The Roatan Barrier Reef, part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and also known as the Jewel Of The Caribbean is the second largest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Located in the Caribbean Sea, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef runs along the coasts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. As the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere it runs for over 600 miles from the northern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to Roatan in the Honduras Bay Islands. It can actually be seen from space. Take a look below to find out some neat facts about our reef before you leave for your Roatan vacation.
The barrier reef is home to amazing underwater diversity with over 60 stony coral species, more than 500 species of fish and 350 species of mollusks. There are a large number of endangered species around the reef which include the queen conch, several species of sea turtles, the Nassau grouper, the coral toadfish, some crocodile species as well as some species of coral.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is home to the world’s largest community of manatees. It’s estimated there is a population of about 1000 to 1500. They were placed on the endangered species list in the 1970s when the number was in the low hundreds. Manatees have recently been upgraded from an endangered to a threatened species.
Several species of dolphin also live around the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. These include the bottlenose, the rough-toothed and spotted dolphins. Other than humans and manatees, dolphins are one of the few mammals that call the reef system home.
Roatan Barrier Reef Whale Sharks
The world’s largest fish, the whale shark, is also an inhabitant of the Mesoamerican Reef. Although found in all tropical and warm-temperate seas around the world, aggregations of whale sharks occur around the Honduran island of Utila during the feeding season and often has sightings around Roatan. This large filter feeder feeds on plankton, krill, crab larvae and small species of fish and squid.
Corals are one of the most important components of barrier reefs and the 60 plus species that grow in the area act as a home to a wide diversity of invertebrates, fishes and other sea creatures. Similar to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the corals of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are under threat due to warming waters, acidification, overfishing and runoff from coastal developments.
Mangrove trees play an important role in the preservation of the reef system. They provide a line of defence by moderating the waves as well as protecting the reef from land runoffs such as silt, fertilizers and other toxins. Leaves dropped by the mangroves provide a source of food for smaller organisms in the food chain such as fungi and bacteria. Mangrove trees also provide shelter for fish eggs and various larvae.
Sea grasses also play a vital role in the protection of the reef system. The extensive root systems provided by sea grasses prevent erosion of the sea bed while trapping silt and sand. This keeps the surrounding waters clear which is a necessary factor in the healthy growth of coral. In a symbiotic relationship, the barrier reef protects the sea grasses by providing protection from strong waves and currents.
Roatan Reef and Lionfish
There is currently a problem with the population of red lionfish around the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Originally from the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish are voracious feeders and prey upon fish and shrimp that are responsible for cleaning the reef surfaces. These cleaning species, responsible for eating algae that inhibits coral growth have been having a tough time escaping from these newly introduced predators. If you will be staying in Roatan for awhile, you can take a class and become a licensed lionfish hunter for when you go scuba diving.
Parrotfish, on the other hand, have been found to encourage coral growth because of their tendency to feed on the growth inhibiting algaes. It’s also been found that the parrotfish’s excrement contributes to the creation and maintenance of white sand beaches.
Ready to come explore Roatan’s amazing barrier reef? Ask us about our special pricing at our on-site scuba dive shop!