Towards resilience and risk reduction for coral reefs in Central America

Insurance payments for restoring a coral reef after it has been smashed by a hurricane may seem a bit far-fetched. Nevertheless, this is one of a raft of measures being proposed for the world’s second largest reef.

The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest transboundary coral reef system in the Atlantic Ocean, stretching more than 1,000 km along the coastline of four countries: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. It is critical to the ecological and economic health of the entire region and the Caribbean area.  

Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on the planet. They provide food, livelihoods and economic opportunity for millions of people. Coral reefs also protect coastal communities from storm surge flooding and wave action during tropical cyclones as well as beach erosion.

In Mesoamerica, the value of coral reefs across the tourism, commercial fisheries and coastal development sectors is linked to their health, and is estimated at US$6.2 billion per year, according to The Coral Reef Economy: The business case for investment in the protection, preservation and enhancement of coral reef health, an October 2018 study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.

Today, however, the vitally important goods and services of coral reefs are at risk from local and global human activity, and the Mesoamerican Reef is no exception.

Perhaps the most severe and growing threat at the global level is climate change, including coral bleaching and the increased frequency of hurricanes, flooding, and coastal wave and storm surges, all of which can have disastrous impacts on coral reefs. If reefs continue to decline in Mesoamerica, the study warns, their yearly value could fall by US$3.1 billion by 2030.