Map of zonifications of the protected areas around Roatan

Friday, January 30th, 2015

More on overfishing

Friday, March 11th, 2011

It is not news that the world’s oceans are in trouble. The United Nations estimates that over 70% of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.  Many important fisheries have closed and many more are so overfished they are unlikely to ever recover. If man continues to plunder the ocean at the current level, studies show the entire world’s stocks of seafood will collapse by 2050. Critically endangered species such as Atlantic cod, goliath grouper, and bluefin tuna have less time. The World Wildlife Foundation chose the Bluefin as the sixth most threatened species in the world, land or sea. Scientists agree it will be functionally extinct by 2012. Still the governments of Japan, Canada, and others opposed a ban on international trade of the Bluefin on the grounds it would devastate fishing economies. Not surprising since a Bluefin can fetch as much as $100,000 in Japan.  Yet global fish populations continue to plunge as catch limits and regulations set by organizations like the UN are disobeyed. The overfishing of a particular species does not just damage its population; it has serious effects on the entire food chain. Every species is vital to the overall health of the marine eco-system. Without large fish to eat the medium fish, the enormous medium fish population will devour all the small fish and will eventually starve, leaving the ocean practically empty.  Overfishing also profoundly reduces the ocean’s ability to resist diseases, filter pollutants, and recover from stresses such as climate change.  In addition, many fishing techniques such as the use of nets and long lines, kill indiscriminately. The unintended victims, called bycatch, include other species of fish, seabirds, sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, and other protected species. 

Bycatch caught last year totaled 38.5 million tons or about 40% of all seafood catches. Think about this the next time you eat shrimp: For every pound of shrimp caught, 3 pounds of other marine creatures are killed in the nets and thrown away. To combat global overfishing, the RMP urges everyone to reduce the amount of seafood they eat and to always choose sustainable species. In Roatan, this means no grouper, lobster, or conch and definitely no sea turtles.

The problems with overfishing

Friday, March 11th, 2011

People often ask the RMP about the sustainability of fishing in Roatan’s waters. As with most coastal communities, fishing is more than a sport on Roatan, it’s a way of life. It is also the primary source of food and income for many. While Roatan has few large commercial fishing vessels, which are responsible for much of the world’s overfishing, our marine species are still in danger. Since the first people landed on Roatan, the sea has provided much of the food for island’s inhabitants. In 1960, the population of Roatan was around 10,000 people. Today it’s estimated to be as high as 75,000. As the population has increased, so too has the need for food. This has created stress on the surrounding marine ecosystems. In some areas, it’s nearly impossible to find a mature snapper or grouper. The species’ populations are further depleted when juveniles that haven’t yet reproduced are harvested. This is also true of conch and lobster which used to be in abundance on Roatan. Sadly, conch are now considered an endangered species in some waters and spiny lobsters populations are dwindling. It’s no longer possible for Roatan’s inhabitants to live off abunthe sea like they used to; there are just too many people and not enough fish.

Pelagic species are under pressure from a growing sports and charter fishing industry. In the past six months, Roatan has been host to four fishing tournaments. Only one, the 11th Roatan Fishing Tournament, was catch and release. For the first time this year, all billfish caught during the contest were released. This is a big step forward in conserving Roatan’s billfish as White and Blue Marlin populations worldwide are rapidly approaching extinction, with an 88% decline in numbers since 1960. Roatan’s other tournaments focused on wahoo, barracuda, and tuna. All species of tuna have undergone drastic declines in population due to the increase of fishing and some are threatened with extinction. The RMP encourages organizers of upcoming tournaments to enforce minimum size regulations and maximum catch limits to ensure a healthy future for Roatan’s waters.

The problems with run-off

Friday, March 11th, 2011

With all the rain and the ensuing run-off these past few months, the RMP received many questions about the effects of sedimentation on the reef. The earliest coral reef researchers recognized that coral growth was strongly inhibited wherever muddy freshwater enters the sea. Negative impacts of rivers include the introduction of freshwater and sediments such as mud, silt, and clay. While freshwater can cause bleaching, excessive sediment smothers and kills coral. Corals differ greatly in their ability to resist sedimentation, however most species are highly intolerant of even small amounts.

Unfortunately for the coral of Roatan, increases in development often worsen sedimentation. One of the main culprits is coastal dredging, like that which has occurred in Mahogany Bay and French Cay. Dredging generates huge muddy plumes which smother reefs in areas that previously had clear water. These plumes continue to cause damage long after the dredging has ceased as the mud is re-stirred by every storm, causing clouds of sediment to slowly work their way down coastlines, damaging reefs many times more before they are washed away.

The other main cause of sedimentation is soil erosion caused by increased deforestation and development. Depending on rainfall, topography, soil types, and land management, deforestation and development can result in up to thousand-fold increases in sedimentation in near shore waters. As a result sedimentation is taking a severe toll on almost all coastal reefs worldwide. In healthy coastal watersheds, sediments are naturally removed from fresh water before it enters the sea. Plants such as grass, trees, and mangroves act as buffers between the land and the sea by trapping sediment. If the natural buffer zones are damaged, sediment runs straight out onto the reef.

Roatan’s soil is composed mainly of red clay, which is easily soluble. After a heavy rain, it’s easy to see the threat to the reef as huge muddy plumes of water fill our lagoons. Our island’s reefs are under great threat of sedimentation. Unregulated deforestation and development, illegal road building (especially during rainy season), and the rampant destruction of huge swathes of mangroves, the list of threats is endless. Only through more conscientious development will Roatan’s reefs have a fighting chance.

Mandatory Yacht Mooring Fee Introduced

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Every year the SBWEMR receives a vast quantity of visiting yachts, primarily between the months of November and May, and peaking around March, when we must accommodate for over 25 yachts each day. Opinion of these cruisers varies greatly between locals, with many regarding them as suspected poachers who do little to contribute to the welfare of the island. While there may be a very small percentage of yacht owners who do spearfish and collect conch and lobster, a huge proportion of them are very eco-conscious and respect regulations. While staying on the island, cruisers do provide a certain amount to the economy through the purchase of fuel, provisions, and eating and drinking at bars and restaurants.

On May 1st 2010, with backing from the Municipality, a mandatory mooring fee of $10 a day, $40 a week and $100 a month was introduced. Before the fee could be introduced with funding from Project AWARE, older moorings were renovated and additional ones were installed to accommodate 20 visiting vessels. To supervise the visiting yachts, a part time Park Ranger has been employed to monitor the vessels and to ensure that they pay and abide by the regulations. An additional benefit of employing the Ranger is so he can monitor the mooring field and Blue Channel, which are hotspots for poachers, with vast numbers of conch inhabiting the seagrass.

After much discussion with the West End Patronato and the Municipality, the RMP agreed to donate 50% of the monthly net income to the Patronato from the moorings, once Park Ranger salary, fuel charges and mooring maintenance costs have been deducted. By using money generated from the Mooring Fee, funds can be used to develop community focused projects, this way ensuring that visiting yachts are giving back to the community. We estimate, depending on the number of yachts and the length of their stays within the Park that anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 a year will be generated through the introduction of this fee. Hopefully with this money, West End will benefit through the installation of new trash bins, renovation of the school or any other useful projects chosen by the Patronato.

Ten Reasons to save the coral reefs

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

  1. Coral reefs occupy less that 1% of the oceans but support 25% of all marine fish species. If coral reefs disappear, more than 1,000,000 aquatic species are threatened.
  2. One-sixth of the world’s people depend on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, livelihood, and tourism income.  More than $350 billion in annual global income is at stake if the reefs are destroyed.
  3. As breeding grounds for many fish and other species, coral reefs provide habitat for the world’s commercial and subsistence fishing industries, and are a major protein source for more than 1 billion people.
  4. Coral reefs are natural wave barriers protecting coastal settlements from loss of life, erosion, floods, and damage from storms and tsunamis.  As reefs degrade and climates change, our coastal populations become more vulnerable.
  5. More biologically diverse than rainforests, coral reefs are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, heart diseases, arthritis, human bacterial infections and viruses.
  6. Coral reefs are like living museums that reflect thousands of years of ocean history. Having lost more than 25% of the world’s reefs, if we don’t act now, we may lose 50% by 2030.
  7. Eco-tourism to tropical locations is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry, involving millions of tourists every year, providing essential income to some of the world’s poorest nations.
  8. Corals play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide in the oceans and transforming it to create limestone skeletons that build reefs. Without corals, the amount of carbon dioxide in the water would rise even more dramatically.
  9. Sustainable tourism initiatives supported by well-managed MPAs and healthy coral reefs create income to fund community development projects including tuition and scholarships for children, improved healthcare services, and recreational opportunities.
  10. Coral reefs are some of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet and are integral to our heritage, as well as to the cultural and spiritual traditions of many communities.