Having now spent almost 2 weeks surveying in Mexico we’ve noticed some distinct differences between Mexican and Belizean reef conditions. As we move north along the Yucatan peninsula, the barrier reef draws nearer to the mainland, from a 20 km gap between the Belizean coastline and the outer reef to less than a kilometre at certain points here in Mexico. Now we find that we have to weave through snorkelers, banana boat riders and swimmers just to get to our dives sites on the outer reef. It's easy to understand that the reefs here would be placed under greater stress from human activities than in Belize.
Interestingly though, these effects of this human activity are not instantly apparent because the reef structure itself here is very different. One major reason for the altered structure is the fact that the Belizean outer reef enjoys a lot of shelter from the atolls (Glover’s, Lighthouse and Turneffe), this facilitates the growth of more complex reef structures. As there are fewer of these atolls offshore in Mexico (only Banco Chinchorro), the Mexican barrier reef does not recieve this additional protection, the net result of this a very flat (but very sturdy) reef and not too much large coral structure. As we continue north up the coast, we will survey the island of Cozumel, a populated island just off the coast of Mexico, it will be interesting to see how these reefs compare to the barrier reef as it has so much more shelter.