Challenges Facing the Roatan Marine Park

Overfishing

One of the principal issues that prompted the local dive community to found a marine park authority in the first place was the total lack of enforcement of local fishing laws. Therefore, the majority of our financial resources were initially focused towards addressing this issue and we now run a successful patrol program under an alliance with the Honduran National Police. However, a single management approach is not the most effective way to address this problem, and needs to be supported by continuing education programs for local communities. Additionally, it is important to consider and facilitate adoption of alternative livelihoods for these people, and we are making important steps to achieve this through public-private partnerships. Aside from assisting in government initiatives such as increasing tourism facilities and access to deprived areas e.g. Punta Gorda, we working with private organizations to implement projects such as beekeeping and iguana farming. In the future we will be looking at the potential for aquaculture for commercial species such as conch.

Rapid increase in tourism industry

There is now an unprecedented number of tourists coming to Roatan, owing largely to the development of a cruise ship industry in Roatan. While this has been billed as vital to the economic growth of Roatan, relatively little of the money generated trickles down to the local level. This is reflected in the continually insufficient infrastructure serving the island, and there are many crucial public services are struggling to cope with the extra load incurred by having more than one million tourists coming to Roatan each year. While this money should be going towards improving our infrastructure, the only changes locals are seeing are higher transport and food prices, more frequent power outages, spiraling cultural erosion, and escalating terrestrial and marine environmental degradation.

Unregulated Large-scale Development

Removal of hillsides and mangroves adjacent to the ocean poses serious environmental concerns about the health of coastal marine ecosystems. This problem is worsened by the perception among developers that the value of the reef that is lost as a result of such activities is more than offset by the economic revenue that the development will bring to Roatan. In reality, economic benefits go to a wealthy minority, and the local population is excluded from the area, and the local environment is less able to provide the ecosystem goods and services that foster sustainable livelihoods. Furthermore, while the economic gain from such activities may be considerably more in the short-term than other less destructive uses of the coastal zone, the long-term value of this resource is lost forever.

Dredging is being increasing carried out without permits or environmental consultation in order to make way for large development projects such as cruise ship docks. Dredging directly destroys already threatened habitats and releases sediment plumes that contain harmful concentrated anoxic chemical that threaten adjacent habitats and soak up all oxygen in surrounding waters.

Garbage

Sewage Discharges and Sediment Runoff

Trade in Endangered Species

An unfortunate side effect of the cruise ship industry is the increased trade in endangered species, and the practice of capturing endangered species to exhibit to tourists for money. While local cultures have traditionally used items such and conch and turtles for their shells and meat, the new superimposed demand for these items as tourist trinkets has brought this industry to an unsustainable level. While CITES Appendix 1 protects the Hawksbill turtle from all commercial uses, other critically endangered and ecologically important species remain threatened due to loopholes in the law. While it is illegal to take conch from the ocean, it is not illegal to sell or buy its shell. Furthermore, foreign nationals may by law take up to three marine curios out of the country. With each cruise ship carrying between 800-3000 people, this translates to huge quantities of these animals being illegally harvested for use in the marine curio trade, with up to 1000 conch shells alone leaving on every ship. The Marine Park is currently communicating with cruise ship operators and working with the Municipal Police on the confiscation of items.

Note: It is illegal to bring CITES protected species and associated products into many countries, including the United States, all countries in the European Union, and Canada.

Destruction of Wetlands

Filling in of wetlands results in obvious loss of habitat and biodiversity, loss of proper drainage and inevitable sedimentation of the reef. Notable examples of this activity include West Bay and Flowers Bay.

Road Cutting

Cutting of roads on hilltops and hillsides (often done at the wrong time of year during the wet season, and without permits) leads to uncontrolled erosion and loss of both terrestrial and marine habitats. This activity is especially harmful to Roatan’s marine ecosystems due the high red clay content in Roatan’s soils.

Mangrove cutting

Cutting of mangroves is prohibited throughout the Bay Islands. Mangroves are Federal property and permits can no longer be issued that allow their destruction. Mangroves act as nurseries for many fishes, crustaceans and birds, filter out garbage, protect coastlines from erosion and hurricanes, purify water and deliver massive amounts of nutrients to the marine environment. Unfortunately, entrenched corruption makes it particularly difficult to protect such habitats, and more than once we have visited mangrove cut sites to find that those responsible for creating and enforcing environmental laws are the very people doing the cutting! Further weaknesses in the law mean that the fine issued for cutting mangroves is typically far less than the anticipated revenue from developing a property into condos or a hotel, and therefore these fines are simply built into expense budgets.