Fertilizer and sediment runoff from sugarcane, banana and pineapple plantations are threatening tourism by damaging a coral reef stretching along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The report by the World Resources Institute and other groups said that reducing pesticides, fertilizers and erosion could help head off increasing damage to the world’s second-largest barrier reef, which stretches over 600 miles.
The report estimates that over 80 percent of the sediment and over half of all nutrients that damage the reefs originate in Honduras, whose large rivers drain into the Caribbean.
"Our analysis shows that pollution from farms in Honduras can inadvertently damage the entire Mesoamerican reef, which is an important source of revenue from tourism and fisheries," said Lauretta Burke, an expert in coastal ecosystems for the resources institute and one of the authors of the report.
Silt runoff can cloud water, cutting off coral species’ access to sunlight. Pesticides can kill coral, and fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorous can spur the growth of algae, which compete with coral for sunlight. The study estimates that, if current practices continue, silt runoff may increase by as much as 13 percent by 2025.
Other studies have estimated that up to 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 50 years, and another 30 percent are severely damaged, often as a result of sedimentation and rising sea temperatures.
Liza Karina Agudelo, coordinator of the International Coral Reef Action Network-MesoAmerican Reef Alliance, said the study doesn’t intend to cast blame on Honduras, whose rain and drainage patterns make it vulnerable to runoff, but rather "sends the message to everyone that the reef belongs to the whole region. It doesn’t help to blame one country."
For centuries, huge plantations of sugar cane, pineapples and bananas were the region’s main source of wealth. In recent years, tourism and remittances sent home by migrants working abroad have since replaced those crops as the main source of outside income for many of the region’s countries.
Groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, are now working with planters and farmers in Honduras to improve farming practices.
"We are using the results of the study to reduce the use of pesticides and to control erosion of soil from important agricultural sectors" in Honduras and elsewhere, said Jose Vasquez, head of the WWF’s agriculture office in Central America.
Vasquez said his group is now working with big growers as well as citrus and sugar cane growers in Honduras.
(Ed. NOTE: “…a coral reef stretching along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras,” “Mesoamerican reef,” and “world’s second-largest barrier reef?”
The world’s second-largest barrier reef is the Belize Barrier Reef. “Mesoamerican” my foot! The following is a comment on the issue from a Belizean with intimate knowledge of the sea, and of the issues involved.)
The very first paragraph says it all. First, it’s "a" coral reef, as if they don’t know the name of our reef, so they can get into this Mesoamerican trick-bag. But the next dirty trick they’re playing is trying to divert attention from the major damage that cruise tourism is doing the reef.
All of a sudden agricultural runoffs are a problem. That has always been a concern, but the prevailing Easterlies, to my mind, keep most of the river runoffs close to shore, and whatever reaches the reef has taken time to get there and is thus degraded. That’s why English Caye water always looks so clear, while from Fort Point going out a mile or two the water always looks muddy.
When the cruise ships dump their millions of gallons of waste, it’s right out there close to the reef and, aside from the human waste, we don’t know what all chemicals are involved. If they’re so concerned about pesticides, why don’t they mention the golf courses at Caye Chapel, right beside the reef, or the huge tourism development projects on-going on our cayes, or about to happen in Placencia?
I think it’s all diversionary tactics by some very skilful agents of the macro-toursim lobby. Suddenly they are crying foul about the agricultural runoffs damaging the reef, when THEY are the ones that have been accused lately of doing the most damage, and getting ready to do a lot more.
And then, check it out, they try to turn us against Honduras. Why didn’t they mention all our major agricultural activities in citrus, banana, sugar cane and aquaculture? They know where we’ll tell them to go with that. So instead they set us up to blame everything on Honduras while they put the whap on us right here.
Mek dehn try build bridge to Stake Bank. A tink fisherman wahn get enough soon. So we wahn kyan sail wi boat how wi want because dehn wan drive di tourist out ova wi head? Unu go head. Since unu tink unu so smaat. Go head an bill it, man.