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Global Vision International,

2010 Report Series No. 001

GVI Mexico

Pez Maya, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Quaterly Report 101

January – March 2010

GVI Mexico Pez Maya Expedition Report 101

Submitted in whole to
Amigos de Sian Ka’an
Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP)

Produced by

Lluvia Iyanu Soto Jiménez – Base Manager

Nicola Taylor – Field Staff
Jaen Nieto Amat– Field Staff
Stuart Fulton – Field Staff
Samuel Hope – Field Staff
Edward Houlcroft – Field Staff


Jessica Reimer Scholar Ryan McCartney Volunteer

Katie McHugh Scholar Chloe Juyon Volunteer
Charles Duckworth Volunteer Mark Eakin Volunteer
Sally O’Brien Volunteer Thomas Morgan Volunteer
Laura Sharp Volunteer Emelie Haetner Volunteer
Alessandro Buticcelli Volunteer Charles Crouzieres Volunteer
Sam Handley Volunteer Susan Maclennan Volunteer
Daniel Adams Volunteer Ben Chambers Volunteer r
Tegan Freeburn Volunteer Courtney Schudel Volunteer
Nichola Turpin Volunteer Nicholas Rielly Volunteer
Kathryn Callahan Volunteer Patricia Browne Volunteer
John Bathgate Volunteer Kristian Volunteer
Jay Gree Volunteer Maja Karlsson Volunteer
Erika de la Vega Octavio Corona
Sandoval Volunteer Ochoa Volunteer

Edited by
Daniel Ponce-Taylor

GVI Mexico Pez Maya Programme

Address: Apartado Postal 16, Col Centro, 77710

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
Web page: and
Executive Summary
The twenty seventh 10 week phase of GVI Mexico Pez Maya expedition has now been
completed. During the phase we continued work towards our primary aims of gathering
important scientific data on the status of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef within the Sian
Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, working with our local partners and building on our relations
with the local community by offering English and environmental education lessons. The
following projects have been run during Phase 101:

• Continuation of the MBRS Synoptic Monitoring Programme (SMP) for the strategic
sites within the northern Sian Ka’an Biosphere, providing regional decision makers with
up-to-date information on the ecological condition of the reef
• Daily bird monitoring
• Incidental sightings programme
• Continuation of weekly beach cleans within the reserve, monitoring waste composition
and trends
• English language and environmental education classes to the children of Punta Allen
• PADI Open Water Diver training for local CONANP rangers
• Continuation of the National Scholarship Programme at Pez Maya, whereby GVI Pez
Maya accepts Mexican nationals on a scholarship basis into the expedition

© GVI – 2010 i
Table of Contents
Executive Summary .........................................................................................................i
Table of Contents ............................................................................................................ii
Abbreviations .................................................................................................................iii
List of Figures ................................................................................................................iii
List of Tables ..................................................................................................................v
1. Introduction..............................................................................................................6
2. Synoptic Monitoring Programme..............................................................................7
2.1 Fish Results & Discussion.................................................................................9
2.1.1 Adult Fish ................................................................................................9
2.1.2 Juveniles ................................................................................................ 18
2.2 Coral Monitoring Results ................................................................................ 21
2.2.1 Benthic Cover ........................................................................................ 21
2.2.2 Coral Health........................................................................................... 28
2.2.3 Discussion.............................................................................................. 31
3. Incidental Sightings Programme ............................................................................. 35
3.1 Introduction .................................................................................................... 35
3.2 Methodology................................................................................................... 35
3.3 Results ............................................................................................................ 35
3.4 Discussion ...................................................................................................... 40
4. Beach Waste Monitoring Programme ........................................................................ 42
4.1 Objectives....................................................................................................... 42
4.2 Methodology................................................................................................... 42
4.3 Results ............................................................................................................ 42
4.4 Discussion ...................................................................................................... 45
5. Bird Survey Programme ............................................................................................ 48
5.1 Aims............................................................................................................... 48
5.2 Background..................................................................................................... 48
5.3 Methodology................................................................................................... 49
5.4 Results ............................................................................................................ 50
5.5 Discussion ...................................................................................................... 53
5.6 Limitations and error....................................................................................... 54
5.7 Future work .................................................................................................... 55
6. Community Work...................................................................................................... 56
7. References................................................................................................................. 58

© GVI – 2010 ii
GVI Global Vision International
ASK Amigos de Sian Ka’an
CONANP Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP)
MBRS Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System
SMP Synoptic Monitoring Programme

List of Figures
Figure 2-1. Map of the permanent monitoring sites for GVI Pez Maya.

Figure 2-2. Average number of species recorded per transect in each monitoring site
during 101 phase.

Figure 2-3. Individuals recorded in each target family during 101 phase.

Figure 2-4. Number of species per family recorded in 101 and total number of target
species per family.

Figure 2-5. Number of species recorded per family and per site during 101 phase

Figure 2-6. Total number of individuals recorded in each family during 101 phase.

Figure 2-7. Trophic Level changes since 2006.

Figure 2-8. Trophic Categories at PX05.

Figure 2-9. Trophic Categories at PL20.

Figure 2-10. Juvenile Abundance per site

Figure 2-11. Juvenile species abundance at PX05 and PL20

Figure 2-12. Relationship between turf algae and Acanthuridae Jan2005-Jan2010

Figure 2-13 Percentage of cover of benthic species between 051 and 101.

Figure 2-14 Comparison of coral cover percentage in 081, 093 and 101.
Figure 2-15 Comparison of algae presence between 051 and 101.

Figure 2-16 Coral and macroalgae percentage cover between 2006 and 2010.

Figure 2-17 Frequency of coral families recorded on CC transects.

Figure 2-18 Diversity of corals recorded on CC transects by site in 101.
Figure 2-19 Coral Diversity in 101 by site from coral rover data.

Figure 2-20 Presence of Predation on Corals by Year: S Sponge, F Fish, FW Fireworm, T

Tunicate, Z Zoanthid.

Figure 2-21 Presence of Disease on Corals by Year: BBD Black Band Disease, DS Dark
Spot Disease, WBD White Band Disease, YBD Yellow Blotch Disease, RBD Red Band
Disease, WP White Plague, HP Hyperplasm, NP Neoplasm, Other.

Figure 2-22 Presence of Bleaching on Corals by Year: BL Full Bleach, P Pale Bleaching,
PB Partial Bleaching

Figure 3-1. Comparison of frequency of groups from 051 to 101.

Figure 3-2. Total sightings of sharks, rays and eels from phase 052 to 101.

Figure 3-3. Recorded sightings of individual Ray species from 051 to 101.

Figure 3-4. Recorded sightings of individual Shark species from 051 to 101.

Figure 3-5. Total of sightings of individual turtle species by phase.

Figure 3-6. Total sightings of individual Mammal species by phase.

Figure 3-7. Lionfish.

Figure 4-1. Litter collected during 101. Numbers show actual mass collected (kg).

Figure 4-2. Total weight of rubbish collected (kg) from 052 to 101 (all litter collected).

Figure 4-3. Percentage make up of each category from 052 to 101 (total litter collected).

Figure 4-4. Total litter collected during the first six transects of each phase since 2007 (for
standardised comparison). Phase 101 collected considerably less rubbish than previous

Figure 5-1. Composition of total bird sightings in 101 (“Others” refer to species presenting
a percentage of 1% or less).

Figure 5-2. Most commonly recorded species (more than 50) in 101 compared to 091.

Figure 5-3. Bird sightings by status.

List of Tables
Table 2-1. Name, depth and GPS points of the permanent (SMP) monitoring sites for the
GVI Pez Maya programme during phases 2 and 4.

Table 2.2. Fish species diversity per site monitored in 101.

Table 2-3. Sizing Validation: undersizing of fish in data collected at PL20 and PX05

1. Introduction
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) extends from Isla Contoy at the North of
the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, to the Bay Islands of Honduras through Belize and
Guatemala and is the second largest barrier reef in the world.

The GVI Marine Programme was initiated within Mexico with the set up of its first base,
Pez Maya, in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in 2003. Since then the programme has
flourished, with a sister site being set up in the south of Quintana Roo at Punta Gruesa.
The current project at GVI Pez Maya is assisting Amigos de Sian Ka’an (ASK) and
Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) to obtain baseline data for
the reefs of the north Sian Ka’an by conducting marine surveys, to ascertain areas of high
species diversity, areas of high algal mass, fish species and abundance amongst other
reef health indicators. Using this data, ASK and its partners can begin to focus on the
areas needing immediate environmental regulation, implementing management protection
plans as and when required. Surveys using the same methodology are being conducted
by a number of bodies through the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, in Belize, Honduras
and Guatemala, coordinated by the MBRS project group.

With the continuing development of the Riviera Maya, effective monitoring is becoming
evermore important. Inadvertent environmental degradation can be prevented if the
appropriate measures are taken to advocate long-term, sustainable ecotourism. Continual
assessment of Sian Ka’an’s reef health can support and develop management strategies
for the area, the work outlined in this report forming a key part of that assessment.

This report will focus primarily on diversity of both fish and coral, analysis of fish and algal
assemblages, coral health and seasonal trends. The report also summarises the other
work completed this phase in GVI Pez Maya’s science and community projects.

© GVI – 2010 Page 6

2. Synoptic Monitoring Programme
The monitoring program that takes place every expedition at Pez Maya replicates a similar
study conducted over 15 years ago (Padilla et al. 1992), concentrating monitoring efforts
on the reefs in the northern area of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. The current project run by
GVI uses similar methods implemented during this earlier study (Almada-Villela et al.,
2003 and Woods-Ballard et al. 2005). Table 2-1 details the name, depth and GPS points
of the monitoring sites with Figure 2-1 showing the locations of the monitoring sites on a
map of the surrounding area.

Table 2-1. Name, depth and GPS points of the permanent (SMP) monitoring sites for the GVI Pez Maya
programme during phases 1 and 3.

Location Site ID (m) Latitude Longitude
LC10 10.9 19.78693º N 087.43310º W
La Colonia
LC20 17.9 19.78637º N 087.42628º W
PJ05 6.1 20.01498º N 087.46475º W
Paso Juana
PJ10 9.1 20.01690º N 087.46215º W
PL05 3 20.05045º N 087.47035º W
Paso Lagrimas PL10 6.7 20.05200º N 087.46625º W
PL20 16.7 20.05138º N 087.46275º W
PX05 7.4 19.93205º N 087.43415º W
Punta Xamach PX10 12.3 19.93395º N 087.43355º W
PX20 16.2 19.93333º N 087.43213º W

These GPS points are in the WGS84 datum, rather than the NAD27 Mexico datum, for use
with GIS software and further reporting.

For more information regarding SMP methodology and training, please refer to Global
Vision International’s Annual Report 2006, available online at

© GVI – 2010 Page 7

Figure 2-1. Map of the permanent monitoring sites for GVI Pez Maya (Courtesy of JuniperGIS).

© GVI – 2010 Page 8

2.1 Fish Results & Discussion

2.1.1 Adult Fish

101 phase saw 64 monitoring transects carried out at eight sites (eight transects per site)
in the vicinity of Pez Maya, PJ05, PJ10, PL05, PL10, PL20, PX05, PX10 and PX20. Each
monitoring site that was begun was completed, with a total of 628 adult fish belonging to
12 families identified. An average of 17 fish per transect were recorded, but the abundance
of fish varied from site to site (standard deviation: ± 7), being less abundant in shallow
sites (5m). The 10m sites were the ones with higher abundance of fish, followed by the
20m sites (Figure 2-2).


Average of individuals recorded per







PJ05 PJ10 PL05 PL10 PL20 PX05 PX10 PX20
Monitore d site s

Figure 2-2. Average number of species recorded per transect in each monitoring site during 101 phase.

The family presenting highest abundance was Acanthuridae (242 individuals), followed by
Haemulidae (191), Scaridae (44), Lutjanidae (40), Chaetodontidae (35), Pomacentridae
(28) and Serranidae (28) families. The families less represented were Pomacanthidae (8),

© GVI – 2010 Page 9

Balistidae (5), Caranjidae (4), Labridae (2) and Monacanthidae (1). No members of
Sphyraenidae family were recorded during 101 phase (Figure 2-3).



Number of individuals








































Fa m ily

Figure 2-3. Individuals recorded in each target family during 101 phase.

Half of the total number of target species was recorded in 101 phase: 34 of 68. Each
family presents a different number of target species but most of them were not
represented by the totality of their members (Figure 2-4): families represented by the
totality of their members were Acanthuridae (3), Caranjidae (1) and Pomacentridae (1).
The ones represented by about half of their members were Chaetodontidae (3 of 5),
Haemulidae (8 of 13), Labridae (1 of 2), Pomacanthidae (3 of 6) and Scaridae (6 of 12).
The ones represented by one third of their members were Lutjanidae (3 of 8),
Monacanthidae (1 of 3) and Serranidae (3 of 8). The least represented family was
Balistidae, having Balistes vetula as the only species recorded (five times) (Figure 2-4).

© GVI – 2010 Page 10

Recorded species in 101
12 Target species
Number of species










































Figure 2-4. Number of species per family recorded in 101 and total number of target species per family.

Looking at the abundance of species recorded per family and per site it can be seen that
not only the abundance of species recorded varies from family to family but also from site
to site (Figure 2-5 and Table 2.2).

© GVI – 2010 Page 11

Figure 2-5. Number of species recorded per family and per site during 101 phase

The monitoring sites presenting a highest diversity are PJ05 (8.58), PL20 (8.26) and PJ10
(8.15) and the ones with the lowest one are PX05 (2.67) and PL05 (3.45). The low
diversity observed at PX05 seems to match the coral data, which is also low (3.20)
compared with other sites like PL20 the diversity in coral communities is the highest (8.24)
(Table 2-2).

© GVI – 2010 Page 12

Table 2-2: Fish species diversity per site monitored in 101

Number of Number of Number of Simpson D

individuals species families index
PJ05 72 19 8 8.58
PJ10 107 20 8 8.15
PL05 71 12 6 3.45
PL10 103 17 6 7.31
PL20 89 19 9 8.26
PX05 4 3 3 2.67
PX10 116 17 9 5.49
PX20 66 15 8 4.69

Across all sites, the most common species was Acanthurus bahianus, accounting for 25%
of all fish identified on the transects (Figure 2.6). Other common target species (with an
abundance of 5% or more) were Acanthurus coeruleus (13%), Haemulon flavolineatum
(11%), Haemulon plumieri (8%), Pomacanthus arcuatus (5.7%) and Haemulon sciurus
(5%) (Figure 2-6).

© GVI – 2010 Page 13

Figure 2-6: Total number of individuals recorded in each family during 101 phase.

Comparison between PX05 and PL20

Since PX05 is the sight presenting the lowest diversity and PL20 the highest in both, fish
and coral community, data from PX05 and PL20 were compared with results from the
January phase back to 2006, to examine any spatial differences occurring between the

PX05 is located 9.19km south of Pez Maya, whilst PL20 is located 5.5km north of Pez
Maya. The sites vary greatly in respect to topography. PX05 is a shallow (7m) site located
relatively close to the shore and is typified by low coral and fish abundance over a patch
reef. PL20 is located at the deeper end (18m) of a spur and groove reef where the reef
meets the sand. It is high in fish and coral abundance.

Only 3 species were identified at PX05 (Figure 2-5); Acanthurus chirurgus, Balistes vetula
and Ephinephelus guttatus. Previous phases have recorded similar species, almost always
in low numbers, except for Acanthurus bahianus being recorded 21 times in 071. At PL20,

© GVI – 2010 Page 14

19 species were recorded in 101 (Figure 2-5), 18 in 081, and 21 in 071. A wider range of
species were also recorded, ranging from grazers such as the Acanthuridae spp. to
predators such as Caranx ruber and Bodianus rufus.

As way of comparison the trophic levels of the fish were calculated and plotted in Figure 2-
7. Trophic levels were calculated from Froese & Pauly (2006). Figures 2-8 and 2-9 shows
the average trophic levels of the fish at each site. PX05, despite having fewer fish has a
higher average trophic level due to the presence of individual predators, likely searching
for food in the barren area. PL20, due to its higher abundance of fish provides an average
that is less affected by individual species. Since 071 there has been a slight decline in
trophic level of the identified fish. Further studies should continue this study to try to clarify
whether there is a further decline over time. A decline in trophic level is symptomatic of
fishing pressure. A larger sample size is also needed to smooth out anomalies caused by
chance sightings of high trophic level fish.

Trophic Level

1,00 PX05
061 071 081 101


Figure 2-7. Trophic Level changes since 2006

© GVI – 2010 Page 15



15 081

2 2,5 3 3,5 4 4,5
Trophic Level

Figure 2-8. Trophic Categories at PX05



40 071


2 2,5 3 3,5 4 4,5
Trophic Level

Figure 2-9. Trophic Categories at PL20

Both PX05 and PL20 have more fish located at the lower trophic levels than higher ones
(Figures 2-8 and 2-9). Studies of pristine, healthy reefs have shown that marine reef
ecosystems are ´top heavy´ with an abundance of predators keeping a rapidly turning-over
population of prey in check. Very few ecosystems exist in this state at the present time.
PL20 reef environment is high in coral and fish abundance, however the majority of the
fish surveyed are found in the bottom trophic level. At the higher trophic levels the
abundances are low.

© GVI – 2010 Page 16

The amplitude of the trophic level recorded in each phase is often dependent on the
presence of school of high trophic level fish passing through one of the eight transects.
Although the methodology applied to the monitoring is thought to be representative of the
state of the reef, in this case, it is probable that a larger sample size would help to smooth
individual variations, highlighting whether schools are more common on one phase than
another and that it is not only due to “chance”.

Fish sizing was examined at PL20 and PX05 to attempt to analyse the accuracy of fish
sizing undertaken by the volunteers (Table 2-3). In Table 2-3 fish have been classified as
´undersized´ if they are below the average size range of adults commonly seen in that
species. Some error will occur due to the natural variations in intra-specific fish sizes.

The nature of the monitoring programme makes in-water verification relatively difficult due
to logistical and the in-water view point. During recent phases (post-094) steps have been
taken to increase the accuracy of fish sizing due to concerns that many fish were being
sized wrongly. The most common mistakes were undersizing and confusion between
juvenile, intermediate and adult stages in fish with no or little dimorphism between life

Table 2-3. Sizing Validation: undersizing of fish in data collected at PL20 and PX05

PL20 PX05
% of % of
% catergories catergories % catergories catergories
with with >50% with with >50%
undersized undersized undersized undersized
Phase fish fish Phase fish fish
61 21% 7% 61 50% 50%
71 19% 0% 71 25% 12.5%
81 22% 16% 81 0% 0%
101 0.55% 0% 101 0% 0%
The steps to improve sizing accuracy included:
- Increased number of dives dedicated to fish sizing

- Increased use of in-water measuring aids (such as wooden practice fish and a

- More in-depth briefings and tutorials

© GVI – 2010 Page 17

The results show a considerable decrease in undersized fish being identified during Phase
101, the first phase with improved teaching recorded in Table 2-3. Similarly, at PL20, the
site with a much higher abundance, there is only a 3% difference in the percentage of fish
being undersized (19-22%).

Further analysis of data from phases since the improved sizing teaching was implemented
will be required to confidently say whether the improvements are effective over a long
period. A possible constraint on the results are that volunteers begin to know the expected
size range of the fish they see and record the fish in to the expected category, not the
actual size. This can only be verified by in-water assessment.

2.1.2 Juveniles

As opposed to previous GVI Pez Maya science reports, this section will not focus as much
on specific juvenile species, but rather temporal changes between seasons. Figure 2-10
compares summer and winter differences in abundance between sites with winter being
the phase 01 (January-March) and summer being the phase 03 (July-September) of the
same year.

180 PJ05
160 PJ10

140 PL10


winter 07 summer 07 winter 08 summer 08 winter 09 summer 09 winter 10
Figure 2-10. Juvenile Abundance per site

Although there are data gaps, some conclusions can be drawn. At the 20m (PX20) site,
there are considerably higher abundances of juveniles in summer than there are in winter.

© GVI – 2010 Page 18

This temporal difference is less at PJ10, PL10 but similar for PX10 and, for 5m site (PJ05),
there is little difference between the winter and summer abundances. Overall this suggests
that the juveniles might occupy the shallower sites throughout the year, whilst only venture
to the deeper areas during the summer. Figure 9 does not however reflect the species
composition of the juveniles present. Previous GVI studies have shown that distinct
breeding periods exist for the more common species. In a similar fashion to the adult
section, PX05 and PL20 were compared in respect to the abundance of juveniles at each
site (Figure 2-11).


071 081 101

Acanthurus bahianus
PL20 Halichoeres maculipinna
Thalassoma bifasciatum
35 Stegastes partitus
30 Acanthurus coeruleus

25 Sparisoma aurofrenatum
20 Halichoeres garnoti
071 081 101

Figure 2-11. Juvenile species abundance at PX05 and PL20

There are marked species differences between the sites PX05 and PL20. Not only is there
a depth difference, there is also a considerable spatial and topographical difference as

© GVI – 2010 Page 19

discussed above. Figure 10 shows the data collected for the winter phase as this was the
fuller data set. As discussed above the summer/winter abundances of juvenile are
generally more varied at the deeper sites, so Figure 10 will record fewer individuals than
there would be in summer at PL20.

No Acanthurus bahianus were identified at the deeper site and A.coeruleus was only seen
in 071, whereas both species were seen every phase (except A. bahianus in 071) at PX05.
Of the Labridae species, Thalassoma bifasciatum was seen regularly at both sites, with a
slightly higher occurrence at PX05. Halichoeres garnoti however, was seen only seen at
PL20, indicating the species’ preference for reefs with higher coral cover and/or deeper


As discussed in previous GVI Reports there has been considerable correlation between
the two species (Figure 2-12). particularly since Phase 073, peaks in Acanthuridae have
corresponded with troughs in turf algae concentrations. In 091 the relationship changed
somewhat with low abundances of fish and algae. However during this phase very little
data was collected and only from one site, which biased the results somewhat. Since that
phase the signs have been encouraging for the health of the reef. Acanthuridae
populations increased during 093 and 094 but turf algae abundance have not risen above
34% cover, remaining low in 101 (30%). Acanthuridae populations did decline however,
presumably because their food supply was reduced.

© GVI – 2010 Page 20

Percentage abundance 60


Turf algae











Figure 2-12. Relationship between turf algae and Acanthuridae Jan2005-Jan2010

2.2 Coral Monitoring Results

2.2.1 Benthic Cover

The benthic cover is recorded using Point Intercept (PI) transects, which collect data
regarding what species are directly below the transect at regular intervals. This data is
then translated into percentage cover for each species, giving an overview of trends
concerning phase shifts and coral health. Because each site is monitored bi-annually only
the data collected in the first and third phases, which monitor the same sites, are used for
this analysis.

The benthic composition at the sites monitored during the first and third phases of the year
on the Meso American Barier Reef at Pez Maya has remained relatively constant between
2005 and 2010. Over this time, the benthos has been dominated by macro algae, with an
average cover of 63.5% and a range from 52.2% in phase 053 to as much as 76.8% in
phase 071. Corallinales (predominatly coralline algaes) have shown the second highest
percentage cover on the areas of reef monitored, with an average cover of 12.2% and a
range of 7.3% to 22.2% in phase 071 and phase 091, respectively. The third most
dominant group in terms of benthic percentage cover is Hermatypic corals with an average
cover of 7.2% and a range of 5.3% in phase 071 and 10.8% in phase 052. The data
collected between 2005 and 2010 also indicate a decline in the zoanthid cover, with the
lowest percentages recorded in phases 093 and 101 (fig. 2-13)

© GVI – 2010 Page 21

100.0 Rubble
Percentage of cover

40.0 Hydroid
Hermatypic coral
20.0 Gorgonacea
0.0 Corallimorph
051 052 053 054 061 063 071 081 083 091 093 101 Bare rock

Figure 2-13 Percentage of cover of benthic species between 051 and 101.

The transects monitored in phase 093 compared to phase 101 seem to have a similar
benthic composition, with the most common groups represented being Algae and
Hermatypic corals. This pattern is seen throughout the data collected since GVI began,
and is also in line with the wider Caribbean region. The phase shift from coral dominance
to algal dominance is also becoming more apparent within our data.

Below shows the percentage of coral cover over the past two years (figure 2-14). The
data for 2007 and phase 091 are incomplete due to the occurrence of Hurricane Dean and
bad weather, respectively; therefore only 2008, 2009 and 2010 have been used for
comparison. This graph suggests a decline in coral cover for all sites, except PJ10, and
shows the coral cover at its highest at the beginning of 2008.

© GVI – 2010 Page 22

16 PX20
Percentage cover

14 PX10
12 PL20
10 PL10
8 PL05
6 PJ10
4 PJ05
081 083 093 101

Figure 2-14 Comparison of coral cover percentage in 081, 093 and 101.

The algal data from 101 was also compared with that of previous years to establish any
trends (figure 2-15).

80% Lobophora sp.
Percentage cover

Turf algae
30% Dictyotaceae
20% Blue-Green Algae
051 052 053 054 061 063 071 081 083 091 093 101

Figure 2-15 Comparison of algae presence between 051 and 101.

© GVI – 2010 Page 23

The four main groups of algae monitored (Blue-green algae, Dictyota sp, Halimeda sp and
Lobophora sp), were all recorded during phase 101. All were also present in 093, but the
percentage cover differed somewhat between phases. Increases in Lobophora and
Dictyota populations and decreases in Halimeda and blue-green algae populations are
seen from the previous year. It is hypothesized that Halimeda and Dictyota populations
have an inverse relationship; therefore, a decrease in one will stimulate an increase other.
The grouped classifications (Macroalgae and Turf algae) have both increased over the
year. While overall algal cover remains high, it is possible that the species composition is

The percentage cover of hermatypic corals has fluctuated since GVI started collecting data
in 2005. Coral cover peaked at the start of 2008 when it reached 10% and has declined to
about 7%, which is the average percentage coral cover (fig. 2-16).

12 90

Algae percentage cover
Coral percentage cover

8 60

50 Coral cover
40 Macroalgal cover

4 30

© GVI – 2010 Page 24
0 0
061 063 071 081 083 093 101
Figure 2-16 Coral and Macroalgae percentage cover between 2006 and 2010.

When percentage coral cover was compared with the percentage cover of macroalgae, an
inverse relationship between the two emerged. As the percentage of coral cover
increased, the macroalgae seemed to decrease, and vice versa. As Macroalgae and
Hermatypic corals are the first and third most dominant groups recorded on the
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef at Pez Maya, it might be expected that as one decreases the
other would increase. However, no other group recorded shows such a direct correlation,
despite that there was a general increase in all other benthic communities during 081.
These data indicate that as the macroalgae population decreases the biodiversity
increases; therefore, due to the lack of competition for space and light by algae, the coral
population also increases. This is an important observation, as many coral reefs
throughout the world are being outcompeted by algae and as a result there has been a
decrease in biodiversity. If the data show that there actually is a direct inverse relationship
between coral growth and algal growth, this can be valuable for understanding the
dynamics of the reef ecosystem. The reef can build and increase potential substrate for
other colonising species such as zoanthids, tunicates and gorgonians, increasing potential
habitats and food sources for fish and other reef creatures ultimately increasing
biodiversity. However the fluctuations in the data need to take into account the inherent
errors of the data collection process, such as missing data sets and human error, but the
overall trend shows that the region is relatively stable rather than offering a healthy
increase in diversity or coral cover.

Within the coral cover data, the breakdown of frequency of families gives an idea of which
coral groups are the most commonly seen on the reefs in the area. The graph shows the
data as number of points recorded of each family in a given 6 month period to give an
overall view of the abundance of each (figure 2-17).

© GVI – 2010 Page 25




80 101





























Figure 2-17 Frequency of coral families recorden on CC transects.

Although there are some fluctuations within families between the phases, Agariciidae,
Faviidae, Poritidae and Siderastridae are clearly the dominant families on the monitored
sites, which is also confirmed through the coral rover data collected for each site. The data
indicate that there have been changes in abundance between 093 and 101 with the
Musiidae, Milliporidae, Poritidae, Siderasridae and Astrocoeniidae families increasing
while the abundance of Agariciidae and Faviidae and Meandriidae families has decreased.
The most common species, however, are strong reef building corals such as Siderastrea
siderea and Diploria sp, which is indicative of a resilient reef with the ability to grow. With
the reef structure in place there will always be substrate for other species to attach to, as
well as affording coastal protection and other ecosystem services.

The diversity of corals recorded just within the 101 phase have been split down into sites
(figure 2-18). The types of reef found at Pez Maya are mainly spur and groove, and
transects are taken from three depths (5, 10 and 20 meters) where possible at each site.
The data below illustrates the diversity of coral species at different depths.

© GVI – 2010 Page 26


Number of species


PX20 PX10 PJ10 PJ05 PL20 PL10 PL05

Figure 2-18 Diversity of corals recorded on CC transects by site in 101.

The graph suggests the coral diversity at different depths is relatively the same. The one
exception is PL20, which appears to have almost double the number of species compared
to other sites. However, the methodology used to collect data may not be completely
representative of the actual number of species that grow on the reef due to the
randomness of where the transect is laid and because only corals larger than 10 cm are

The data gathered through the Coral Rover (CR) surveys gives a more complete idea of
the diversity of corals at each site, as they involve the record of all species seen within a
given swim pattern and a timescale of 30 minutes. The graph below shows the same
information as the previous graph, but using the coral rover data (figure 2-19).

© GVI – 2010 Page 27


Number of species




PX20 PX10 PL20 PL10 PL05 PJ10 PJ05

Figure 2-19 Coral Diversity in 101 by site from coral rover data.

This graph shows a correlation of diversity within sites by depth. At all of the sites
monitored during phase 101, the diversity increased with depth. The 20 meter sites had
the most diversity, followed by the 10 meter sites and then the 5 meter sites.

2.2.2 Coral Health

The biodiversity and benthic cover are good indicators of reef health, but the coral
communities (CC) transects also allow for analysis on individual coral health regarding
predation, bleaching and disease.

Predation is normally something fairly rarely seen at the monitoring sites of Pez Maya.
The abundance of food sources in the form of algae discourages predation on corals as
there is little need for predators to source energy this way. The graph below illustrates the
presence of predation found on coral colonies recorded through CC transects (figure 2-

© GVI – 2010 Page 28

Percentage of predation type

70% Z
60% T
50% S
40% FW
30% F
081 082 083 084 091 092 093 094 101

Figure 2-20 Presence of Predation on Corals by Phase: S Sponge, F Fish, FW Fireworm, T Tunicate, Z

Most of the predation categories remain at low levels. Sponges have been the dominate
predators over the past two years at the Pez Maya monitoring sites. The remaining
predators fluctuate in percentage over time. Overgrowth of species over corals is low, with
the exception of the aggressive sponges, such as Cliona sp, that will grow over other
creatures whether there is available space or not. The less aggressive species will find
other space to occupy before taking over coral and killing off colonies by smothering.

The data for the diseases (figure 2-21) follows that of the predation with one phase
missing from 2009. The graph shows a reduction in frequency of disease with the
exception of Dark Spot Disease (DSD).

© GVI – 2010 Page 29


083 091 093 101

Figure 2-21 Presence of Disease on Corals by Year: BBD Black Band Disease, DS Dark Spot Disease,
WBD White Band Disease, YBD Yellow Blotch Disease, RBD Red Band Disease, WP White Plague, HP
Hyperplasm, NP Neoplasm, Other.

The abundance of Dark Spot (DS) can partly be contributed to the fact that it is common
on one of the most abundant species on the reef, Siderastrea siderea. It is very rare on
other species, but with Siderastrea occurring all over the reef, and the susceptibility of the
species to DS, the frequency is likely to be high. The remaining diseases occur in varying
abundance, with White Plague or Yellow Blotch Disease being the second most common
diseases. Other diseases occur in low frequencies by comparison.

The bleaching data is also lacking one phase for 2009, but again, the frequency appears
to be following a downward trend (figure 2-22). The most common is the pale bleaching
category, which may again be explained by its relationship with the common Siderastrea
siderea species as with the DS. Many of this species presents pale bleaching, which
appears to be a common characteristic that has little proven negative effect on the
colonies. However, there is the potential that this may be a reason behind the high
frequency of DS on Sideratrea sp as the colony may be weakened by the pale bleaching
and therefore more susceptible to negative influences.

© GVI – 2010 Page 30



60% PB

40% BL


051 052 053 054 061 063 071 081 083 091 093 101

Figure 2-22 Presence of Bleaching on Corals by phase: BL Full Bleach, P Pale Bleaching, PB Partial

The categories for bleaching have been redefined over the years, which may have had an
impact on the data, but the general trends show a realistic picture of what is happening
concerning each bleaching type.
Fully bleached colonies have been the least common on the monitoring sites, followed by
partial bleaching, with the most common being pale, which is reflected in the graph. There
is also a pattern of decline in bleaching abundance in general that would suggest the
environmental factors that contribute to bleaching events have lessened. However, this
could also be attributed to the changes in classification and therefore recording of

2.2.3 Discussion

The data, in general, has shown fairly consistent results, taking into account the inherent
errors found in this type of data collection methodology, and the missing data due to bad
weather and logistical issues of getting to sites.

The overall benthic composition has so far shown little change since GVI began
monitoring. The algas are still dominant, occupying well over 50% and as high as 75% of
the substrate. This is a common feature in the Caribbean since the cover shifted from
coral dominance to algal dominance, following certain events that allowed the algae to

© GVI – 2010 Page 31

take over. The increased presence of disease and detrimental environmental factors,
combined with changes in abundance of other species (for example, grazers such as the
Diadema urchin) lead to the opportunity for algae to colonise not only the free space, but
also the skeletons of dead corals. They are far more voracious in growth, and therefore
the slower growing corals are not able to colonise the free space before it is taken over by
algae. Events that may lead to a recovery of coral cover over algae would include an
increase in herbivorous (algae eating) species in order to further control the population.

There is a healthy population of other species existing on the reef such as bryozoans,
zoanthids, tunicates and sponges, all playing an important part in the composition and
productivity of the ecosystem, but are not well represented in the data. Sponges, for
example, are filter feeders and are thought to filter out potentially harmful bacteria and
particles from the water column which may have colonised a coral colony and resulted in
disease. They also erode and consolidate the substrate, forming a less porous base for
other species to occupy, and they provide food and a habitat for cryptic species and
recycle nitrogen from the surrounding water. However, their presence is not seen in the
data, possibly due to their growth forms that result, like many other species, in their not
being found on a transect as frequently as other more highly recorded species.

The dominant coral families have remained the same throughout the data, with
Agariciidae, Faviidae, Poritidae and Siderastridae accounting for more than 70% of the
coral abundance. Within these families, Siderastrea siderea and Agraricia agaricites are
the most common corals found on the reef, which are both strong reef building corals.

The biodiversity data (Point Intercept) offers an idea of the number of different species
found on the reefs. Volunteers learn fifty coral species, most of which are found on the
reef, and therefore the data should include a majority of these species. The Coral
Communities (CC) data is limited because of the methodology of randomly laying the
transect, which may not accurately reflect the amount of corals that appear on the reef.
However, the data for the Coral Rover (CR) should include all species seen in a given
space over a 30 minute period, and therefore all the major species found on the reef
should be included. This is not reflected in the graphs, with the CR graph (figure 2-24)
showing only a slight increase in the number of species found in comparison to the CC

© GVI – 2010 Page 32

data. This could be an error of the methodology, as many species are found in certain
locations on the reef, or are cryptic and difficult to see which may result in the biodiversity
appearing less than in reality.

There is little reef fish predation seen on the corals at Pez Maya. However, there is a high
abundance of damselfish and parrotfish, which are the main species that predate on corals
in the region. The Parrotfish scrape algae from the coral tissues, leaving marks and
removing polyps, and the damselfish create a territorial ‘garden’ where they remove polyps
in order to let turf algae colonise, providing a source of energy for them. However, the
general abundance of algae on the reef lowers the competition for this food source,
meaning the fish can find the resource without damaging corals. The peak of fish
predation in 2008 (081) could be explained by a lack of turf algae in 081, but there is little
data to support this was argument. It could also be an error in data collection, with
misidentification of the predation for a phase that could have led to the peak shown in the

Sponge overgrowth is the most common predation seen on the reef, generally in the form
of Cliona species. These species form a thin layer over the top of the coral, smothering
the polyps as it progresses. The result is a thin covering over the skeleton, leaving the
corallites visible, with the bulk of the sponge buried in the skeleton. The sponge then
secretes an acid that de-stabilises the skeleton, eroding the mass into sediment which is
then transferred either to the beach, or re-stabilised in cracks and crevices on the
substrate. There is a high presence of this type of sponge on the reef, and with little free
space due to the algae cover, they predate on the live, slow growing coral.

By far the most commonly recorded disease is DS which could be for two reasons; either
the conditions that favour DS are growing stronger, or that the species that are more
susceptible to the disease are the dominant species on the reef. The latter seems to be
the case. The Siderastrea sp. present most with DS, and as stated previously, are one of
the most common species to be found on the reef. The disease does not appear to have a
huge effect on corals other than Siderastrea sp, and is rarely found on other colonies.
Even when found on colonies, it doesn`t appear to have a profound effect on the polyps,

© GVI – 2010 Page 33

but may contribute to weakening them and allowing other threats to take hold, such as
other diseases, algae or sedimentation.

The bleaching figures show a decrease in the frequency of bleaching recorded on the reef.
However, there have been some changes made in the way bleaching is taught to the
volunteers which may affect the frequency of colonies being recorded as bleached.

After the increase of bleaching in 2005, which may be attributed to the environmental
conditions of that year due to the El Niño effect, the bleaching figures are stabilising again
and have dropped considerably. The changes made to the classification of bleaching may
become apparent throughout the 2009-2010 data, but even with this in mind, the presence
of bleaching on the reef has been low. The predicted rise in coral bleaching outbreaks for
the end of 2009 have not occurred in 101 as there were no recored incidents of coral

In general, the results are indicating a slight downward trend of threats to coral health, but
with little evidence of coral cover recovery. The algal dominance is continuing, leaving
less space for the slow growers such as corals to regain ground. The prediction for an
increase in bleaching events may result in increased disease presence, as colonies will be
weakened by the loss of zooxanthellae, leaving them open to other threats such as
waterborne bacterias. The continued collection of data should illustrate any changes that
are occurring.

© GVI – 2010 Page 34

3. Incidental Sightings Programme

3.1 Introduction
In 2003 GVI Pez Maya implemented a programme to record incidental sightings of
megafauna. This included four general categories: turtles; sharks, rays and eels; marine
mammals, and snakes and crocodiles. In phase 101 this list was expanded to include land
mammals and lionfish, and the shark category has been broken down into individual
species of sharks, rays and eels. These species are not included in the MBRS monitoring
programme that is implemented, but are good indicators of reef health and provide early
warnings of changes, therefore it is useful to continue keeping long term records of which
species are around.

3.2 Methodology
The following information is recorded each time a species on the list is identified where
• Date • Size
• Time • Species
• Location • Number
• Depth

In addition, the current and behaviour is recorded for the lionfish as the data is added to a
larger database for the whole area affected by the invasive species.

3.3 Results
A total of 188 incidental sightings were recorded during 101 which Is the highest of all
phases so far. Eels and rays were the most abundant with eels totalling 64 and rays
totalling 61 sightings. These two groups are the most abundant in almost all phases,
consistently having the highest frequency of sightings. Turtles and marine mammals are
the second most common groups, followed by sharks and snakes and crocodiles as the
least common sightings (figure 3-1). Lionfish totalled at 24 in phases 101 which is the
highest number recorded in a phase to date.

© GVI – 2010 Page 35

Comparison of Frequency of Each Group by Phase



140 Turtles
Snakes and Croc odiles

Ray s
Marine mammals
60 Eels


51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101


Figure 3-1.Comaparison of frequency of groups from 051 to 101.

The sharks, rays and eels groups encompass two of the most common groups sighted on
the reef at Pez Maya. The rays and eels are in relative equilibrium, both in high numbers
in comparison with the other groups. The shark category however has fewer sightings in
total (figure 3-2). This is could partly be due to the fact that sharks are large predators and
therefore competition results in fewer individuals found on a reef, plus they are mainly
pelagic creatures that do not make their home on the reef. Rays and eels however, live on
and around reef areas and therefore are more likely to be sighted more frequently. Figure
3-2 also shows a substantial increase in sightings during phases 101. This is unlikely to
be a true pattern, but rather a result of increased dive numbers and persistent recording of
all incidental sightings.

© GVI – 2010 Page 36

Frequency of Shark, Ray and Eel Sightings per Phase



Frequency Sharks
60 Eels


51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101

Figure 3-2. Total sightings of sharks, rays and eels from phase 052 to 101

Within the ray category, 6 species of rays have now been identified at Pez Maya including
the yellow stingray, spotted eagle ray, southern stingray, lesser electric ray, giant manta
ray and the Caribbean stingray. The southern stingray is by far the most common as
recorded in most phases, however, there is the possibility that misidentification has
occurred as the Caribbean stingray is very similar and has been recorded in recent
phases. The two species together however remain the most common sighted on the
reefs. With a combined total of 46 individuals in 101 (Figure 3-3).
Frequency of Individual Ray Species by Phase

Y ellow Stingray
Unidentif ied Ray

40 Spotted Eagle Ray

Southern Stingray
30 Lesser Electric Ray
Giant Manta Ray
Caribbean Stingray

51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101


Figure 3-3. Recorded Sightings of Individual Ray Species from 051 to 101

When broken down into categories, the most common shark species is the nurse shark
shown in Figure 3-4 below. The 4 other species that have been sighted are either no

© GVI – 2010 Page 37

longer recorded (Blacktip and reef sharks), only recently recorded in low numbers
(Hammerhead) or generally sighted in low numbers (Bull shark). The nurse shark is a reef
dweller and is able to remain in one place without having to move to breathe; therefore
they are the easiest and most likely to be spotted on Pez Maya sites. The remaining
species are all pelagic and mobile, therefore sightings are far more chance than for the
homely nurse shark. Frequency of Individual Shark Species

16 Unidentif ied s hark
14 Reef Shark

Nurs e Shark
Great Hammerhead
6 Bull Shark
4 Blac ktip Shark
51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101

Pha se

Figure 3-4. Recorded Sightings of Individual Shark Species from 051 to 101

During phase 101 a total of 3 turtle species were recorded, as in all other phases. The
fourth species that can be found in the area, the Leatherback, has not been recorded since
the program began. Within the total of 21 individuals, 3 were Green, 11 were Hawksbill, a
further 3 Loggerheads and 4 unidentified individuals (Figure 3-5). Sightings have
fluctuated throughout the monitoring period which is mainly due to the quality of data
collection. However, some of the fluctuations may be related to the nesting season
between May to September, which could result in an increase of sightings around these
phases. The numbers in general result in a fairly stable population of turtles in the area,
with a few greater exceptions around the nesting season in 2006 and 2007. In general,
the beginning of the nesting season does see an increase in the number of turtles
recorded, shown as an increase in the 02 phases of each year.

© GVI – 2010 Page 38

Summary of Turtle Sightings by Species

Frequency of Sightings

30 Green

25 Haw ksbill

20 Loggerhead
Unidentified Turtle
51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101


Figure 3-5. Total sightings of individual turtle species by phase

The sightings of marine mammals fluctuate greatly, as they are highly mobile and often
stay further out to sea than we take the boats. Dolphin encounters are generally from the
boat rather than underwater, and are attracted by the engine and motion. Manatees are
curious but cryptic and prefer the calm waters of the mangrove lagoons than the ocean.
According to the chart (figure 3-6), manatee sightings may be decreasing in frequency as
there is no record of them for 3 of the last 4 phases.
Total Sightings of Marine Mammals



15 Unidentif ied dolphin

Bottlenos e dolphin
10 Manatee

51 52 53 54 61 62 63 64 71 72 73 74 81 82 83 84 91 92 93 94 101

Pha se

Figure 3-6. Total sightings of individual Mammal species by phase

The lionfish, pictured below is an invasive species that is plaguing the wider Caribbean.
Its presence will affect the balance and therefore conservationists up and down the coast
are monitoring its movements in order to establish a management plan and track the
spread. It has now become an incidental sighting, with the first phase having a count of

© GVI – 2010 Page 39

24. Hopefully the management plans and removal schemes will see a balance, if not a
reduction in the frequency of these sightings.

Figure 3-7. Lionfish.

3.4 Discussion

Incidental sightings of large marine creatures are often good indicators of how healthy an
ecosystem is. As can be seen from the data, the number of sightings and species
recorded varies from phase to phase, with few obvious trends. These species are highly
mobile animals and therefore their movements depend on a range of external factors.
Phase 101 had the greatest total number of recorded incidental sightings since the
implementation of the programme. Over the past year there has been a steady increase in
the number of sightings, suggesting an increase in reef health. However, this could also
be due to better record keeping over the course of the year. Variation in recorded
numbers could also be a reflection of the amount of diving that occured.

It is thought that some categories or species (e.g. snakes) may be under-represented as

observers tend to concentrate on known target species and forget to record other species.

Shark, rays and eels had the largest number of sightings overall, with 142 individuals
recorded. This is also the most number of sightings that have occurred in this category
since the programme has been in effect. Following the trend since phase 074 shows a
steady increase in the number of sightings. In 073, Hurricane Dean hit the coast of Mexico
and greatly affected the reef and animals that live in and around it. The incidental

© GVI – 2010 Page 40

sightings recorded during 101 shows a return to similar numbers before the hurricane hit,
suggesting reef recovery.

Marine mammal sightings have been increasing in the last three phases, and are back
amongst the totals recorded in the most frequent phases. All mammals seen were
dolphins, and although some are unidentified, it is likely that they were all bottlenose as
these are the main species seen in the area.

The number of turtle sightings has increased to that of the first phases of 2009 after a drop
in 094. This could be due to the proximity of the turtle season, or possibly a lapse in
records for the previous phase.

In general, sightings are on the increase, which not only indicates an improvement of the
quality of data collection and recording, but also an increase in sightings which is a good
indicator if reef health in the area.

© GVI – 2010 Page 41

4. Beach Waste Monitoring Programme
4.1 Objectives
1. Collect data that quantifies the extent of marine litter.
2. Conserve terrestrial and marine fauna threatened by litter.
3. Improve of beach aesthetics.
4. Create and use of methodology suitable for continuing in future expeditions.
5. Create a monitoring programme that can be implemented in other locations within
the reserve.

4.2 Methodology
The beach clean takes place weekly along the same 300 metre stretch of beach. The
beach transect is cleaned one week prior to the beginning of data collection so that only
the weekly accumulation of marine debris is recorded. Marine debris is collected from the
tidemark to the vegetation line to eliminate waste created by inland sources. The waste is
sorted into categories, then weighed and recorded by category. The litter is categorised as

o Fabrics o Natural materials

o Glass o Medical waste
o Plastics o Rubber
o Polystyrene o Rope
o Metals o Other

4.3 Results
A total of nine beach cleans were carried out this phase between January 16 and March
13, 2010. The majority of litter mass collected was made up of plastics (65.64 kg) followed
by natural materials (11.46 kg), “other” (9.98 kg), glass (5.10 kg), rope (4.61 kg),
polystyrene (2.81 kg), metals (0.31 kg), and medical waste (0.09 kg) (Figure 4-1). Fabric
and rubber did not wash up on the transect this phase and therefore were not collected. A

© GVI – 2010 Page 42

total of 99.50 kg of litter was collected over all nine cleans. This is a fairly large reduction
from the previous phase (Figure 4-2).

4,61 5,10 0,09

2,81 0,31

Medical Waste
9,98 Natural Material


Figure 4-1. Litter collected during 101. Numbers show actual mass collected (kg).

Total weight of marine litter





2 3 4 1 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1
05 05 05 06 06 06 07 07 07 07 08 08 08 08 09 09 09 09 10


Figure 4-2. Total weight of rubbish collected (kg) from 052 to 101 (all litter collected).

© GVI – 2010 Page 43

The composition of all litter collected across phases aside from 064 indicates that plastic is
consistently the largest contributor to the total weight of litter collected (31-78% of total),
with 073 having the highest percentage of plastic (78.16%) (Figure 4-3). Phase 101
follows this trend. Other categories vary widely between phases, with no obvious trends.


Composition of Waste


60% Plastic

40% Natural Material

Medical Waste


Figure 4-3. Percentage make up of each category from 052 to 101 (total litter collected).

Adjusted total weight of litter

collected (kg)

071 072 074 081 082 083 084 091 092 093 094 101

Figure 4-4. Total litter collected during the first six transects of each phase since 2007 (for
standardised comparison). Phase 101 collected considerably less rubbish than previous phases.

© GVI – 2010 Page 44

The first six litter collections of each phase were totalled to gain a standardised view of the
amount of data that is collected (figure 4-4). As shown, phase 101 collected considerably
less rubbish than previous phases in the first six weeks, possibly due to unusually calm
weather in the region.

4.4 Discussion
The beach along Pez Maya directly faces the Caribbean current, which originates from the
equatorial Atlantic Ocean and transports significant amounts of water north-westwards
through the Caribbean Sea and into the Gulf of Mexico via the Yucatan current (Gyory,
2006). These currents may act to drive litter from far a field towards the shores of the
Yucatan. This is further compounded by boat traffic in the Caribbean and outflows from
rivers, storm drains and other anthropogenic sources. It is therefore likely that weather
changes affecting sea turbulence and tide-lines will affect the amount of marine debris
being washed up. During 101 the weather at Pez Maya was fairly calm, which may explain
why so little rubbish was collected on the beach.

As can be seen in figures 4-1 and 4-3 plastic dominates the collection across almost all
phases, except for 064. This is likely to be because plastic is generated in large quantities
by humans, remains in the environment for long periods of time and is very light.
Therefore plastic is able to be carried over many miles and deposited far from its source.
Heavier items such as metals are not as abundant in beach litter because they are likely to
sink before reaching the shore.

Plastic is probably the most damaging litter category that we monitor. This is due to the
fact that it can absorb and release poisons into the environment and because it persists in
the environment for many years. Plastic does not fully decompose; instead it breaks down
into small particles resembling plankton which are frequently ingested by marine creatures
and birds. Plastics can also entangle and suffocate wildlife.

The comparative results of litter composition between phases at Pez Maya show some
variation (figure 4-3). The methodology for the beach cleans has changed slightly over the
years, which can account for some of the differences. For example, prior to 2006 the data

© GVI – 2010 Page 45

was recorded as specific items collected, rather than grouping the items into categories.
During phase 061 the fabric, medical waste and other categories were not used and in 063
the rope and plastic categories were combined. The number of collections carried out also
varies between phases, possibly because of bad weather or commitments made by GVI,
such as community work, which occasionally cause one or more weeks to be missed. For
example in 073 only four collections were carried out and no data was collected for 062.
For this reason, Figure 4-4 only takes into account the first 6 collections in each phase to
give a more accurate reflection of litter collected without differences introduced by different
collection efforts.

In 092 a new initiative was implemented which involved cleaning the area along the length
of the shore from the bridge to the point south of Pez Maya in an attempt to improve the
aesthetics of the beach and reduce the litter prior to the beginning of the main nesting
season for turtles and birds. This collection was not quantified and was expected to impact
the data as it would reduce the amount of litter arriving in the transect area by longshore
drift. This could account for some of the reduction seen in phase 101 from the same phase
of previous years. In the two phases prior to beginning to clean this area, the amount of
litter collected increased. This may indicate that the majority of the litter is not transported
into the transect by longshore drift, or that the effects of weather on the amount of litter
washed up are more important than those of longshore drift. It will therefore be more
interesting to compare phases at the same time of year to examine the effects of
longshore drift on litter deposition at Pez Maya.

Although efforts are made to collect only marine debris, it is clear that not all litter is
washed ashore and that part of it, as yet unquantified, comes from recreational activities
and people visiting the beach. It was thought that rubbish bins placed at the bridge in 082
may have reduced litter, accounting for some of the apparent decrease in the following
phases in comparison to previous years. However many of these bins have since been
removed or destroyed so it is not possible to be sure if subsequent collections are a result
of marine debris or local waste. The rubbish bins did require emptying frequently, which is
a good sign that people will responsibly dispose of their rubbish if given the facilities to do
so. Signs encouraging people to keep the lagoon and beach clean have been put up on

© GVI – 2010 Page 46

and around the bridge to continue to remind visitors of the impact rubbish can have on the

Although in many countries efforts are being made to reduce the amount of plastic and
other wastes that humans use, oceans do not respect national boundaries and litter may
wash up on shore having been carried from one country to another. With the amount of
waste that can remain in oceanic currents for years without sinking or biodegrading, it is
likely that a reduction in the amount of waste produced now will not be noticed along our
shorelines for many years.

© GVI – 2010 Page 47

5. Bird Survey Programme

GVI Pez Maya initiated a birding project in January 2006. This has been continued and
developed by volunteers and staff of the MBRS reef monitoring project based at Pez

5.1 Aims
The aims of the bird project are to:

• Develop a comprehensive species list for the area.

• Gain an idea of the abundance and diversity of bird species. Long-term bird data
gathered over a sustained period could highlight trends not noticeable to short-term
surveys and could support some of the other, more detailed, bird studies being
conducted in the Sian Ka’an reserve.
• Educate the volunteers in bird identification techniques, expanding on their general
identification skills. The birding project also provides a good opportunity to obtain a
better understanding of area diversity and the ecosystem as a whole.
• Consider the overall success of the project and consider possible means for its
future development.

5.2 Background
With regard to avi-fauna, Mexico, Central and South America can be divided into three
distinct regions separated by mountain ranges: the Pacific slope, the Interior and the
Atlantic slope. These regions can be further divided into other sub-zones, based on a
variety of habitats.

The Yucatan Peninsula lies on the Atlantic slope and is geographically very different from
the rest of Mexico: a low-level limestone shelf on the east coast extending north into the
Caribbean. The vegetation ranges from rainforest in the south to arid scrub environments
in the north. The coastlines are predominantly sandy beaches but also include extensive
networks of mangroves and lagoons, providing a wide variety of habitats capable of
supporting large resident populations of birds.

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Due to the location of the Yucatan peninsula, its population of resident breeders is
significantly enlarged by seasonal migrants. There are four different types of migratory
birds: Winter visitors migrate south from North America during the winter, from August to
May. Summer residents live and breed in Mexico but migrate to South America for the
winter months. Transient migrants are birds that breed in North America and migrate to
South America in the winter but stop or pass through Mexico. Pelagic visitors are birds that
live offshore but stop or pass through the region.

Pez Maya is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (SKBR) on a narrow peninsula
southeast of Tulum between a large network of mangrove lagoons and the Caribbean Sea.
SKBR contains three key ecosystems; marine environment, wetland and forest. The
reserve is thought to contain 372 bird species (Mackinnin, 2005).

5.3 Methodology
Bird monitoring surveys are conducted using simple methods based on the methodology
of GVI Costa Rica’s bird monitoring program. Groups of two volunteers accompanied by a
member of staff monitor for 30 to 40 minutes each morning, along one of the five
predefined transects. These transects were selected to cover a range of habitats, including
coastline, mangroves, lagoon, littoral forest, secondary growth and scrub. To reduce
duplication of data, recordings are taken in one direction only, attempting to avoid double-
counting. In some cases where, a large flock was observed, numbers could only be

Species are identified to the highest taxonomic level possible according to the time the
recorder has to properly recognise the key features and their experience. Inexperienced
birders learn to identify birds in the field by describing the birds to one another and using
field guides and binoculars. Visual identification is used, although easily recognisable and
distinct calls may also be used where an experienced recorder is certain of species and

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Every survey records the following information: location, date, start time, end time,
volunteers and number of each species seen. Wind and cloud cover are also recorded to
allow consideration of physical parameters. Cloud cover is estimated as in the reef
surveying programme, whereas wind strength is estimated and assigned a number, based
on the criteria of the Beaufort scale. The data is entered into Microsoft Excel for analysis.

5.4 Results
40 transects were carried out this phase, 8 transects at each site. Each transect lasted an
average of 33 minutes (range 23 - 48 minutes) and was conducted by between 1 and 4
observers. A total of 1682 individuals were recorded, 1505 of which were identified to
species level and 177 to genus level.

Figure 5-1 shows the percentage of the species of birds observed in 101. The group
“Others” regroup the less common species, with a percentage of 1 % or less. It can be
seen that the most commonly counted species was the Royal Turn with 278 sightings,
followed by the White Winged Dove (202 sightings), the Magnificient Frigattebird (148
sightings), the Great Tailed Grackael (130 sightings), Ruddy Turnstone (127 sightings) and
the Brown Pelican (104 sightings).

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Figure 5-1. Composition of total bird sightings in 101 (“Others” refer to species presenting a
percentage of 1% or less).

Figure 5-2 shows the most commonly recorded species (more than 50 individuals in any
phase) in 101 phase and in the same phase of the previous year (091). The Royal Tern
was the most frequently recorded species in both years, showing higher numbers (two
times more) in 101 phase (278) than in 091(182). The White Winged Dove and the White
Ibis showed as well two times more individuals in 101 (202 and 57 respectively) than in
091 (89 and 31 respectively). The species that showed more different results from one
phase to the other was the Great Blue Heron, being six times more abundant in 101 than
in 091 phases. The species that were more abundant in 091 were the Sanderling (161 in
091 and 37 in 101) and the Turkey Vulture (58 in 091and 27 in 101). All the other species
present similar numbers between both phases.

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Figure 5-2. Most commonly recorded species (more than 50) in 101 compared to 091.

Figure 5-3 shows the most common sightings according to status. Almost half of species
sighted this phase are resident breeders (45 %), with the winter (non breeding) visitors
being the second most common category (38% while in the previous phase, 094, it was of
31 %). The 17 % left belongs to the status of breeding colony. Neither transient migrants
nor summer resident breeders were sighted during this phase.

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Figure 5-3. Bird sightings by status.

A similar proportion is observed for the more sighted species (more than 50) since six
individuals are resident breeders, three are winter visitors and two are breeding colony.

As expected, the percentage of winter visitors is higher than in the previous phase (094)
since 101 is a fully winter phase (figure 5-3). Some species already sighted in 094 started
to be more common in 101, such as the Yellowthroat warbler (from one individual in 094 to
16 in 101), the Roseate spoonbill (from 19 individuals in 094 to 35 in 101) and the
Sandwich tern (from no individuals in 094 to 25 in 101).

5.5 Discussion
The Yucatan peninsula lies along a major migratory route for many species of birds.
Fluctuations in the presence and numbers of many species are therefore expected to be
observed between phases, reflecting seasonal migration or breeding patterns, whether
localised or widespread. 101 is a winter phase, which explains the higher number of winter
visitors and the lack of summer resident breeders.

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The comparison between phases at the same time of year is expected to show the
presence of the same types of migratory species. This was verified since the more sighted
birds (more than 50 sightings) were similar in both phases. Proportions vary between
phases, which can represent either a fluctuation in population or in recording and recorder
differences between years.

Most of the species observed during this phase are resident breeders. It is probable that
resident individuals were observed regularly and that their home ranges would cover more
than one transect area, as all 5 of the transects are relatively close together. This would
account for the apparently high frequency of some species, but this could only be
assessed by marking individuals, which is unlikely to happen.

5.6 Limitations and error

There have been several changes in methodology since the project was initiated in 2006,
which makes it difficult to make a direct comparison of the data over the 3 years of
surveying. These changes include a standardisation of the monitoring to ensure equal
numbers of transects are surveyed. The project also initially included incidental sightings
and made use of mist-netting by visiting bird experts. Mist-netting has not been available
recently and so cannot be included in the data, although if available in future it will be
invaluable to further increase the species list and improve the identification skills of
observers. Another change this year is to limit identification by sound to the more
distinctive species, as call recognition proved to be extremely difficult for inexperienced
observers. Time and personnel limitations mean that there have also been variations in
numbers of observers and in the length of time spent on a transect on different days,
which may have influenced the results. The new methodology must be applied over a few
years before we will have sufficient data to extract any long-term trends.

Besides the above-mentioned changes in methodology over time, another source of bias
is to do with the difficulty of observing and identifying bird species. Despite the efforts done
to correctly identify birds, in some cases, individuals can only be identified to family level.
In other cases they are not identified at all or perhaps mis-identified because of the
difficulty observing them, either because of their cryptic colouration, enclosed habitat,

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similarity with other species (e.g. Tyrannus kingbirds) or being simply too active or shy to
observe closely.

The experience level and number of observers could also affect identification: as
observers become more accustomed to observing birds and learn to recognise individual
species, they are more likely to notice those individuals and improve on their observational
skills with time, which might be reflected in the data collected throughout the time.
For the reasons above mentioned, this study is probably not sufficiently accurate to obtain
scientificly robust data about populations in the area, but it can achieve the aims of this
bird project by giving an idea of diversity, improving identification skills and increasing
awareness of the ecosystem among the VOLUNTEERs, and of increasing the species list
for the area.

5.7 Future work

We will aim to further reduce variation between transects as much as possible; so that a
long term data-base can be obtained that will hopefully show any trends. Despite the
limitations of the methodology, it would be interesting to apply statistical analysis once a
sufficiently large data set has been gathered to determine if there are significant changes
over time.

We will continue to expand on the species list for the area, working with visiting bird
experts to ensure that we build on our birding programme and draw on their expertise to
help staff and VOLUNTEERs at Pez Maya to identify the common bird species in the

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6. Community Work

This phase we had a lot of community work. The army came twice to receive English
lessons. We went several times to encourage them to come but they didn’t. The fact that
they change their staff every month makes difficult to continue with the lessons. However
we will try again next phase.

We visited Punta Allen 9 times. With the 6 to 8 years old group we worked with different
things like body parts, numbers, colours, professions, transportation, shapes, and played
different games to reinforce the knowledge.
With the older group we worked with the tenses: present, past, present continuos and

We invited the Kids club to come to Pez Maya to have different activities. This times the
parents were involved and they received and EFR child care course. All the mothers
watched the EFR video and also had a practical session where they had to practice with
the baby dummy. They also participated on other games.

The children received a talk about the Rainbow parrotfish life cycle to explain the
importance of the mangroves, lagoon and the reef. After that, they had a game where they
had to collect some food to survive, first on the mangrove, then on the lagoon and finally
on the reef. They also played to put the right part of the body on the fish. We had another
talk about rubbish where the participated a lot. After that, we showed them some
handcrafts that they can make with rubbish and also we had three games. One the first
one they had to throw the rubbish in the right place; on the second one, they had to
separate the rubbish in buckets and a last one where they could make a song using glass
bottles filled with water. After these activitie, we had the Pez Maya Olimpics, which had
some games like spit the seed, tog of war, and the great race. Everybody had a great time
and they are keen to come back in the future.

On our last visit to Punta Allen; we had a big meeting with some parents to try to start a
recycling programme. They are very keen in participating and we came out with a few

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ideas to start the programme in the school, then in the houses and finally in the town. Next
phase we are planning to do monthly beach cleans and give maintainance to the recycling

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7. References

Almada-Villela P.C., Sale P.F., Gold-Bouchot G., Kjerfve B. 2003. Manual of Methods for
the MBRS Synoptic Monitoring System: Selected Methods for Monitoring Physical and
Biological Parameters for Use in the Mesoamerican Region. Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Systems Project (MBRS).

Froese, R. and Pauly, D. 2006. FishBase. Accessed June 2006.

Gyory J., Mariano A. J., Ryan E. H. 2006. The Caribbean Current. Ocean Surface

Padilla C., Gutierrez D. Lara M., Garcia C. 1992. Coral Reefs of the Biosphere Reserve of
Sian Ka’an, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Proceedings of the International Coral Reef
Symposium, Guam. 2, 986-992.

Woods-Ballard A.J., Rix C.E., Gwenin S.R. (Eds). 2005. Global Vision International, Pez
Maya, Annual Report. In Collaboration with Amigos de Sian Ka'an and Comisión Nacional
de Areas Naturales Protegidas. Global Vision International, Mexico Report Series No. 002
ISSN 1748-9369.

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