Officially speaking, the legislation that declared Cordelia Banks a “Site of Wildlife Importance” was signed in the landlocked Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. But the legislators actually made their decision far removed from their offices.
Last year, Jenny Myton, CORAL’s Honduras Field Manager, invited key government officials to visit Roatan. CORAL and our partners were seeking protections for Cordelia Banks and its healthy populations of endangered staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and she believed that the site would sell itself to these critical decision-makers—if only they could see it for themselves.
A delegation headed by Josè Antonio Galdames, the Vice-Minister for the National Institute of Forest Conservation and Development, Protected Areas, agreed to travel to Jenny and learn more about this unique spot off of Roatan’s coast.
Before they could boat out to Cordelia and jump in the water, however, the group—with varying levels of swimming skills—took two weeks to learn how to snorkel and scuba dive. Eventually, all obtained their open water and advanced diver certifications.
Sure enough, when the Vice-Minister and his six colleagues descended into Cordelia’s shallow waters, they became some of its biggest advocates.
“You could see that they really got it,” Jenny said of the group’s eye-opening dive. “That experience did more for Cordelia than a hundred committee meetings in Tegucigalpa would have.”
The legislation, signed in May, is a critical first step toward managing and safeguarding one of the most spectacular natural resources on the Mesoamerican Reef. CORAL and our partners in Honduras are now seeking similar protections for the reefs off the mainland city of Tela.
“Despite having lived for many years in Roatan, I never had the opportunity to see Cordelia Banks,” Vice-Minister Galdames said. “It was through the perseverance of Jenny and Ian Drysdale [Jenny’s husband and fellow reef expert] that I was finally . . . able to see how beautiful it was and, at the same time, recognize the serious problems affecting our oceans.”
Political dives have a whole new meaning now!
Notebooks developed as part of our Sharks for the Future campaign are helping to write a more promising future for Indonesia’s sharks--and it's reefs. Lined writing paper is sandwiched between smaller versions of the eye-catching posters developed to promote the campaign; these notebooks both help get the message out about the importance of sharks and give the students of Raja Ampat a much needed educational tool.
As is the case in many remote or impoverished regions, school supplies can be difficult to come by in Raja Ampat. So, when developing our shark conservation plan, I made a point to include educational resources for the kids. All students who participated in the art and writing contests we recently held will receive these notebooks and a bookmark, both featuring images and messages about the need for shark conservation. Additional notebooks will be distributed over the next month to even more students.
Sharks and their reef homes will benefit from the heightened awareness, and the students will benefit from our conservation strategy. It’s a definite win-win!
It’s well before dawn and Barie Jackson is already hard at work. Barie is the Patrol Coordinator at the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) in Honduras, and this morning he’s racing down a ten kilometer stretch of coastline in search of reported spear fishers off the island’s western end.
Roatan is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. The once little-known destination has seen independent tourism skyrocket and cruise ship visitation more than quadruple over the past decade, overwhelming the island’s infrastructure and stressing the fragile ecosystem. That’s why protected areas like the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve, which encompasses about twenty square kilometers (nearly eight square miles) of Roatan’s nearshore waters, are so critical.
Four full-time park rangers regularly patrol Roatan's protected areas. These patrol officers partner with national police to prevent illegal fishing, avert mangrove damage from coastal development, and ensure the safety of marine recreational users. “The police provide our patrols with the muscle to enforce the regulations,” explains Barie.
Born and raised on Roatan, Barie’s instincts for this kind of work are spot-on. He’s innately aware of the favorite haunts for marine critters as well as illegal fishers. As a young child, he dreamed of becoming a police officer, drawn to the order, execution, and level of respect associated with the position. Now, Barie says, he’s found his "dream job." As a park ranger with the RMP, he is able to interact with people, uphold the law, and protect the place he grew up.
Thanks to several recent grants from CORAL, Barie and his team have a new suite of tools to help them protect the preserve’s underwater ecosystem. At the end of 2011, the RMP staff partnered with marine protected area management experts—including CORAL—to renovate the RMP’s patrol system. The team created a host of new tools ranging from a quick reference waterproof guide to Honduran marine law, to case-specific reporting forms, and a comprehensive electronic database of criminal activities within the park. Additionally, the patrol team is now equipped with four fully operational boats, as well as a spare engine to reduce down-time. These new resources allow the four patrol officers to more effectively monitor three key areas: Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve, Cordelia Banks, and a ten kilometer stretch between Dixon Cove and Jonesville.
“The new materials have helped greatly in training new officers and Park Rangers,” says Barie. “They are also extremely useful when informing tourists or suspects of regulations.”
According to Nic Bach, Director of Communications and Marine Infrastructure for the RMP, access to these resources assists both RMP’s patrol team—and the national police they partner with—in more effectively monitoring Roatan’s waters. “The new management resources and expanded patrol fleet help us better understand and enforce the rules and regulations governing the RMP, and better communicate with the police and other parties involved,” he states.
The comprehensive management system, supported by access to necessary resources such as boats, is a replicable model for successful stewardship of marine protected areas along the Mesoamerican Reef. Thank you for your support of this project!
In March of 2011, Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced official plans to drive an additional twenty-five million tourists to Mexico over the next seven years. As one of the country's most important tourism draws, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef will face significant impacts from this edict--especially because tourism is already cited as one of the top contributors to poor reef health in the area. Ironically, the push to expand tourism could degrade the very attraction that tourists come to experience.
To prevent that undesirable outcome, CORAL has stepped up our efforts with the Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI). Since 2006, the MARTI partners have been working directly with tourism stakeholders, including marine recreation providers, cruise lines, and hotels, to reduce their impact on the marine environment. CORAL, a founding member of MARTI, has been central to these efforts, spearheading the initiative's work to promote sustainable marine recreation practices. In 2011, CORAL also assumed a more extensive leadership role as the secretariat of MARTI's steering committee for the next two years.
With CORAL's support, MARTI recently achieved two major milestones in ensuring its long-term success: appointing a diverse and talented board of advisers and hiring its first director general, Thomas Meller. Thomas is in charge of coordinating all partner efforts and identifying creative new ways to engage the tourism industry.
"In five years, MARTI has become the most important sustainable tourism initiative in the Mesoamerican Reef region," says Thomas. "I look forward to integrating the individual strengths and expertise of our six partners to build an even stronger initiative that will achieve our vision--transforming tourism into a force for biodiversity conservation and sustainable community development."
Thanks to your support, CORAL has been expanding our successful work with marine tourism operators and integrating our efforts with those of other MARTI partners. With nearly 50 conservation leaders trained as educators through our CORAL Reef Leadership Network in Mexico, our sustainable marine recreation trainings have reached nearly all marine tourism operators on the island of Cozumel--that's more than 700!--and we are now ramping up our efforts in Playa del Carmen and other key tourism destinations on the mainland.
"For MARTI to be successful," Thomas says, "we need to emulate CORAL's Cozumel model, working with marine parks, governments, private businesses, and local communities to save coral reefs throughout the entire Mesoamerican Reef region."
In our last report, we shared information about the work our CORAL Reef Leaders are doing in Hawaii. In Mexico, these critical volunteers are actively working with local businesses to increase their environmental sustainability.
Over the last couple of years, CORAL, with the help of our Leaders, has educated nearly all of the marine tourism operators on the island of Cozumel—that's over 700 individuals! Now, we’re stepping up our efforts on the mainland. We’ve trained five new Leaders in the Cancun area, and they are already leading sustainable marine recreation workshops in key locations like Puerto Morelos, a dive destination just south of Cancun.
Stakeholders in Puerto Morelos, some of whom are pictured in the accompanying photo, have welcomed CORAL’s help to improve their sustainability. We have already reached more than fifty of the two hundred tour guides who work in the town’s national marine park, and we plan to educate the remaining guides about sustainable marine recreation practices in the next few months.
Why is this important for coral reefs? In March of 2011, President Felipe Calderón announced official plans to drive an additional twenty-five million tourists to Mexico over the next seven years. As one of the country’s most important tourism draws, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef off the coast of Mexico will face significant impacts from this edict—especially because tourism is already cited as one of the top contributors to poor reef health in the area. Ironically, the push to expand tourism could degrade the very attraction that tourists come to experience.
By working with tourism operators, we are helping to ensure that these visitors have a much reduced impact on the ecosystem and that Mexico's reefs—and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods—thrive for generations to come.
Thank you for your support of our work in Mexico, and in other locations around the world. And best "fishes" from all of us at CORAL for a wonderful holiday season.
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Asst. Director of Development