Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 1039–1046 | Cite as

A case for redefining the boundaries of the Mesoamerican Reef Ecoregion

  • Iliana Chollett
  • Lysel Garavelli
  • Daniel Holstein
  • Laurent Cherubin
  • Stuart Fulton
  • Stephen J. Box


The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) is an interconnected system that supports the local economies of four countries through the provision of seafood and tourism. Considerable financial, research and management effort has been invested in this priority ecoregion, whose boundaries were defined more than 18 yr ago based on best available data on oceanographic patterns, reef and watershed distribution. The long-term persistence of the MAR depends, however, on ensuring that all of its constituent parts are appropriately managed, and the current boundaries may not respond to this need. Here we assess the suitability of the current boundaries of the MAR using information on physical environments and larval connectivity of three key species. Our research indicates the boundaries of the ecoregion require an adjustment, as the exclusion of key areas in eastern Honduras might jeopardize the persistence of the entire network of connected reefs, and areas in northern Yucatan belong to a different environmental regime and may require different management strategies.


Caribbean Connectivity Oceanography Biogeography Tropical coastal ecosystems 



Remote sensing observations of sea surface temperature and phytoplankton pigment concentration were processed at the Institute for Marine Remote Sensing at the College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, in St. Petersburg, Florida, and provided courtesy of Frank Müller-Karger. Thanks to Carlos Saavedra for highlighting the need to redefine the boundaries of the MAR as a priority in the region and to the MAR replenishment zones working team for putting the issue back on the table. IC, SF and SJB are supported by the Summit Foundation. SF has additional support from the Walton Family Foundation. LG and LC are supported in part by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation. This is Smithsonian Marine Station Contribution Number 1066.


  1. Aguilar-Perera A, Gonzalez-Salas C, Villegas-Hernandez H (2008) Fishing, management, and conservation of the Nassau Grouper, Epinephelus striatus, in the Mexican Caribbean. Proc Gulf Caribb Fish Inst 61:313–319Google Scholar
  2. Andrade CA, Barton ED (2000) Eddy development and motion in the Caribbean Sea. J Geophys Res Oceans 105:26191–26201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andréfouët S, Muller-Karger FE, Robinson JA, Kranenburg CJ, Torres-Pulliza D, Spraggins SA, Murch B (2006) Global assessment of modern coral reef extent and diversity for regional science and management applications: a view from space. In: Proceedings 10th International Coral Reef Symposium 2:1732–1745Google Scholar
  4. Andrello M (2016) ConnMatTools: Tools for working with connectivity matrices. R package version 0.3–2,
  5. Bryant D, Burke L, McManus K, Spalding M (1998) Reefs at risk: a map-based indicator of threats to the world’s coral reefs. World Resources Institute, Washington, p 56Google Scholar
  6. Burke L, Reytar K, Spalding M, Perry A (2011) Reefs at risk revisited. World Resources Institute, Washington, p 114Google Scholar
  7. Bustamante G, Paris CB (2008) Marine population connectivity and its potential use for the nomination of new World Heritage Sites in the wider Caribbean. In: Grober-Dunsmore R, Keller BD (eds) Caribbean connectivity: implications for marine protected area management. Proceedings of a special symposium, 9–11 November 2006, 59th annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Belize City, Belize. Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series NMSP-08-07, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD, pp 97–112Google Scholar
  8. Caliński T, Harabasz J (1974) A dendrite method for cluster analysis. Commun Stat Theory Methods 3:1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chassignet EP, Hurlburt HE, Smedstad OM, Halliwell GR, Hogan PJ, Wallcraft AJ, Baraille R, Bleck R (2007) The hybrid coordinate ocean model (HYCOM) data assimilative system. J Mar Syst 65:60–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chollett I, Stoyle G, Box SJ (2014) Honduran Miskito Cays: among the last unexplored reef systems in the Caribbean. Coral Reefs 33:155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chollett I, Box SJ, Mumby PJ (2016a) Quantifying the squeezing or stretching of fisheries as they adapt to displacement by marine reserves. Cons Biol 30:166–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chollett I, Mumby PJ, Muller-Karger FE, Hu C (2012) Physical environments of the Caribbean Sea. Limnol Oceanogr 57:1233–1244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chollett I, Garavelli L, O’Farrell S, Cherubin L, Matthews TR, Mumby PJ, Box SJ (2016b) A genuine win-win: resolving the “conserve or catch” conflict in marine reserve network design. Conserv Lett. doi: 10.1111/conl.12318 Google Scholar
  14. Cochrane KL, Chakalall B (2001) The spiny lobster fishery in the WECAFC region—an approach to responsible fisheries management. Mar Freshw Res 52:1623–1631CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cowen RK, Paris CB, Srinivasan A (2006) Scaling of connectivity in marine populations. Science 311:522–527CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. de la Parra-Venegas R, Hueter R, Cano JG, Tyminski J, Remolina JG, Maslanka M, Ormos A, Weigt L, Carlson B, Dove A (2011) An unprecedented aggregation of whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, in Mexican coastal waters of the Caribbean sea. PLoS One 6:e18994CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Espinoza-Avalos J (1996) Distribution of seagrasses in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Bull Mar Sci 59:449–454Google Scholar
  18. FAO (2000) Conservation and sustainable use of MBRS. Threat and root cause analysis. Report#000/008 CP-CAM. FAO/World Bank Cooperative Program, Centroamerica. p 46Google Scholar
  19. Goldstein JS, Matsuda H, Takenouchi T, Butler MJ (2008) The complete development of larval Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus in culture. J Crustacean Biol 28:306–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hennig C (2015) fpc: Flexible procedures for clustering. R package version 2.1-10.
  21. Hijmans RJ (2015) Raster: geographic data analysis and modeling. R package version 2.5-2.
  22. Holstein DM, Paris CB, Mumby PJ (2014) Consistency and inconsistency in multispecies population network dynamics of coral reef ecosystems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 499:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jacobi MN, André C, Döös K, Jonsson PR (2012) Identification of subpopulations from connectivity matrices. Ecography 35:1004–1016CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jorge M (1999) Results of the preliminary meeting of experts on the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef. World Wildlife Fund, Belize CityGoogle Scholar
  25. Kohonen T (2001) Self-organizing maps. Springer-Verlag, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kramer PA, Kramer PR (2002) Ecoregional conservation planning for the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, p 140Google Scholar
  27. Lindeman KC, Pugliese R, Waugh GT, Ault JS (2000) Developmental patterns within a multispecies reef fishery: management applications for essential fish habitats and protected areas. Bull Mar Sci 66:929–956Google Scholar
  28. Margules CR, Pressey RL, Williams PH (2002) Representing biodiversity: data and procedures for identifying priority areas for conservation. J Biosci 27:309–326CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Melo-González N, Müller-Karger FE, Cerdeira-Estrada S, Pérez de los Reyes R, Victoria del Río I, Cárdenas-Pérez P, Mitrani-Arenal I (2000) Near-surface phytoplankton distribution in the western Intra-Americas Sea: the influence of El Niño and weather events. J Geophys Res Oceans 105:14029–14043CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Merino M (1997) Upwelling on the Yucatan Shelf: hydrographic evidence. J Mar Syst 13:101–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Olson DM, Dinerstein E (2002) The Global 200: priority ecoregions for global conservation. Ann Mo Bot Gard 89:199–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Richardson PL (2005) Caribbean current and eddies as observed by surface drifters. Deep Sea Res Part 2 Top Stud Oceanogr 52:429–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Roberts CM, McClean CJ, Veron JEN, Hawkins JP, Allen GR, McAllister DE, Mittermeier CG, Schueler FW, Spalding M, Wells F, Vynne C, Werner TB (2002) Marine biodiversity hotspots and conservation priorities for tropical reefs. Science 295:1280–1284CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Sadovy Y, Domeier M (2005) Are aggregation fisheries sustainable? Reef fish fisheries as a case study. Coral Reefs 24:254–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Saillang EA, Renshaw MA, Cummings NJ, Gold JR (2012) Conservation genetics and management of yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus, in the US Caribbean and South Florida. Fish Manag Ecoogy 19:301–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schill SR, Raber GT, Roberts JJ, Treml EA, Brenner J, Halpin PN (2015) No reef is an island: integrating coral reef connectivity data into the design of regional-scale marine protected area networks. PLoS One 10:e0144199CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Spalding MD, Fox HE, Allen GR, Davidson N, Ferdaña ZA, Finlayson M, Halpern BS, Jorge MA, Lombana A, Lourie SA, Martin KD, McManus E, Molnar J, Recchia CA, Robertson J (2007) Marine ecoregions of the world: a bioregionalization of coastal and shelf areas. BioScience 57:573–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Vermeij MJA, Fogarty ND, Miller MW (2006) Pelagic conditions affect larval behavior, survival, and settlement patterns in the Caribbean coral Montastraea faveolata. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 310:119–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wang M, Ahmadia GN, Chollett I, Huang C, Fox H, Wijonarno A, Madden M (2015) Delineating biophysical environments of the Sunda Banda Seascape, Indonesia. Int J Environ Res Public Health 12:1069–1082CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Wehrens R, Buydens LMC (2007) Self- and super-organising maps in R: the kohonen package. J Stat Softw 21:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Marine StationSmithsonian InstitutionFort PierceUSA
  2. 2.Coastal and Marine Sciences InstituteUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Florida Atlantic UniversityHarbor Branch Oceanographic InstituteFort PierceUSA
  4. 4.Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Marine LabDuke UniversityBeaufortUSA
  5. 5.Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.CPuerto MorelosMexico
  6. 6.RareArlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations