Some of the most popular reefs around the island of Cozumel will be closed to the public due to white band disease, which is killing the coral.
The Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) will restrict access to much of the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park beginning in October.
The disease was first detected in Florida in 2014. In Mexico, it was first seen at Puerto Morelos, 45 kilometers south of Cancún, and it made its way to the reefs off Cozumel in October 2018.
In May of this year, Conanp calculated that 30% of the Mexican Caribbean’s reefs had been affected by white band disease. By August, that number had risen to 42%.
On Monday, Conanp announced a series of steps it will take in coordination with tourism service providers and researchers to confront the problem by reducing pollution generated by gasoline from boats and sunscreen.
“It makes me very sad to know that I’m of the last generation that will see healthy reefs,” said park deputy director Brenda Hernández. “Our kids aren’t going to see them.”
A researcher at the Institute of Ocean Sciences at the Autonomous University (UNAM), Lorenzo Álvarez, said that around 30 of the park’s 50 species of coral have been affected.
“Of those that have been affected, more than half have already died,” he said.
The phenomenon occurs as a result of pollutants and rising water temperatures, which cause the coral polyps to expel the algae on which they feed, and that live in their tissues. The tissues then disconnect from the coral skeleton, and the reef loses its color and dies.
“It’s like suffering a wound that exposes the bone,” said Maricarmen García Rivas, director of the Punto Morelos National Park. Along with Álvarez, she was one of the scientists to discover the disease in the Caribbean.
Researchers are still without solutions to the problem, although the state is replenishing damaged reefs with laboratory-grown coral. The goal of the project, which began in 2017, is to plant 265,000 coral reef colonies by 2022.
Conanp will hold its first meeting in Cozumel today to explain the next course of action to tourism providers affected by the reef closures.