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2021 Eco-Audit of the Mesoamerican Reef Countries

Are we doing all we can to safeguard our most valuable natural asset?

The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) provides a diverse array of valuable goods and services to the people of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and México. The leaders of these four countries, officially recognized their shared vision and commitment to conserving the >1000 km of coral reef in the Tulum Declaration of 1997, followed by the 2007 declaration of March 10 as “Mesoamerican Reef Day”.

We celebrate Mesoamerican Reef Day 2021 by recognizing our partners in our collective progress in protecting this valuable resource and identifying priority management actions still needed to safeguard our reefs for future generations.

Over the last 12 years the Healthy Reefs Initiative has published six Report Cards on the Health of the Mesoamerican Reef. These reports have described a mixture of declines and recovery in coral reef health. The declines stem in part from inadequate management of local pressures and threats. The purpose of the 2021 Eco-Audit is to catalyze faster, more effective management responses and to increase accountability within the public and private sectors, and among non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

What is an Eco-Audit?

The Mesoamerican Eco-Audit evaluates our collective efforts toward protecting and sustainably managing the region’s coral reefs, celebrates management success stories, and documents the extent to which recommended management actions have been implemented in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and México. The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and local partners, developed this unprecedented multinational evaluation tool of reef stewardship in 2011. The Eco-Audit is a systematic and transparent evaluation of the degree of implementation of 28 recommended reef management actions, grouped into seven general themes: Marine Protected Areas, Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management, Coastal Zone Management, Sanitation and Sewage Treatment, Research, Education and Awareness, Sustainability in the Private Sector, and Global Issues.  This 2021 Eco-Audit is our fourth evaluation, enabling us to consider trends and rates of implementation in addition to the comparative scores for implementation by each country.

How is it Scored?

The Eco-Audit is a systematic and transparent evaluation of the degree of implementation of 28 recommended reef management actions that were made in the 2008 and 2010 Report Cards in order to catalyze faster, more effective implementation of recommendations and to increase accountability within the public and private sectors, and among non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This 2021 Eco-Audit is our fourth evaluation, enabling us to consider trends and rates of management progress. In addition to the comparative scores for implementation by each country, the Healthy Reefs Initiative recognizes the efforts, progress, and dedication of our >70 partner organizations throughout the region in our collective progress in protecting this valuable resource. We remain united and committed to safeguarding our Mesoamerican Reef and the communities it sustains.

What is the Overall Score for the Mesoamerican Region?

The Regional overall Eco-Audit score increased by 2% per year from 2011-2016 but slowed to 1% per year thereafter, despite our urgent calls in every Eco-Audit and Report Card to implement these needed management actions if we are serious about protecting the reef.

Belize again has the highest overall score (70%) with 8 indicators fully completed, but it also has the smallest increase (just 4% since 2011). This year, Honduras has achieved the second highest score (66% with a 12% increase overall). Mexico is close behind with the third highest score (64%), scoring a 10% increase since 2011. Guatemala maintains the lowest overall score (62%) but has recorded the largest overall progress (18%).

The Mesoamerican reef faces many rapidly intensifying threats, thus our protection measures also need to increase. The 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card recorded our first decline in reef health in over a decade of monitoring, and the data were collected just before the new devastating stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) outbreak impacted the MAR. The reefs also experienced back-to-back coral bleaching events since 2015, and most reefs have also experienced continued declines in water quality from pollution.

Collaborative Achievements in the Region

  • The MAR has 58% of its territorial sea within MPAs, but only 3% in fully-protected Replenishment Zones (RZs).
  • Since 2011, six new MPAs have been designated.
  • Fully-protected Replenishment Zones (RZs) have increased from 1610km2 (2011 Eco-Audit) to 2020 km2 in this study, but as a percent of the territorial sea it remains at 3%.
  • 15% of the MAR’s coral reef area is now fully protected in Replenishment Zones (RZs).
  • Parrotfish are now fully protected in Belize, Guatemala, all of the Bay Islands in Honduras, and the Mexican Caribbean.
  • The Cartagena Convention’s Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution protocol has now been ratified by Belize and Honduras, and several new or improved sewage treatment facilities have been installed in the last four years.
  • Regular standardized coral reef monitoring is conducted at least every 2 years, and used to guide management and recommendations promoted in widely accessible Report Cards.
  • All data are open-access online at

Ranking our regional progress in implementing each theme

Celebrating the consistently highest achieving themes

The Research, Education and Awareness theme has consistently been the highest scoring theme (86%), although this year it had a slight drop from our last assessment (88%) due to the need for more socio-economic reef valuation studies. Our standardized monitoring, open data and public-oriented Report Card communications are working.

Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management had the largest increase (going from 60% to 72%) boosting it up to the second highest position. This increase is mainly due to Mexico’s declaration of protection for parrotfish and Belize’s full implementation of managed access (rights-based fisheries) nationwide.

Moderately scoring themes – one step backward and two steps forward

Marine Protected Areas dropped slightly (from 70% to 66%). The decline was partly due to the fact that our grading criteria for the percent of territorial sea and the percent of coral reef area that are within fully protected replenishment zones (indicators 1b and 1c) was finally raised from the intermediate criteria targets detailed in 2011. Both these Replenishment Zone targets are now set to our stated 20% target for full completion, as planned from the first Eco-Audit in 2011 and recommended in the 2008 Report Card. There were also recent impacts to management capacity and enforcement, particularly in Honduras, for MPAs that rely heavily on visitor fees – given the dramatic cessation of tourism resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Guatemala had the largest (20%) gain seen in this entire Eco-Audit (with this theme going from 64% to 84% implemented) due to its new large fully-protected replenishment zone in Cayman Crown.

Coastal Zone Management (CZM) is considered one of the most critical management priorities within the region, balancing the need for economic development, sustainable livelihoods and long-term ecological sustainability. This score improved slightly from 60% to 66% with Mexico maintaining the highest ranking, despite persistent issues with lacking enforcement of these management plans, which is a problem within all four countries for all of the regulations.

 Global Issues theme had a greater increase – from 56% to 64%, due to the ratification of international treaties including the Cartagena Convention, and adoption of carbon sequestration programs.

Dedicating more effort to themes with the lowest implementation scores

Sanitation and Sewage Treatment has traditionally been the lowest scoring theme but finally had a substantial improvement – going from 46% to 56%, with new infrastructure or improvements in wastewater facilities recorded in Guatemala and Honduras – which had the largest increase from 40% to 60% implementation. Unfortunately, inadequately treated sewage is still commonplace in the MAR region and deleterious to both human and reef health, particularly with the outbreak of stony-coral tissue loss disease throughout Mexico and some parts of Belize and Honduras.

Sustainability in the Private Sector showed no improvement and now ranks as the least implemented theme – stuck at 50%. Honduras has the highest score (64%), fully implementing the recommendation for government incentives for sustainable businesses. Several eco-labeling and certification schemes are underway for seafood and hotels and could result in future score increases if fully implemented.

While this Eco-Audit records progress through the end of 2020, The Healthy Reefs Initiative is delighted to announce the signing in February 2021 of two private sector agreements that will provide financial support off gross sales of ride shares (Lipo Ride) and an internationally awarded BBQ sauce (Lengua de Fuego).

Country Highlights and Quotes

Nicole Craig, HRI’s Belize Coordinator said: “For quite some time, Belize has been an exemplary leader in conservation, but we cannot get too comfortable.  With only a 2% increase since our last audit, it is important now more than ever, for Belize to continue making the tough, but necessary steps to safeguard our marine ecosystems.”

Ana Giro, HRI Guatemala Coordinator stated: “Guatemala’s first fully protected coral reef Replenishment Zone was established in 2020 in the recently discovered Cayman Crown Reef.” We still need much more work to adequately manage our waste, from watersheds by reducing and treating upstream pollution.”

Ian Drysdale, HRI’s Honduras Coordinator said: “Honduras increased in 5 of the 7 themes, and now has fully completed six of the 28 recommendations (second to Belize’s 8). We need to focus on creating more fish replenishment zones and protecting herbivores in the entire north coast.”

Mélina Soto, Mexico’s Coordinator stated: “Mexico is making great efforts in several themes toward more sustainable practices and adaptation to climate change. However, the increasing financial gap and lack of involvement from the private sector reduce our positive impacts, our treatment of waste is still an urgent issue to tackle.”


Please download our 2021 Results Summary here.


Download Results



MAR Interactive

2016 Eco-Audit Final Summary


Belize Interactive

BELIZE 2016 Eco Audit Results


Guatemala Interactivo

GUATEMALA 2016 Eco Audit Results


Honduras Interactive

HONDURAS 2016 Eco Audit Results

Honduras Interactivo

Resultados del Informe de Avances 2016 HONDURAS


Mexico Interactivo

Resultados del Informe de Avances 2016 MEXICO



P 2014 Eco Audit Brochure


P 2014 Eco Audit Regional Results

2014 Eco Audit Poster

P New 2014 Eco Audit Indicators

Description of 2014 Eco Audit Indicators


Escudo Quintana Roo

Secretaría de Ecología y Medio Ambiente (SEMA) shares with HRI the results of its 2014 Eco-Audit


Eco Audit Brochure

Full Eco Audit Indicators


Eco Audit Regional Results


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