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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People is a multi-institutional effort that tracks the health of the Mesoamerican Reef and makes science-based recommendations for improving coastal resource management in the region. The program is directed by SMS employee Dr. Melanie McField, who is based in Belize City. The Smithsonian is one of many partners supporting this initiative that is not only concerned with ecological issues, but also with important socio-economic, cultural, and policy factors that influence reef health. Over one million people directly depend on the integrity of the coral reefs of Belize and neighboring countries. This Mesoamerican region is a classic example of the interdependence between ecosystem health and social prosperity.

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Long-spined sea urchins near the Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: S. Jones

As a part of their efforts, Healthy Reefs issues a biannual "Report Card" for the Mesoamerican Reef that translates key reef indicators into easily understandable health scores. The latest report card was released in December 2012, and synthesizes six years of reef monitoring data across four countries and 193 sites. The results give cause for concern for the current state of the region's reef as a significant
Smithsonian Partner Issues Reef Report
percentage of the reef (24%) is rated at "critical"- meaning that important components of the ecosystem like fish and hard corals have reached very low numbers.
On a positive note, the number of reefs that are holding on to "fair" or "good" scores is relatively stable, showing the potential resilience of areas within this reef system. The government of Belize is taking proactive measures to maintain this trend. In 2009, Belize passed a landmark regulation to give full protection to all species of parrotfish and surgeonfish. These important reef grazers, which had been on the decline because of overfishing, play a critical role as consumers of algae, mitigating the competitive effects of algae, which can reduce the growth, reproduction and survival of corals. Now that reef herbivores are protected, as their populations recover the rate of grazing on the reef will increase, giving corals a competitive advantage.
In addition to its supporting role with Healthy Reefs, the Smithsonian's Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program is also keeping an eye on the reef through long-term assessment and oceanographic monitoring programs that provide information for publications such as the Reef Report Card.
To learn more about these initiatives or to view the program's entire 2012 Report Card, visit

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Numerous fish and corals in the high relief spur and groove on the Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: Z. Foltz

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