The Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) is led by a group of nonprofit and private sector participants working to maintain a vibrant tourism industry that can support local communities and contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
Lead the development of partnerships and collaboration with the tourism industry, government, NGOs, and communities for the conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef environment, generating social and economic benefits.
A healthy, thriving Mesoamerican Reef, protected by a successful and sustainable tourism industry that attracts visitors who appreciate, value and support the ongoing conservation of the MAR region’s unique natural environment.
According to the Healthy Reefs For Healthy People Initiative, a group that tracks the reef’s health, more than 60 percent of the reef is listed in critical or poor condition.
The Vulnerable Environment
Stretching for 600 miles (965 kilometers) along the coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, the Mesoamerican Reef is the second longest in the world and supports a wealth of marine life including 500 species of fish and 60 species of coral. Along the shoreline, mangroves and seagrass beds provide habitat and foraging grounds for sea turtles, sharks, manatees and dolphins while filtering silt and agricultural toxins contained in the run-off from large-scale agriculture further inland.
In addition to overfishing, deforestation, offshore oil drilling, pollution and climate change, the reef is compromised by large-scale, irresponsible tourism development that not only threatens the integrity of the marine ecosystem but the wellbeing of the two million local people who depend on the reef for their lives and livelihoods. Unless current trends are reversed, the region’s fastest growing industry threatens to undermine the very heart of what makes the region so attractive to millions of visitors each year.
The natural environment is not the only thing at risk in this region. Local communities suffer from a wage disparity, in spite of living in a thriving tourism industry. This is caused by a lack of fair-wage jobs and a commitment to social-economic benefits of tourism.
Areas of Focus
Reducing Water Pollution
Many communities in the Mesoamerican Reef have poor wastewater treatment systems resulting in pathogens and pollutants entering the groundwater and, eventually, the sea. These toxins contaminate the groundwater and lead to the growth of dense macroalgae blooms that threaten to smother the reef. To address these issues, MARTI is:
- Equipping policymakers with the information and tools they need to create more robust standards for wastewater treatment. Our ongoing work in the Riviera Maya and Cozumel has led local land-use planners to prioritize this issue in local land-use plans.
- Helping homeowners and businesses connect to the municipal sewage system. As a result of our work, dozens of homes and businesses in Mexico and Honduras are now connected to the system and eliminating the seepage of raw sewage into the ground.
- Partnering with organizations such as the Riviera Maya Hotel Association to help numerous hotels conserve water by determining a baseline for water use, creating an actionable plan around water-reduction tactics, measuring progress over time and promoting their achievements.
- Helping cruise lines reduce the amount of wastewater discharged into the ocean – both at sea in ports.
Tackling Climate Change
Climate change is leading to warmer marine temperatures and more acidic waters that can irreversibly damage coral. In response, MARTI is:
- Working with hotels reduce their carbon emissions by establishing an emissions baseline, creating an actionable plan for greenhouse gas reduction, measuring progress over time and promoting their achievements.
- Helping residents take a more active role in destination management — including influencing land-use policies that increase density in tourism hubs and create stricter environmental regulations for developers.
Increasing Local Livelihoods
The vast majority of tourism revenue in the Mesoamerican Reef region is generated within tourist hubs, such as the Riviera Maya, making it difficult for more remote communities to benefit from the booming tourism economy. MARTI is:
- Linking hotel owners with NGOs that bring artisans’ products to market. Scarves, rugs, jams and other local goods are now sold at Riviera Maya hotels and resorts, which means tourism dollars are finding a means of reaching the remote communities.
- Linking sustainable tour companies such as Maya Ka’an with small communities in the Mesoamerican Reef region to create authentic travel experiences for visitors and additional source of income for remote communities.