GTZ-Consultant, TOEB (Tropical Ecology Support Programme), Austria
Research has been done at patch reefs in Bocas del Toro in Northwest Panama and at the barrier reefs at marine protected areas along the coast of Costa Rica. The variations between healthy and dying reefs spots are immense, the difference lies in the location either open to the incoming sea or places protected from the wind and waves behind small islands. The richness of species, the grade of destruction and the reasons why they corals show signs of severe degradation were observed.
Human activities are the main reason for a process of destruction. Extensive banana plantations are wide-spread in the region and one factor for endangering the coral reefs. They are the cause for loads of sediments and pesticides which are washed down the rivers into the sea and damage the corals in their biological processes. After harvesting the bananas, the local industry is conserving the fruits with chemicals before they are being shipping overseas for export. The sea water is being contaminated by oil originating from the ships and also by diesel from the numerous small boats being the only mean of transport between the islands and the mainland. A further factor is the development of tourism and uncontrolled infrastructure developments. Construction activities and deforestation lead to additional sedimentation resulting in deteriorated light conditions. Poison from inadequately detoxified waste and nutrient entries with the waste water disturb the ecological balance of the sea. A heavy earthquake in 1991 accelerated the already worsening situation of the reefs due to geomorphological changes on the mainland with the consequence of further sediment loads. Warming sea temperatures during El Niño events in the last decade lead to coral bleaching and illnesses caused by bacteria.
The results indicate the strong need to develop a management plan for the region. Only by conserving the marine resources the local population has a long-term economic and social basis to live on. A sustainable management strategy has to comprise physical measurements against soil erosion, e.g. agroforestry as an alternative land-use form, and socio-economic solutions like the development of ecological tourism in combination with a consequent environment policy.
Keywords: Caribbean coast, coral reefs, degradation, Latin America, marine protected areas, protection measurements, tropical ecology