Helping nature help itself
While coral reefs cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, they’re home to 25% of all marine fish species. They form highly diverse and productive habitats that provide food, shelter, livelihood and medicine to much of the world’s population and play a critical role in protecting coasts from tropical storms and hurricanes by acting as natural breakwaters. Globally, their economic value is an estimated USD 9.9 trillion.
Overfishing, pollution and coastal development not only threaten the health of coral reefs but also expose coastal communities that depend on them to the hazards of flooding and shoreline erosion. With more than 60% of the world’s population living within 50 miles of a coast, this puts millions of people at risk of weather-related loss of life and property and whole communities at risk of grave damage to their infrastructure and economies.
The Mesoamerican reef, which attracts tourists and fishers alike along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, is the world’s second largest and one of the most endangered.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has developed the first training programme for coastal dwellers who want to help conserve the coral reefs that shield their communities from erosion, flooding and storms. Its approach includes six elements: a protocol to guide all activities and response before and after a storm; organisational and leadership structures to deploy the response; a response deployment plan to guide the actions; brigades of local volunteers to implement the response on the ground after a storm, supported by trainings for brigade members and trainers; equipment and materials needed on the ground; and mechanisms to finance the operation.
Having successfully proved the concept in a deployment in Mexico and secured the buy-in of the federal governments and key local partners in all four countries bordering the Mesoamerican reef, TNC is now ready to scale up the approach throughout this reef system.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
The objective in the project’s first phase was to develop local communities’ capacity for reef protection and repair in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and to share related knowledge and resources with public authorities, private sector partners and local NGOs. TNC was able to demonstrate that its trainings of first response reef brigades are effective and that the brigades can deploy quickly with meaningful restoration results.
The goal of the project’s current phase is to build post-storm reef response capacities across all four countries bordering the Mesoamerican reef and to disseminate the approach to actors in other reef-bordering regions to ensure that these capacities can be maintained and further scaled. Specifically, TNC will:
- Help the four countries establish governance structures to guide post-storm response
- Establish reef brigades and train a total of 120 brigade members in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and new areas of Mexico
- Train the trainers, secure post-storm repair equipment and track data on reef health, reef repair and the economic benefits of reef protection and restoration
- Advise other countries that seek to better understand and adapt the approach
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