Smart Coasts

Climate-Smarting Marine Protected Areas and Coastal Management in the Mesoamerican Reef Region.



The Mesoamerican Reef System (MAR) is the largest transboundary reef system in the world and contains the world’s second longest barrier reef. The system stretches across four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, along more than 1,000 km of coastline and is a hotspot for biodiversity including endangered marine turtles, more than 60 types of corals and more than 500 fish species.

Coastal and marine resources in the Mesoamerican Reef region provide essential ecosystem services, sustain key economic sectors (esp. fisheries and tourism), support the livelihoods of more than two million people and contribute to the protection of coastal communities against adverse effects of climate change. At the same time, the Caribbean coastlines of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are among the most vulnerable regions worldwide to climate change impacts. The management of these resources, including through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and overarching coastal development frameworks, does not yet adequately take into account adaptation principles and options. There is a need to strengthen capacities in coastal communities and government institutions to integrate climate change scenarios and adaptation options into a participatory decision-making process that can inform MPA as well as coastal zone management and development policies.

The Smart Coasts project

With support from the International Climate Initiative (IKI), the “Smart Coasts” project was a seven-year initiative that was implemented since 2018 until 2023 and that seeked to incorporate climate change principles into the management of marine protected areas and coastal development policies in the countries bordering the Mesoamerican Reef, with the aim of improving the capacities of coastal communities to adapt to climate change.

Ecosystem-based adaptation options were identified by means of a participatory and inter-sectoral decision- making process, applying science-based tools, including ecological risk evaluations that integrate climate change  and ecosystem services modelling. In addition, the project aimed to contribute to public policy frameworks with the purpose of achieving long-term implementation of adaptation measures in key coastal areas of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The objective of the project was to improve local and national knowledge and capacities, to contribute to climate change adaptation plans and policies, and to present better practices in relevant national and international forums. This objective was reached.


Target sites

The Project was implemented in the four countries that conform the Mesoamerican Reef System.

In Mexico, the target sites were the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve (Yucatan) and in the Flora and Fauna Protection Area of Yum Balam (Quintana Roo).

In Belize, three project regions were addressed in accordance with the national Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan: the Northern Regional Planning Zone, the Ambergris Caye Regional Planning Zone, and the Southern Regional Planning Zone.

In Guatemala, the Rio Sarstún Multiple Use Area was the target site.

In Honduras, the focus was laid on four protected areas: Cuyamel-Omoa National Park, Jeannette Kawas (Punta Sal) National Park, Punta Izopo National Park, and Bahía de Tela Marine Wildlife Refuge and an 11,700 ha large connecting zone between two of the protected areas.

All of these sites were chosen due to the importance they have for biodiversity conservation and due to their population’s vulnerability towards climate change.

Participant partners

Political partners:

National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)

Division/Department: Yucatan Peninsula and Mexican Caribbean Region

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Division/Department: Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI)

Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN)

Division/Department: Department of Ecosystems

Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines (MiAmbiente+)

Division/Department: Department of Protected Areas/National Institute of Forest Conservation and Development, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF).

Implementing partners:
WWF Guatemala / Mesoamerica

WWF Mexico and WWF US / Columbia University and Natural Capital Project- Stanford University

Executing organization:
WWF Germany

Achieved results

From the expected results, the project was able to reach the following:

©: WWF Mesoamerica

1. Climate change adaptation options

A portfolio of climate change adaptation options was identified through a participatory process that considers local community needs and environment conservation. The Smart Coasts Project - Results Viewer features the scientific results and respective adaptation scenarios for each project location. It can be accessed here.

©: WWF Mesoamerica

2. Pilot adaptation measures


With the identification of the portfolio of climate change adaptation measures, some of these were implemented as pilots to learn from in the majority of target sites of the four countries. A summary of these pilots can be found here.

©: WWF Mesoamerica

3. Strenghtened capacities


Local populations and decision-makers strengthened their capacity to identify and prioritize climate change adaptation options. Numerous regional and local workshops were conducted, and several communities were reached using diverse communication and education materials that can be found here.

©: WWF Mesoamerica

4. Regional working group


A regional working group was stablished to exchange and promote better practices on the identification, integration and implementation of (ecosystem-based) adaptation measures in coastal zones and marine protected areas, as well as to share the project results more widely.

©: WWF Mesoamerica

5. Local ambassadors


Different groups of ambassadors were selected and trained in several communities of the four countries to act as multipliers of information and who could support with the dissemination of the message on the importance to adapt to the impacts of climate change. More information of this achievement can be found here.

©: WWF Mesoamerica

6. Tools for decision makers


Besides the portfolio of climate change adaptation measures, other technical tools were produced with science-based information in terms of climate risk and regional climate projections, among others. More information can be found here.

Communication activities

The following are some examples of the main communications activities that have been carried out by the project:

The Smart Coasts Project undertook a science-based and participatory approach to understanding how climate may influence the delivery of ecosystem services under changing climatic conditions within the Mesoamerican Reef region. Efforts were focused on understanding where and to what extent ecosystems reduce risk to local coastal communities of the region from climate-driven coastal hazards and what adaptation measures could be explored to help enhance delivery of such services.

This webviewer shares the results from the analysis at the regional watershed scale, and at the country scale.

This workshop conducted during October 12 and 13, 2021 represented a free training opportunity presented by the Smart Coasts project aimed at journalists from the four countries that share the Mesoamerican Reef System: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, to learn more about how climate change will continue to impact this ecoregion according to science-based results and the measures to adapt to these impacts, as well as the importance of communicating it effectively. After the workshop, a journalism contest was launched to encourage journalists to publish articles and news pieces around the topics covered during the workshop. All the information and the recording of the two-day workshop is available here.

Information and updates about the activities of the project is shared periodically through an e-bulletin to key stakeholders and technical practitioners across the Mesoamerican Reef System countries.

All of these newsletters are available here.

As shown by this compilation of stories, it is evident that many people are already witnessing the impacts of climate change on their life, and they are more than willing to undertake the measures needed to become more resilient.

This compilation is available through videos an stories.

A 10-episode radio education program in a soap opera format was produced to raise awareness about the important of the basic adaptation measures to be implemented in communities across the Mesoamerican Reef Region. The program was broadcasted in radio stations in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras reaching more than 30,000 persons. This education program was also formatted as online podcasts, the complete podcast series can be found here.

Based on the radio education program described above, illustrated animated videos were produced to reach a younger audience in coastal communities in the Mesoamerican Reef Region.

These can be found 

Different groups of ambassadors were selected and trained in several communities of the four countries to act as multipliers of information and who could support with the dissemination of the message on the importance to adapt to the impacts of climate change. More information of this achievement can be found here.

Besides the portfolio of climate change adaptation measures, other technical tools were produced with science-based information in terms of climate risk and regional climate projections, among others. More information can be found here.

©: WWF

This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI).

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.