TIME: Taming the Lionfish

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Taming the Lionfish:

Can Predators Be Trained to Control an Invasive Species?

By Christy Choi – May 10 2011 – TIME Magazine

In March, on a small reef off the coast of Honduras, a group of pioneering conservationists started teaching sharks how to hunt. A half-dead lionfish, speared earlier by a diver, was released into the midst of a swirling mass of grey reef sharks. Sensing the lionfish’s final twitches, the sharks descended on the weakened prey. Unsuspectingly, a second lionfish wandered into the frenzy. Within seconds, it, too, was gone. All that remained was a trail of mush emanating from a shark’s toothy maw.

Floating in the nearby blue, photographer Antonio Busiello was there to capture the moment he and members of the Roatan Marine Park, a grassroots community organization in Honduras, had spent three months waiting for. “We weren’t sure the sharks would hunt on their own,” Busiello recalls from his studio in Los Angeles. Although not yet common behavior, the reef sharks’ voluntary hunt brings hope of a new way of battling the long-problematic proliferation of lionfish in the region. The aquarium pet turned invader, with it’s voracious appetite, prolific breeding and territorial nature, has locals and scientists up and down the Caribbean and Northern Atlantic worried about the threat it could pose to coastal ecosystems and economies by wiping out the stocks of small fish in an already stressed ecosystem.

Read more at: 
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2070599,00.html#ixzz1MMPLz8WQ


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.


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.

Protecting the iguana

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

In 2004, the Roatan spiny-tailed iguana, Ctenosaura oedirhina, was listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. In March 2010, C. oedirhina, along with 12 other iguana species native to Central America were included in the CITES Appendix II listing due to their recent appearance in the international pet trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Species assigned to the Appendix I are those threatened with extinction, and trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Those listed in Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled. 

Currently there is a lack of information about the spiny-tailed iguana, including all aspects of the basic biology as well as population size, extent of occurrence, and threats. It is estimated that only 5,000 individuals remain in the wild on Roatan, with a proportion of these residing at Sherman Arch’s iguana and Marine Park in French Cay. Iguanas play an important role in the regeneration of forests, with a species in Costa Rica recognized as being among the main seed dispersers for some plants of a deciduous forest.

As you travel around Roatan, you will often notice kids walking down the streets carrying iguanas or ladies offering iguana stew. While hunting of iguana is prohibited by law, there are no real active means of protection or management at national or local level. For a species on the Critically Endangered List, very little is done to protect these animals. Threatened by over-exploitation for local consumption, habitat destruction, and collection for the international pet trade, why do we not do more to protect them? How can it be illegal to hunt these animals, yet serving iguanas on menus results in no reprisal? Sadly only once species disappear do we recognize the wrongs of our ways. To protect the iguana for future generations, our government must take active steps in protecting them.


Think twice before jumping in the water

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

As you venture down to the beach to top up your tan or go for a snorkel, it’s almost instinctive to slather sunscreen on and spray yourself with DEET. It’s always important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and the pesky no-seeums! It’s fine if you don’t venture into the water, but if you go for a cooling dip or a snorkel, you’re introducing a variety of poisons and toxins into the sea and may be contributing to the death of Roatan’s reefs.

A recent study commissioned by the European Commission estimates that up to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide. Sunscreens are comprised of around 20 compounds which act as UV filters and preservatives. The study found that four of these compounds can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, which live inside corals. The algae are vital in the coral’s survival and without them the coral bleaches, turning white and then dying. The chemicals found in sunscreen cause the viruses to replicate until their algal host explodes, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities. It was found that just a 20-minute dip could wash off about a quarter of the chemicals in the lotion, resulting in the chemicals ending on the reef. The study concluded that up to 10% of the world’s reefs are at risk from sunscreen-induced coral bleaching, a gloomy outlook.

While there are so many anthropologic threats to Roatan’s coral reefs, ranging from sedimentation, sewage, pollution and development, you can at least do your part and choose to use eco-friendly sunscreens. Also avoid using DEET if you intend to go immediately into the sea as this is toxic to plants and animals alike. The Marine Park Green Store stocks eco-friendly sunscreen and repellent, so do your part to prevent further bleaching!


We are in the World’s 2nd Longest Barrier Reef!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Do you know where the longest barrier reef is located? It is found in Australia and it is called the Great Barrier Reef. It is so long it can even be seen from space. Ours, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), is 900 km long- 1/3 of the Great Barrier Reef- which is 2,000 km long. Roatán forms the southernmost part of the MBRS which extends all the way from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and ends up in the Bay Islands of Honduras. The MBRS is unique in its biological diversity and socio-economic importance as a source of subsistence for coastal communities.

Protected areas located in the MBRS contribute to the stabilization and protection of the coastal landscape, maintaining the quality of coastal water, and they are a place for the feeding and reproduction of marine mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, many of which are of commercial importance. Also, the marine species are part of a large connectivity linkage. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of threats to the MBRS, from increased sedimentation from deforestation, overfishing of large predators and herbivores, and nutrients from untreated waste waters. All these impacts lessen the resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

Therefore, it’s urgent to ensure a sustainable management of the region’s marine natural resources. The countries within the MBRS have committed and declared the rescue, restoration, conservation and effective management. For this reason policies and regulations are being promoted at the regional and national levels and are being applied from the island of Contoy in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, to the Bay Islands of Honduras. Locally, the Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve is being managed by the Roatán Marine Park, through the promotion of research, education and conservation of our island’s valuable reefs.


Plastic Soup

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Although Honduran law states that all plastic brought to Roatan must be removed from the island, Roatan’s coast is awash with a toxic “plastic soup.” Plastic bags are used for an average of just 20 minutes before being dumped, and can take centuries to rot. Millions spread like urban tumbleweed through towns before ending up in the sea. Plastic waste in the oceans kills around 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and other large animals each year. An estimated one million seabirds also die from strangulation, choking or starvation after eating seaborne plastic. Once an afflicted animal’s body has rotted, the bag is released back into the sea, to kill again and again.

The sheer volume of plastic in Roatan’s waters is appalling. It is an utter disgrace. People have often fought over fishing rights, claiming “ownership” over popular fishing grounds, but when it comes to protecting marine wildlife from plastic pollution, people’s sense of ownership and responsibility mysteriously fades. Isn’t it our responsibility to prevent these animals from becoming the victims of our careless, plastic bag culture? After all, there are perfectly adequate substitutes.

Pilot studies in the UK have successfully demonstrated that society CAN flourish without plastic bags. Major British supermarket chains have launched a “bags for life” policy. These are replaced free of charge by the store when they wear out and recycled. And it’s not just developed nations: In India people can now be jailed for seven years just for carrying a plastic bag.

Where major corporations have taken the initiative, it has encouraged millions of people to change their behavior. This initiative could easily be applied here too. It is absolutely vital that we urge all stores to act responsibly, possibly introducing a small charge for plastic bags. However, we as consumers must also change our attitude – bring our own bag! It is time to break the carrier bag habit. It’s not difficult, it’s not painful, but it IS responsible.


Comparing Lobsters

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

It is common for tourists visiting Roatan to sample the local seafood delicacies, yet according to Seafood WATCH, a guide to smart seafood decisions, it is recommended that many of these species should be avoided.  In this publication, the Spiny Caribbean Lobsters, Grouper and Queen Conch harvested from the Caribbean are red listed (AVOID) while spiny lobsters harvested from the U.S. are recommended.  This difference is due to the U.S. lobster fishery’s strict guidelines, attentive management and extensive monitoring; programs that are sorely lacking in Honduras and the Caribbean.  Harvesting of lobsters without any discrimination of size, number, season or age is a common practice among fishermen in the Bay Islands, all of which are restricted guidelines under Honduran Law which are rarely enforced and never advertised.  All of these factors have led to a virtual crash in lobster populations, placing them on the brink of annihilation in the Bay Islands and cutting their range in half within the Caribbean.

        According to these laws, it is prohibited to harvest spiny lobsters with tails shorter than 14.5cm (5.5 inches). This minimum catch size has been established in order to allow all lobsters an opportunity to achieve sexual maturity and reproduce at least once.  This is an essential strategy as lobsters keep the reef clean.  Imagine a sustainable, well managed lobster fishery where a single harvested adult lobster represents one full meal plus 100s or 1000s of offspring.  Now compare that image to a plate with oversized portions of potatoes and veggies accompanied by 2 cell phone-sized lobster tails.  Which option is best for the restaurant, our fishermen, Honduran tourism, the lobster population and the health of the reef?  If our fishermen refuse to discriminate, then it is our responsibility to so for the future of Roatan.


Cozumel in Roatan’s Future

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island, nestled just 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, measuring in at 28 miles long & only 10 miles wide. Cozumel itself was a sleepy little fishing community until 1961, when Jacques Cousteau declared the island one of the most beautiful scuba diving areas of the world. By 1970, Cozumel’s population had reached 10,000 and today the island boasts a population of more than 75,000. Over the years, the recreational scuba industry grew and Cozumel became a Mecca for divers with visitor numbers swelling annually. In recent years, the cruise ship industry has boomed, and with the island being the gateway to the Caribbean, ships now deliver an estimated 10,000 people daily to this once quiet island.

Once regarded as the jewel of Mexico for its pristine reefs, due to unregulated development and unsustainable practices, the reefs fringing the island have rapidly degraded and the island’s main tourist attraction has shifted from diving to golf. From a paradise to an environmentalist’s nightmare in a manner of a few decades, one must wonder, “Is Roatan on the road to a similar fate? “While those living on Roatan would never dream of comparing our island with Cozumel, the reality may be gradually emerging as more and more tourists visit the island. With direct international flights, the Bay Islands are no longer only accessible to backpackers but cruise-shippers, day trippers and jet-setters alike. With the building of additional docks to accommodate yet more cruise ships and the continuous sprouting up of new developments, this island paradise is rapidly reflecting Cozumel’s blunder. As the island evolves and the concrete is laid, how can we carelessly dismiss Roatan’s tropical splendor and magnificent reefs? It is time to truly demand that we “Keep Roatan Beautiful.”


RMP in the News: A Real Drag

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

The Roatan Marine Park appeared in an article published in TheCrewReport.com entitled A Real Drag, Part II by Juliet Benning.

The article discusses the severe and irreperable damage caused by anchor damage, including a high-profile case that occured in the Roatan Marine Park in March 2009.

Download A Real Drag, Part II here [PDF, 840kB]