Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and complex ecosystems on Earth. Belize is home to the largest portion of the Meso-American Barrier Reef System. The need to preserve this valuable national heritage is becoming more and more evident. The World Resource Institute (2009) estimated that coral reefs in Belize contribute approximately $395-$559US in goods and services each year. The financial dependence on a healthy reef system is particularly evident in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, where tourism development is rapidly increasing.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve has been consistently collecting data on coral reef health since 2005. Coral cover has seen changes over time within the Marine Reserve. The 1998 coral bleaching event, and hurricane Mitch have dramatically reduced coral. In more than 18 years coral cover has not managed to recover to same level it was prior to 1998.
In 2014 coral cover was 18.2% at the Zone A Forereef site (In front of the Hol Chan Cut) and 20.2% at the Forereef Site of Zone D (In front of Shark Ray Alley). Currently, mean coral cover is at 19.2%. A 15% reduction in the percent coral cover was recorded in 2014. There is a slight higher percent coral cover at Zone D forereef site compare to Zone A forereef.
The most common specie encountered during reef surveys is the Massive Starlet Coral (Siderastrea siderea). Also, Lettuce Coral (Agaricia sp.) and Mustrad Hill Coral (Porites astreoides) are common on forereef sites.
Macro algae and turf algae cover on forereef sites are relatively high compared to coral cover. Combined they represent 53% of benthic cover in 2014. Halimenda sp. recorded 2.6% and blue green algae 0.67%.
Other components of the benthic environment at forereef sites include Gorgonians (6%), Sponges (2%), Bare Rock (2%), sand (4%) and Encrusting coraline algea (11%). The graph below clearly illustrates that macro algae is the dominant life form in forereef sites in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.