Port Honduras Marine Reserve

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Chapter 4. ECOLOGICAL CRITERIA

(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Representativeness:


The area protected by the Port Honduras Marine Reserve provides one of the richest and most critically important habitats within Belize. It incorporates four distinct ecosystems: coastal and tidal wetlands, marine lagoonal habitats comprised of mangroves and seagrass beds, mangrove islands with associated shallow carbonate banks, and the Snake Cayes fringing reef system (Sullivan et al. 1995).

Important biological resources afforded protection by Port Honduras Marine Reserve include commercially important finfish such as snappers and groupers, in addition to the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), and the queen conch (Strombus gigas).

Port Honduras Marine Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Belize, and encompasses more small coral cayes (approximately 138 cayes) than any other protected area in the country. It is of national importance for the services it provides, in particular as the key link between the coastal and marine ecosystems and the terrestrial protected areas and upland watersheds of the landscape / seascape of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor (MMMC).


 

Conservation value:


The coastline of dense mangrove and 138 small offshore mangrove cayes, some surrounded by fringing reefs, serve as critical nursery and feeding areas for a variety of species, including the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus).

The MPA supports fifteen species of international concern, including four rated as critically endangered – staghorn and elkhorn corals (Acropora cervicornis and A. palmata), the goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara), and the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate). Extensive surveys of these habitats have revealed a rich matrix of ecosystems, including the high biodiversity of the coral reef within the MPA. Over 118 finfish species have been recorded, six of which were observed only at sites around the Snake Cayes (Sullivan et al. 1995, Harborne 2000, Robinson et al. 2004).

 

Rarity:


PHMR and adjacent coastal and estuarine mangroves are thought to be one of the last three remaining nursery grounds in the world for the critically endangered goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara).

A total of 61 stony coral species have been observed in the waters of Belize, with eight unusual coral sightings on the reefs of the Snake Cayes within PHMR (Fenner, 1999)The mid-lagoonal reefs in PHMR are unique in Belize.

 

Naturalness:


Coastal development around PHMR is extremely minimal - the coastal mangroves and littoral forest are still almost entirely intact.

The coral reef at East Snake Caye is one of the healthiest in the Mesoamerican Reef, scoring "very good" in the 2010 Report Card on the Health of the Mesoamerican Reef, and still possessing >20% live coral cover and <10% macroalgal cover.

Critical habitats:


PHMR and adjacent coastal and estuarine mangroves are thought to be one of the last three remaining nursery grounds in the world for the critically endangered goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara).

Diversity:


The MPA supports fifteen species of international concern, including four rated as critically endangered – staghorn and elkhorn corals (Acropora cervicornis and A. palmata), the goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara), and the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate). Extensive surveys of these habitats have revealed a rich matrix of ecosystems, including the high biodiversity of the coral reef within the MPA. Over 118 finfish species have been recorded, six of which were observed only at sites around the Snake Cayes (Sullivan et al. 1995, Harborne 2000, Robinson et al. 2004).

Connectivity/coherence:


The 100,000 sea acres of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve are part of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor (MMMC), a significant part of Belize’s component of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. The MMMC stretches from the Maya Mountains to the Snake Cayes. The corridor itself is a mosaic of landscapes and cultures, an interdependent and biologically significant area. PHMR serves as the vital link between terrestrial protected areas and upland watersheds, and downstream coastal and marine ecosystems, including the Belize Barrier Reef.

PHMR also provides connectivity for entirely marine species. Tagged goliath grouper from PHMR have been recaptured as far away as Mexico and Honduras. Coral, fish, conch and lobster all spawn in PHMR, providing larvae to other areas, particularly to the north on prevailing currents. 

 

Resilience:


In the waters surrounding the Snake Cayes, near-shore fringing reefs provide habitat for reef organisms. These are unique in Belize as mid-lagoonal reefs, with characteristics of both inshore reef and offshore barrier reef environments. These reefs underwent extensive bleaching in 1998, losing up to 40% of coral cover, but have since partially recovered, suggesting some level of resilience to climate change.

Patch reefs in inshore areas of PHMR are subject to high variability in salinity, temperature and turbidity, which fluctuate naturally with seasonal variations in freshwater input. Thus, these coral communities are tolerant of these stresses.