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.


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.

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.”