The Reefs of Cozumel
Marine Park Rules
Introduction to Coral
What are coral reefs?
What's the hype?
Coral Reef Animals
Destruction of Coral Reefs
What can one individual do?
Cozumel is part of the second largest barrier reef system in the world, the
Meso-American reef system, which spans almost 175 miles (280 km) of ocean between the Gulf of Mexico and Honduras. Cozumel's spectacular reef formations, effortless drift diving and exceptionally clear waters make
this island one of the world's most popular diving destinations.
Most of diving sites in Cozumel are located within the Cozumel Reefs National
Marine Park (Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel), a protected underwater environment covering 29,000+ acres. A voluntary $2.00 US donation/fee from divers was implemented
to fund the conservation program.
These natural habitats support 26 classes of coral (higher than any other Yucatan coastal zone) and over 500 fish species, some of which are endemic only to Cozumel.
The financing of the parks programs is shared by the federal government and the civil environmental groups; represented by COPRENAT, and the dive operators through ANOAAT.
The Mexican government declared a National Marine park on July 19, 1996; covering an area of more than 11 thousand hectares including the beaches and waters between Paradise Reef and Chiqueros point. The environmental, natural resource and fishing Secretariat SEMARNAP, administers the park.
Do your share to preserve the flora and fauna for future generations.
- Corals are fragile.
- Kicking, touching, dragging your gear causes damage, buoyancy control is your key to healthy coral.
- Photographers in particular, take pictures without causing damage.
- Marine organisms are protected by law.
- Fishing, feeding the fauna and taking souvenirs is against the law. Refrain from extracting or annoying the marine flora and fauna.
- Help us prevent pollution.
- Report fuel, oil, sewage and garbage spills to the National Park office.
- Pressure your dive operator to instruct novice divers and divers without adequate buoyancy control, and to refuse service to destructive divers.
- If you use gloves, do not grab the corals.
- If you carry a knife, keep it in the sheath.
- Use biodegradable sunblock products.
Coral is often mistaken for a rock or a plant. However, it is composed of tiny, fragile living organisms called coral polyps. The coral polyps take calcium carbonate or limestone from the sea and build protective structures around themselves. These protective limestone structures are known as coral. So when we say "coral" we are referring to coral polyps and the skeletons that they leave behind when they die.
As coral polyps die, new generations of coral polyps then grow on top of the coral and coral reefs are formed.
Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the planet's surface but are homes to over 25% of all marine life (over 4,000 different species of fish, 700 species of coral, and thousands of other plants and animals). Coral reefs are among the world's most fragile and endangered ecosystems. "In the last few decades, mankind has destroyed over 35 million acres of coral reefs. Reefs off of 93 countries have been damaged by human activity. If the present rate of destruction continues, 70% of the world's coral reefs will be killed within our lifetimes." (The Coral Reef Alliance.)
- Sponges provide shelter for fishes, shrimps, crabs, and other small animals.
- Sea anemones are close relatives of corals.
- Bryozoans encrust the reef.
- Variety of worms, including both flatworms and polychaetes, Christmas tree worms, feather duster worms, bristleworms.
- Sea stars, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.
- Shrimps, crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans find protection from predators in crevices or between coral branches.
- Octopuses, squids, clams, scallops, marine snails, and nudibranchs are all molluscs that live on or near the reef.
- Both schooling and solitary fishes are essential residents of the reef ecosystem.
- Some species of sharks, skates, and rays live on or near the reef.
- Parrotfish use chisel-like teeth to nibble on hard corals.
- Wrasses comprise a large group of colorful cigar-shaped fishes.
- Eels are one of the reef's top predators.
- Other fishes found on the reefs include angelfishes, butterfly fishes, damselfishes, triggerfishes, seahorses, snappers, squirrelfishes, grunts, pufferfishes, groupers, barracudas, and scorpionfishes.
- Sea turtles frequent reef areas.
- Sea snakes.
- growing coastal populations
- shoreline and inland development
- pollution from sewage, fertilizers, chemicals and sediment runoff
- over-fishing and over-use
- Destructive fishing practices including poisons and explosives, and
- ship groundings and anchor damage.
- Don't buy coral souvenirs.
- Support marine protected areas.
- Don't order turtle, shark fin or other restaurant dishes made from threatened wildlife.
- Avoid "live-fish" restaurants where the fish may have been captured using cyanide.
Divers & Snorkelers
- Maintain control of fins, gauges and other equipment so they do not bump against the reef.
- Practice diving in a pool or sandy area before diving near reefs.
- Get trained by experts so that you can understand and enjoy your dives more.
- Follow the marine park rules.
- Educate others not aware of marine park rules when the opportunity arises.