Charles Darwin was quoted in 1842 describing the Belize Barrier Reef as "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies" (Encyclopedia). This description still holds true today. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which includes the Belize submarine shelf and its barrier reef is the world's second largest barrier reef system and the largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Caribbean area (Programme-wo, 2009). What makes a reef like the Belize Barrier Reef system so special is that coral reefs are the most diverse of all wetlands and are home to more species than any other marine ecosystem (Wells). Also the reef system offers more varieties of coral formation than anywhere else in the Caribbean (Encyclopedia). For people to appreciate and understand the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system, they need to know about the many species that call this place home, the threats against the preservation of the reef, and what is being done to protect and preserve the reef. Once this happens my hope is more people will become involved in the safeguarding of this wonderful place.
The Belize Barrier Reef system is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef system is home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species, more than 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrate species. The hundreds of invertebrate species include 350 mollusks, plus a vast diversity of sponges, marine worms, and crustaceans (Programme-wo, 2009). Beyond the waters of the reef system, the atolls and cayes with stands of littoral forest and mangroves provide a important habitat for certain birds. A few of the species of birds found here are the brown booby, brown pelican, the magnificent frigate bird, laughing gull, and the red-footed bobby. More important, the Belize Barrier Reef system is a significant habitat for threatened species and species of conservation concern, such as manatees, marine turtles, American marine crocodile, and the red-footed booby. Amazingly three species of sea turtles the loggerhead, green, and hawksbill use several of the cayes and atolls for nesting. Also despite the manatee being a threatened species, this area harbors probably the largest population of West Indian manatee in the world with around 300-700 individuals (Programme-wo, 2009). Within the reef system interrelationships amongst all the diverse life forms is important to the maintenance of the ecosystem. The mangroves found growing on the cayes protect the reef from terrestrial sediment and provide shelter among their roots for many juvenile reef species. The seagrass beds that cover the submarine shelf stabilize sediments and also provide an important food source for many reef animals. In turn the coral reefs protect the mangroves and seagrasses from erosion during storms and strong wave actions. A similar interrelationship occurs between the coral reef and the numerous species that call the Belize Barrier Reef System home. With so many species living within the coral reef, they have developed a careful system for utilizing the reef. Some species will use the coral reef at different times of the day. For example, some species are nocturnal and therefore only use it at night. Other species do their part by utilizing different food sources from the rest. However, the very many species that call the reef home do not have to worry about each other only humans (Wells).
Humans have become one of the biggest threats to the Belize Barrier Reef system and; therefore, protection measures have been put in place to safeguard and preserve the area. Tourism has become one of the main uses of the barrier reef ecosystem, which has caused several threats to the Belize Barrier Reef system. One of these threats is over-exploitation of the reef's resources by the tourism industry. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system is a very popular destination spot for tourists looking for spectacular diving and snorkeling experiences. However, most of these places can...
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