#9: Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Caribbean Sea
Largest Coral Reef In The Atlantic
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Stretching from the tip of the Yucatan peninsula to the islands off the coast of Honduras, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. More than 60 species of coral and 500 species of fish, many endangered, live along the nearly 700-mile-long reef. (Thomas Wiborg/flickr.com)
Hundreds of species of fish and many endangered and protected marine animals – including loggerhead, leatherback, green, hawksbill and olive ridley sea turtles, West Indian manatees, and whale sharks – live in the waters of the Caribbean that surround the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, one of the largest coral reef systems in the world.
It's also one of the most intensively studied, as the reefs here are challenged by many threats all at once – invasive fish that are driving native species to extinction, rising sea levels and warming water temperatures, the changing chemistry of the oceans, chemical and pesticide runoff from agriculture near the coastline, as well as accidental damage inflicted by divers, tourist boats and ships.
As many as 2 million people along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras depend directly on the Mesoamerican Reef for their livelihoods, however. That's prompted groups from the World Wildlife Fund to the Coral Reef Alliance to step up efforts to protect it, including programs to bolster reefs with transplanted corals from reef "nurseries."