Naomi Soman
Naomi Soman

Mar 20. 2 mins

Ecosystems of Roatan

Though the island of Roatan is about 65 kilometers (48 miles) long, its lush, green rainforests and opulent underwater reefs are home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the entire world. From the mangrove estuaries creeping along the edges of the coast to strangler figs twining their way around tree trunks, you’ll discover flora and fauna you could have never even imagined.

Indeed, whether you’re plumbing the depths of the barrier reefs or swinging from the tree tops, you’ll encounter vibrant ecosystems throbbing with life throughout and surrounding this tropical wonderland.

Terrestrial Ecosystems:

Lowlands


Most of the land on Roatan is considered a tropical humid forest, which is home to unique and even endangered species of flora and fauna.
On your treks through the woodlands, you’ll
find 40 different species of reptiles including 13 kinds of snakes, 6 types of frogs, and 15 different species of lizards not

to mention over 3,000 iguanas. Though most of the iguanas are protected on the farm, there are plenty that roam the wild. Officially, iguana poaching is illegal, but natives know that iguana meat is a delicacy found on the black market.

You’ll specifically want to watch out for the yellow-nape parrot, an endangered species identified by its bright green feathers and the characteristic yellow spot on the back of its neck. If you’re lucky, you might also see the opossums and an agouti, a large rodent native to Middle America.
Roatan is also home to a host of exotic fruit trees including the strangler fig, hog plum, nance, sea plum, almond tree, coconut palm, and coco plum.

Mangrove Estuaries


At the edges of the dense Roatan jungles are mangrove trees lining the island’s coasts.
These trees are only found in tropical and subtropical climates. You’ll instantly identify them by their tangled roots that stand above the water allowing them to survive high tide.

These roots slow the water’s current both allowing sediment to settle and preventing erosion of the island’s coastline. The largest stretch of mangrove trees extends from the eastern most point to Saint Elena.

Marine Ecosystems:

Seagrass

The shallow waters surrounding Roatan are home to seagrass ecosystems that border the mangrove trees on the coast. Seagrasses are better known as underwater flowering plants that lodge their roots into the sediment on the ocean’s floor. On Roatan, you’ll find Tortoise Grass and Manatee Pastures in abundance.

The seagrass is confined mostly to gently sloping plateaus close to land and does not extend beyond the coral reefs. However, because these waters are only two to three meters deep, the ecosystems that develop in the seagrass are often put in danger as a result of human activity.

Coral Reefs


The Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve is a protected area as well as a very popular diving spot. The 300-meter (1000-foot) wall

drops are fantastic places to find sea sponges and even whale sharks.

Banco Cordelio, the bank along Roatan’s southern coast, happens to be protected from many of the high currents that sometimes carry contaminants, and so it’s saturated with deer horn coral, an arborescent, branching coral often found in fluorescent green.

Final Thoughts:

Conservationists have done their best to minimize the effects of tourism on the diverse ecosystems on this beautiful island. So, when you come to Roatan, make sure to take advantage of its incredible biodiversity and breathtaking landscapes, but be careful to respect the animals and plants existing on the island.

Unfortunately, the wildlife has been put at risk because of the booming tourist industry on the Bay Islands. In an effort to give back, International Diver Magazine has purchased a dive site within the Roatan Marine Park to further help protect this magnificent reef. You too can do your part by donating as little as $1 to save the Roatan Marine Park through our website’s conservation page. 

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