Extending from the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula southward to Belize, Guatemala, and the Bay Islands off the northern Honduran coast, the Mesoamerican Reef Ecosystem contains an amazing biodiversity within its barrier, fringe, patch, and atoll coral reefs, and associated mangroves, lagoons, and seagrass beds. Well over one million local people directly depend on the integrity and health of the Reef for their livelihood, and the national economies of four countries substantially benefit from the Reef’s appeal as an international tourist destination.


The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative is an international, multi-institutional effort that tracks the health of the Meso-American Reef and the watersheds that drain into the Caribbean, the human choices that shape it and our progress in ensuring its long-term integrity.

The Initiative was launched in early 2004 as a catalyst to improve our collective conservation impact in the Meso-American Reef Ecosystem. The founding members are the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Meso-American Barrier Reef System Project (MBRS), the World Bank, the Summit Foundation and Perigee Environmental.

The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative seeks to address two overarching questions:

  1. What is a healthy reef and how can we improve our tracking of reef health through a shared vision and common indicators or “yardsticks?”
  2. How can we best convey consistent, scientific information to policymakers, decision-makers, and the public, such that the connections between reef health and human health result in effective conservation action at an unprecedented scale?

The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative concerns itself not only with ecological issues, but also with the most relevant socio-economic, cultural, and policy factors influencing reef health and, in turn, the impact those factors may have on local communities. Ecological and socio-economic considerations cannot be dealt with separately, as we are keenly aware of the interdependence between reef health and social prosperity.

Ultimately, we need healthy reefs to sustain healthy local people. Learn more about the Healthy Reefs initiative at

Key Collaborators


Melanie McField is the Director of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI), a multi-institutional effort to track the health of the reef ecosystem, the human choices that shape it, and our progress in ensuring its long-term integrity.  Since 2006 Melanie has been employed by the Smithsonian Institution and has expanded the Healthy Reefs Initiative into a fully regional effort, with technical staff in Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.

Melanie lived and worked in Belize for 20 years; first as a field biologist with the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (and Peace Corps volunteer 1990-92), then with and Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (1993-95), and later with World Wildlife Fund (2001-06). Melanie’s PhD (2001) from the College of Marine Science, University of South Florida explores the role of disturbance events and the impact of marine protected areas on coral reef community structure in Belize. She received the first International Society of Reef Studies Coral Reef Ecosystem Science Fellowship and the Knight Endowed Fellowship from USF to support this research. She now resides in South Florida with her two children and three dogs.

Melanie has published numerous scientific manuscripts, book chapters and technical reports on topics ranging from coral bleaching to coral reef monitoring methods, marine protected areas and coral reef management. She has also been featured on several television appearances including the TODAY show, MSNBC, National Geographic, MSNBC, Animal Planet and the BBC. She is on the Board of Directors of several Belizean NGOs involved in marine protected areas management and is a vocal advocate for coral reef conservation.