of the outbreak alone, is equivalent to the amount that was lost over the previous 40 years,” said Dr. Lorenzo Alvarez-Filip, Principal Researcher at the Biodiversity and Reef Conservation (BARCO) Lab at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “We need all the support we can get to monitor this disease in order to minimize further damage.”

How to Participate in the #SupportNEMO Campaign

The #SupportNEMO campaign offers divers, snorkelers, and other visitors to the Mesoamerican Reef a way to collect monitoring data that will help scientists protect the reef. While on the reef, individuals are asked to keep an eye out for coral that may be infected with the disease by looking for colonies that have white bands, spots, or lesions. Guidance on how to spot the disease is available here.

To participate, visitors should post their photos of the reef to Instagram using the #SupportNEMO hashtag and include the location (GPS coordinates or dive site) and date the photo was taken. In addition to posting photos of the coral disease, visitors are also encouraged to share photos of marine pollution, as well as any wildlife they see. 

Photos contributed to the #SupportNEMO campaign will be analyzed by the NEMO Reef Response Team, a collaborative response taskforce comprised of marine scientists and conservationists from CONANP (Mexican Marine Park Authority), Healthy Reefs Initiative, and BARCO LAB. The photos will help scientists to better understand the disease and track where it’s spreading so that they can develop and test treatments, reduce pollution, identify ways to prevent the disease from spreading, and begin restoration efforts. 

$40K in 40 Days to Expand NEMO and Transform Conservation

In tandem with the #SupportNEMO campaign, Sustainable Travel International is launching an ambitious crowdfunding campaign with a goal of raising $40K in 40 days – the length of time it can take an entire coral colony to be killed by the disease. The campaign will enable people all across the globe to support the expansion of the NEMO Program by making a donation at http://bit.ly/40days4reef. Funds raised will be used to:

  • Develop a NEMO citizen-science web application so that anyone can easily submit their photos and scientists can map and analyze data 
  • Educate local communities about reef conservation and get more people involved in NEMO
  • Fund expeditions by the Response Team to fight the disease and keep the reef healthy

For more information about the campaigns or the NEMO program as a whole, please contact [email protected] or visit SupportNEMO.com or sustainabletravel.org.


Media Contact:

Kaitlyn Brajcich

Sustainable Travel International

[email protected]

About Sustainable Travel International

Sustainable Travel International is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and conserving our planet’s most vulnerable destinations. We are transforming tourism’s impact on nature and people by working alongside local communities, engaging travelers and businesses in responsible practices, and strengthening destination management. Through our work, we aim to safeguard nature, combat climate change, and empower communities to preserve the integrity of destinations around the globe. To learn more visit www.sustainabletravel.org

About Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI) is a globally unique international collaborative program of coral reef-focused research, management and conservation organizations dedicated to safeguarding the Mesoamerican Reef. Our vision is to improve our scientific understanding of the functioning of the MAR, and enhance its health through management interventions. HRI has engaged over 70 key marine conservation, government, and private sector institutions, coordinating the latest scientific information into management efforts, thereby improving the collective success of all of these important conservation programs. Through our proven and effective use of the media, we are creating a more informed, powerful and dynamic stakeholder base for reef conservation in the MAR. http://www.healthyreefs.org/


BARC LAB is a dynamic group with passionate interest in ecology and biodiversity conservation. We focus on three main areas of research: (1) describing on-going ecological shifts on reef ecosystems resulting from environmental and climate change, (2) investigating the role of ecological processes such as herbivory and coral recruitment on ecosystem dynamics, and (3) understanding the consequences of reef degradation to biodiversity and humans. We believe that one of the greatest challenges of today is biodiversity and ecosystem conservation and we are increasingly interested in providing fundamental ecological insights while producing policy-relevant science. www.barcolab.org


The Mexican National Protected Area Commission (CONANP) works to conserve the natural heritage of Mexico and the ecological processes of 182 Natural Protected Areas (ANP), bringing together conservation goals with goals to protect the well-being of local populations and visitors to these areas. Throughout 19 years of operation, CONANP has driven multiple conservation initiatives and strengthened the sustainable management of the biodiversity found in ANP’s. www.gob.mx/conanp

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