Naomi Soman
Naomi Soman

Apr 23. 3 mins

Protecting Roatan’s Underwater Landscapes

The Mesoamerican Reef extends 1000 km along the coast of Mexico and past Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Home to over 60 types of coral, 500 kinds of fish, and several endangered species of turtles, this marine treasure presents us with one of the most beautiful underwater landscapes in the world.

Thousands of tourists flock to the Bay Islands every year to appreciate the coastal beauty, but unfortunately, they pollute the waters and endanger the reef’s delicately balanced ecosystems. Roatan Marine Park is crucial to the continued existence of flora and fauna lining the island’s coast. Thanks to them, we can return each year to this aquatic paradise to explore many of the wonders of submarine life.

Who They Are: 

The Roatan Marine Park is a nonprofit organization that was established to protect the marine life along the stretch of the Mesoamerican reef bordering the island. Since 2005, the RMP has worked to minimize the environmental damage inflicted on the reef by tourists and educate visitors about conservation.

As a society, the Roatan Marine Park was established by enthusiastic locals who grew up on the reef and decided to devote their time and resources to preserving its natural beauty. They are also responsible for the infrastructure in the marine protected areas including the mooring lines and channel markers hat keep scuba divers safe and protect the reef from boat traffic and anchoring.

What They Do: 

Education
The Roatan Marine Park visits local schoolsevery year to educate them about marine life and engage them in their conservation efforts. They are constantly involving community members when cleaning the waterfront, replanting mangroves, and releasing new turtles into the wild. From glass-bottom boat trips to their plastic-reduction program, education is a fundamental part of the RMP’s initiatives.

Marine Infrastructure 
The Marine Infrastructure Program was established to prevent boats from dumping fuel in protected waters and anchoring on the coral reef. The RMP has built 20 demarcation markers, 80 channel markers, and 230 snorkel and dive moorings that are regularly used by fisherman, dive shops, and snorkel tour operators across the island.

Invasive Species Containment
An invasive species is a non-native organism that’s transplanted into a new environment where it multiplies uncontrollably. Though the natural process of survival of the fittest should keep ecosystems in balance, an invasive species has adaptations that give it an unfair advantage.

Lionfish are native to the tropical areas of the Indo-Pacific region where eleven different species are co-existing with other organisms. Devil Firefish and Red Lionfish are the only two species in the Caribbean, and because they don’t have natural enemies like large eels, grouper, sharks, and cornet fish, they are wreaking havoc on the ecosystems in Latin America.

Several theories have attempted to explain how lionfish travelled to this part of the world. Most likely, lionfish, which are beautiful fish, made their way here through the aquarium trade. We can only imagine that after a lionfish ate the rest of the fish in an aquarium tank, a sympathetic fish-lover ignorantly deposited it in the sea.

Though it’s illegal to spearfish in Honduras, the Roatan Marine Park has arranged to distribute special licenses to local divers to help control the growing population. The lionfish course costs $60, which includes the license and a Hawaiian fish spear, and is open to anyone with an open dive certificate.

Community Development
The Roatan Marine Park fervently believes in the power of education, and by engaging the younger generations, they hope to preserve the reef’s beauty for years to come. Local children can enroll in the organization’s classes that begin with boat trips and continue with dive certification courses.

Youngsters can earn their dive certifications from Open Water Diving all the way through the top level of Divemaster. Through these initiatives, the RMP hopes to teach the people of Roatan to appreciate their home’s natural resources and eventually become tour guides so they can pass on these same messages to others.

The Roatan Marine Park has also begun a recycling program to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the reef. By installing recycling bins made from confiscated wood and fishing net, the group hopes to make recycling a mainstream form of waste elimination on the island.

Lastly, through their grant donors, KFW and MARfund, the RMP made it possible for locals to earn a decent livelihood without depending on illegal and exploitative fishing practices. By purchasing the equipment for honey production and training the former fishermen in the traditional methods required to make it, the RMP has helped to reduce pressure on the reef and its natural resources.

Patrol
The RMP works alongside Honduran police to implement environmental policy and enforce regulations to prevent threats from recreational fishers.

How You Can Help: 

  • Only Eat Lobsters With a Tail Longer Than 5.5”-The restaurants in Roatan sell a variety of fresh seafood we encourage you to enjoy. However, make sure that if you eat lobsters, you only eat ones with a tail that measures at least 5.5” long. If the lobster hasn’t reached this size yet, it was likely killed before it had the chance to reproduce. You can help support sustainable fishing by refusing to eat at restaurants that fail to uphold these standards.
  • Enjoy the Lionfish- Please help us control this invasive species by ordering lionfish at any of the local joints. The fish is delicious, and your order will help support conservation efforts to balance the ecosystem.
  • Don’t Touch the Reef- The miraculous aspect of the Mesoamerican reef is that the entire world is alive—even the “rocks.” Coral is a living organism, and by touching it, you risk destroying it and preventing further growth.
  • Keep the Reef Clean-We welcome you to explore the natural wonders of the reef, but we ask you to come with only your diving equipment and leave only bubbles. Please don’t litter the reef with plastic that could kill native organisms.

International Diving Magazine’s Contributions:

To support the Roatan Marine Park’s conservation efforts, International Diving Magazine has decided to purchase a dive site as well as a buoy line with our name on it. Dive sites help take the pressure off of the coral by providing boats with safe places to moor.
While our first priority is to provide relevant, useful information about diving around the world, we want to do more than that. International Diver Magazine also wants to make sure it does its part to support conservation efforts. After all, we want to make sure that the underwater wildlife that we love exploring still exists in generations to come so that our children can discover the same natural wonders.

We want to reach Platinum Sponsor Status through our donation efforts, and we need your help to get there. So, we’re asking you to go to our conservation page and help support our initiative financially. Only through you can we reach our goals, and every donation counts. Then when you visit Roatan, you can take a picture at our dive site. Share with the hashtag #internationaldiversite, and we’ll feature you on our Instagram account.

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