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.


Finning Sharks in Honduran Waters

Monday, April 26th, 2010

For a prosperous future, Honduras needs to solidify its identity as a leader in the global community of environmentally conscious countries that rely on long-term management plans for ecotourism. Protecting sharks as a flagship species of healthy reefs in Honduras is one way to win international approval and keep the tourists coming here.

Shark finning is an unsustainable method of commercial fishing, non-traditional, wasteful, and it is here in Honduras. The process involves cutting the fins from live sharks while at sea and dumping the living body overboard to drown. This wastes approximately 97% of each animal while preserving storage space on the boat to continue fishing for shark fins. Additionally, by-catch on the long lines set to catch sharks commonly results in 70% morbidity of everything caught, turtles, fish and sharks. The value of shark fins to the Asian market has exploded, due largely to the expansion of trade and growth of the Chinese economy and population.

Honduras is now joining countries like the USA, South Africa, Brazil, India and Costa Rica in taking the steps to protect coastal sharks from being killed for their fins. The Fisheries Department (DIGEPESCA) is addressing this threat to the marine legacy of the Honduran people as it now is working to pass a law banning the finning of targeted coastal species. Regarding the nurse and whale sharks, in 1999 Honduras led the way as one of the first countries to protect this species.

Of note, the new law addresses sharks commonly caught in the coastal plains, leaving reef sharks and hammerhead species vulnerable. With the growth of consciousness in the Bay Islands of the value of healthy reefs, fish populations and indeed sharks, to tourism, we can continue to work towards a marine management plan that ensures Hondurans a bright future as a destination for the environmentally conscious traveler.


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.