Preserving the Meso-American Reef System
Looking at the Big Picture with Centro Ecológico Akumal - CEA -
By- Charles E. Shaw. Director, CEA
With suggestions by: Kathryn S. Robinhawk and Jorge Luis Basave
Centro Ecológico Akumal will be nine years old this summer and throughout that period its focus has been on the protection of Akumal's reefs. The organization has grown from a group of two (plus an accountant) with an annual budget under $50,000; to today’s group of eight with an annual budget in excess of $500,000. It has become increasingly clear that our local reefs cannot be preserved apart from the larger, regional ecosystem known as the MesoAmerican Reef System, or MARS – an appropriate acronym, for the reef is indeed a beautiful alien world that can be visited only with special equipment and advanced technology.
The MesoAmerican Reef System, also known by its Spanish acronym, SAM (Sistema Arrecifal Mesoamericano), stretches from north of Cancun to the Gulf of Honduras, a distance of over 350 kilometers. It is the second longest barrier reef system in the world. This is a magnificent realm which is now being threatened by the uncontrolled growth of tourism and an alarming lack of basic infrastructure in the so-called “support communities”. There is little or no ecologically sound sewage treatment, trash pick up services, or even clean potable fresh water in these communities.
CEA has been using Akumal as a laboratory for testing technologies that can deal with the solid waste; especially, the sewage which can contaminate ground water and make its way into coastal waters to threaten the reef system. It has been found that constructed wetlands, large impermeable containers filled with gravel and plants, can destroy disease causing pathogens and, most important for the reefs, uptake nutrients into the plant tissue. At present, over fifty percent of Akumal homes and condos use a wetland system. This is important because it's the nutrients that feed algae in coastal waters and it's the algae that can cover the reef and choke living coral polyps. By cutting off the supply of those nutrients, the way is cleared for the reefs to repair themselves. CEA’s mission is to shut off the flow of contamination and nutrients along the Mexican Caribbean by 2005 and the rest of the MARS by 2010.
This effort has been strongly supported by The Summit Foundation, The PADI Foundation, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and by CEA’s members. If you want to know more, and see what other things CEA is up to click here for CEA's website at www.ceakumal.org. If you want to help, you can become a CEA member at the same site.