The Corozal Beekeeping Project

DSC_5091A millenary occupation flourishes as an alternative livelihood project in one of the newest tourism hotspots in the Caribbean. The place is Roatan, in the north coast of Honduras in an island archipelago known as the Bay Islands. The goal – to find an alternative livelihood for specific rural communities that have traditionally relied on artisanal fishing as their only source of income. Fishing is no doubt one of the most prevalent vocations found in the Bay Islands, and like in many fishing communities in the developing world, more often than not, sustainable fishing practices are pretty much bailed out the side of the boat when out at sea. It is not hard to find testimony from locals on how these unsustainable fishing practices have led to a steady reduction of the same fish populations that their rural communities have depended on, putting their own livelihoods at risk, not to mention the health of the reef, and now, the island’s emerging tourism economy.DSC_6105It is important to note that there is a unique connection between the reef and Roatan’s success as a developing tourism destination. It was precisely its brightly colored corals and all the biodiversity that dwells in them that first launched this island into the international dive scene, ushering in a subsequent boom in the sun, sea, & sand tourism industry, followed later by an influx of cruise shippers from some the world’s biggest international cruise lines. This unprecedented popularity and its potential threats also sparked an opportune conservation movement led by the local community to protect these valuable ecosystems. Today, the results of these concerned individuals materialized into the creation of a marine protected area for the Bay Islands, a much-needed measure if local stakeholders intend to make a shift towards a healthier and at the same time sustainable tourism industry.P5210054.jpgThe Roatan Marine Park (RMP) – which is one of the local NGOs in charge of co-managing the marine protected area, has been instrumental in the development of adequate management plans which aim is to relieve some of the pressures on these marine protected waters, its fish stocks and their precious habitats. Through education, working together with the local communities, and the implementation of specific fishing guidelines, their hope is to get the residents to follow their advice, allowing for these degraded fisheries to recover in a few years time. It is crucial for the local community to understand about the importance of protecting these marine resources, which if managed effectively, are well capable of providing social, economic, and cultural benefits to a large segment of the population.This situation as reasonable as it may seem, does pose certain challenges, like trying to reach out to fishermen who have relied on these unsustainable fishing practices for years, and get them to change their old habits with new fishing methods without affecting their day to day sustenance. Thus, an inclusive and sustainable solution was more than necessary, one that would alleviate the stress on these resources but also take into consideration the communities’ need to earn a living. Inspired by successful stories of beekeeping and honey production as an alternative income stream aside from fishing taking place throughout the region, the RMP decided to experiment with this option resulting in the creation of a pilot apiculture project funded by the German development bank KFW, and the MarFund – a privately managed fund that looks after the health of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), a coral reef system that spans along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.DSC_5129After going through the usual administrative processes, this grassroots initiative finally materialized into the Corozal Beekeeping Association – a legally constituted enterprise made up of 10 members benefiting some seven local families in the community of Corozal. This tight-knit fishing village is located adjacent to a restricted zone within the marine protected area, in a section of the marine park so heavily overfished that the community urgently needed to find an alternative route to a sustainable livelihood, one that would provide them with additional income, improve their standards of living, and simultaneously reduce their impact on the reef. The fact that this community is also known to possess traditional honey hunting skills, as this is a common trade performed by the local villagers, also made them the obvious choice for a project of this nature. Add plenty of vegetation and docile European bees already present in the area, and it made the fit all that much better.DSC_5059.JPGStarting out with only 5 beehives in 2012, the Corozal Beekeeping Association has steadily expanded and is now handling close to 40 hives. Each one has been assembled using mostly locally sourced materials and is put together by the same members that make up the association. Each hive has been stacked randomly, on a small hillside that features amazing panoramic views of the village, the jungle, and the higher you go, an always available and always beautiful Roatan ocean view. These entrepreneurial and hopefully soon to be ex-fishermen are now responsible for the manufacture and bottling of three different types of honey, all of which are distributed at the RMP Eco-Store in West End, Roatan. Their product offering includes regular honey, honey with honeycomb, and balsamic honey, the latter of which has to be one of their most versatile creations which includes a mixture of eucalyptus, mint extract, and honey, that is transformed into a highly efficient and pleasant flavored, bronquial dilator. Mario Gallardo, the apiculture specialist and technical advisor hired by the RMP, commented on the association’s growth potential as their goal is to help them diversify their offer in the near future and move past honey harvesting onto the manufacture of soaps, creams, shampoo, and lipstick, made from bees wax – a beekeeping derivative product and valuable commodity in the world market.

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The balsamic honey, honey with honeycomb, and regular honey are available at the Roatan Marine Park Eco-Store in West End, Roatan.

Clearly, a project like this requires more than just technical and logistics support, a heavy dose of environmental education is mandatory if you want to achieve long-term results. One of the outcomes from this intervention can be observed in the way the association is now working with the local honey hunters in the area. The previous methodology was for these individuals to extract the honey found in trees by setting them on fire in order to remove the bees and collect the honey. Now, with this newly acquired know-how, the Corozal Beekeeping Association can step in and collect the bees without setting the jungle ablaze, incorporating these wild bees into their own beehives, while delivering the honey to the honey hunters. This is a win-win situation for all, the bees can continue to make more honey in a different neighborhood, a hunter searching for honey gets his prize, and the loss of precious habitat is avoided.

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Apiculture specialist Mario Gallardo, gives us an up close look at a bee hive.

A similar situation has developed in the restricted zone. Don Isidro Flores, the village patriarch and President of the Apiary, has been extremely receptive to the personalized training provided by the RMP and its Executive Director, Giaco Palavicini. Getting the community to understand the negative impacts of unsustainable fishing practices has been crucial for them to start making changes. As a result, he is now a responsible fisherman and is well familiar with the current fishing conditions. “Fishing is prohibited and you want to respect the laws, if there were no fishing laws, this reef would be destroyed more than it already is”, says Don Isidro. He knows all too well how education can lead to positive results, as he has lived abroad and has seen first hand, how informed fishermen can have positive impacts on the health of the reef simply by following regulations. He also recognizes that one of the main reasons why fishermen continue to over fish and disregard those fishing restrictions, is because they always find people who want to buy their product. “Those at fault are those who purchase them”, comments Don Isidro – “If a fisherman catches small fish and tries to sell them to several distributors but no one buys them, they will think twice about the spent energy necessary to collect that fish again”. Fortunately for them, they now rely on beekeeping as an alternative livelihood as they run a self-sustained cooperative where the surplus revenue from the sale of honey is proportionally distributed amongst its members, who also act as owners and decide how they want to manage it and the direction they want the coop to take. They are very thankful with the RMP, because if it weren’t for them they would not perceive this additional income, which has allowed them to follow the straight and narrow path towards sustainable fishing.

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Don Isidro from the Corozal community in Roatan prepares the smoker used to calm down the bees.

But is this project really having a positive impact on the health of the reef in Roatan? There is significant scientific proof out there that the Roatan reefs, in particular, those found on the Western side of the island, are relatively healthy. In fact, according to the Healthy Reefs Initiative (one of the first global efforts which measures coral reef health in the MAR region), and its latest Healthy Reefs Report Card, the island of Roatan obtained the best score at the sub regional level, with a 3.8 out of 5 rating according to its Reef Health Index (RHI). This figure measures the ecological conditions found in multiple sites throughout the MAR with Honduras exhibiting the highest score in all of Mesoamerica in the coral cover parameter with 20%. Honduras as a country also received the best score in the entire region beating the likes of Mexico and Belize but only with a “fair” score of 3.3 RHI, not an ideal score to say the least. This means there is still room for improvement, in particular at the country level where the amount of commercial fish such as groupers received a “poor” rating, not to mention the high macroalgal abundance which received a “critical” score, both key RHI indicators.Poster-map-EN.jpgNonetheless, there are promising signs of increased commercial fish biomass at the local level and in particular in the marine protected areas found in and around Western Roatan. That leads us to believe that the Corozal Beekeeping Project together with many other initiatives taking place on the island of Roatan are definitely doing their part in helping produce these favorable results. If all goes well, this pilot apiculture project could then be replicated in other areas of Roatan, and why not the rest of Honduras. By educating local communities and by providing them with alternative options for additional income streams other than fishing, communities can change their lives for the better, whilst doing their part to boost fish stocks that nurture a healthier reef, a valuable resource that will continue to pay dividends by attracting more and more tourists to Roatan and The Bay Islands for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Away To Pigeon Cays

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DSC_3350Whenever one dreams about flying away to an exotic vacation spot, the image that most frequently comes to mind has to be that of a tiny little island lost at sea, with a lonesome palm tree growing on powdered white sand, enveloped by calm blue waters as far as the eye can see. Don’t tell anybody just yet, but a place just like that does exist, and you can experience it for real in the island of Roatan, in Honduras of all places. So wake up, fly on down, and take a boat trip to this tropical paradise and hidden gem known as Pigeon Cay. This is an isolated atoll located on the south side of the island of Barbareta, the easternmost section of Roatan. The cay sits in the middle of a lagoon with a fringing reef nearby that slopes down into deeper waters. These geographical features help create the most varied assortment of blue hues ever imagined. We can guarantee you will be amazed by the stunning scenery found in this tiny patch of land barely peeking above sea level, which is highlighted by a pristine white sand beach on one side of the cay, and a narrow line of brush with literally three palm trees swaying with the warm breeze on the other.

A trip to this dreamy Caribbean getaway, usually involves a full day trip and a one to two hour-long journey each way, depending on where you set sail from in Roatan and the type of horsepower available in your vessel. The price can vary with different tour operators, their level of professionalism, and the services provided, so if you want a comfortable trip and one where you are well taken care of, expect to dish at least USD $100.00 going as high as $200.00 if you are planning on going diving. One thing is certain, the beauty of the place will surely compensate for the price.

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The Bay Island of Guanaja seen at the distance to the right!

Getting to Pigeon Cay is half the fun as you are pretty much booking an island tour, and getting a view of Roatan not many get to see, in the process. On your way there, you will pass by several of the smaller Roatan islands like Santa Helena, Morat and Barabareta the most easterly of Roatan’s satellite islands. In fact, by the time you get to Pigeon Cay, you will have traveled so much to the east that the neighboring Bay Island of Guanaja, will come into full view.

The main attraction in Pigeon Cays is not just its stark photographic potential which could easily land your best panoramic shot on the cover of any travel magazine, but the fact that it is also a snorkeler’s and divOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAer’s paradise. The 30m/100ft visibility allows for the bouquet-like coral agglomerations to shine bright in color as they decorate extended patches of white sand with large barrel sponges, colorful tree-like gorgonias, and large and small brain coral formations. This flat and shallow terrain gives way to a spectacular sloping wall that creates an alien-like environment filled with large concentrations of fish of all colors, shapes and sizes, nonchalantly swimming by.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSC_3378Do keep in mind that such a beautiful place does draw attention to others so don’t feel disappointed if on a beautiful day, when the waters are nice and calm and the sun burns hot and high, you arrive to pigeon cay, expecting to find that secluded island escape, only to find a small group of tourists relaxing on lounge chairs feasting on some snacks. Fortunately there are no resorts here and the lounge chairs as well as their respective owners, do go back to where they came from and Pigeon Cay returns to its original deserted glory, except perhaps for that one and only resident – a lonesome iguana which does not mind posing for your camera lens at close range (cDSC_3302heck out the image!). Point is, that we want to keep this area pristine for all to admire so when you do visit, remember to always act responsible and think sustainably. This means not throwing cigarette butts into the ocean, removing the trash that you bring with you, and never EVER touch or take corals or any other marine organisms home as souvenirs.

So go on, stop dreaming of your next vacation, book your flight to Roatan, get yourself a tour operator, and set your bearings heading east towards Pigeon Cay, sit back, and enjoy the scenery because it is going to be a beautiful one.

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Rolling with the Emeraldi Club in Oak Ridge

DSC_0410 DSC_0424 The seaside towns of Oak Ridge and Jonesville are not the first places that come to mind when you think travel and tourism in Roatan. For those who have not ventured that far east, you should know that these quaint little fishing communities boast some of the most unique and attractive scenery you can find in the entire island. They really have nothing to envy from the more popular tourism destinations on the Western side of Roatan, except perhaps for additional and better marketing, and no doubt, a more developed infrastructure.

Should you decide to explore thisDSC_0330 part of Roatan we recommend you become acquainted with The Emeraldi Club, a local enterprise owned and run by a local by the name of Emeral Tennyson. There is no better way to experience this remote location and enjoy one of the best sightseeing excursions in all of Roatan than by taking a ride in one of his two dug-out boats or “Dories” as they are locally known. The scenery is very much portrait-like with that particular mode of transportation being used by the local residents to travel in every which way, highlighted by a backdrop of interlaced hills that converge with the sea and meet with a bounty of creatively named commercial fishing boats and traditional wooden houses suspended on stilts clustered side by side – an image that takes you back to the Roatan of the 1980’s. The main attraction however, has to be an DSC_0347intricate network of mangrove canals creating a canopy of dense leaves barely wide enough for boats to pass through. Add open bridges to these narrow waterways and “The Venice of Roatan” definitely fits the mold as a suitable nickname for Oak Ridge.

Each dory possesses its own distinctive character and captivating personality. Let’s begin with the one that started it all, the one that goes by the name of El Norte. It used to belong to Emeral’s father and was aptly named that way because that was the route he took when he offered taxi services to that part of the island.

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Clearly, El Norte has seen passengers hop on and off for quite a while, and thus, odd bits and pieces began to pile up, left behind by previous customers. Wisely, Emerald took advantage of these peculiar articles, and began decorating El Norte with them, literally creating a floating work of art in the process. He took it one step further and started his own little tradition, prompting customers to purposely leave a little reminder of themselves behind. Items like kid’s toys, maracas, and even some old cell phones, are prominently displayed from the boat’s rooftop, with one customer purposely hanging a set of earrings only to come back and see them in the same place he had left them three years earlier. El Norte, just like the Zola.T., a newer Dory named after Emeral’s mother, possesses educational elements, filled with interesting historical facts and important dates going back to the times when British buccaneers DSC_0400occupied the island of Roatan.

The Emeraldi Club disembarks from Oak Ridge and heads either westward passing through Jonesville, Lucy Point, Blue Rock, and Caribe Point, or navigates eastward past Fiddler’s Bight, Calabash Bight, Port Royal and on to Old Port Royal. The tour is a very enjoyable and very relaxing 30 to 45-minute ride on well cushioned, weatherproof seats, plus a thatched roof that provides sufficient protection from the hot Roatan sun. Emeral is quick to quiet down the motor to call out fun facts along the way like with the mangrove canals which legend has it, were once used by the Paya Indians (the island’s original inhabitants).  There are also some houses that were destroyed by hurricane MitDSC_0468ch where all that remains are the stilts they were built on. There are other notable points of interest along the way like a seafood processing plant, a church, and a cave found high a top a cliff. You even get a glimpse of Emeral’s own residence. He also offers snorkeling trips to nearby Horseshoe reef and Cow and Calf, these two gorgeous rock formations found closer to the pristine area of Port Royal.

Ok, you may have heard by some that Oak Ridge can be quite far, but should you decide to make the one-hour drive from West End, we promise the amazing beauty this place has in store will not disappoint you. Keep in mind, that by choosing The Emeraldi Club you will also be supporting a micro enterprise run by a local boat captain, not a big tour company. In return, you will get the real Oak Ridge in the real local dialect, undeniably a highly appealing and rich experience found nowhere else in Roatan.

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Sherman’s Conservation March To The Sea

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Nothing embodies conservation better than a group of endangered species frolicking freely within their natural habitat, seemingly without a care in the world. This applies to Arch’s Iguana and Marine Park as well as Lobster City, safe havens on land and on water, for highly exploited and sought after animal species in the island of Roatan. To be more specific, they are located in the area of French Cay, where local resident, Mr. Sherman Arch, decided to take matters into his own hands and protect that which inherently belongs to him and his community – the land, the sea, and the animals that dwell there.

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Mr. Sherman Arch – An exemplary conservationist.

Let’s start by describing how this local conservation movement all began. It all dates back to 1987, when just out of curiosity, Mr. Arch decided to feed an iguana foraging on his property, only to have a female specimen return the following day. Soon after, more and more iguanas started showing up to the point where they started losing count. In fact, there are so many of these fascinating reptiles here today, that they literally fall from the sky. They are tree dwellers after all, so don’t be surprised if you see one fall hard to the ground after missing a branch – which is probably the greatest fear faced by the iguanas living within this safe refuge. As a result, their population levels have reached an astonishing number estimated to be above 3,000 plus specimens living all throughout the property.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The place is now known as Arch’s Iguana and Marine Park, a family run tourist operation that sends a strong conservation message to those who visit. Headed by Mr. Arch and his family, it houses two very important iguana species, the overly friendly green iguanas, and the often-wary Roatan spiny-tailed iguana (known on the island as the Wishiwilly or Jamo). Both are endangered species listed on Apendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning that any international trade should be carefully monitored to ensure the species’ survival. In contrast, the Roatan spiny tailed iguana is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List meaning it is a short step away from extinction. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On paper, it is illegal to hunt iguanas in Honduras, however, in reality they are pursued by unlawful poachers who hunt them for food, for their valuable skin, eggs, and/or to be exploited in the illegal pet trade. They are even quite popular on the island as the main ingredient for iguana stew, with locals favoring the taste of egg-carrying females making their survival that much more dire. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Arch’s have been using this “impromptu” protected area as a way to raise environmental awareness by providing educational tours for locals, visitors, and tourists of all ages, about the importance of preserving these and other over exploited animals in Roatan. They have managed to turn it into a symbol that sustainable tourism does work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir results were so favorable that six years ago, Mr. Arch led the way and joined forces with neighbors, relatives, close friends, and other local businesses, in order to take his conservation efforts one step further. This time out to sea, by helping to protect an area which has been heavily threatened by unsustainable development. We are talking about a shallow body of water right in front of French Cay, full of large patches of sand and small clusters of coral formations ideal for snorkeling or kayaking. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIts striking physical beauty is only matched by the surprisingly large colonies of Caribbean spiny lobsters inhabiting the area. It has been aptly called Lobster City, as these creatures like to crawl out into open water, away from the safety of the crevices in the rocks and coral formations. This behavior makes them highly vulnerable and easy pickings for opportunistic poachers who like to take advantage of these convenient conditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Although the spiny lobster is not currently endangered, there are restrictions in place in Honduras to help conserve the species, such as size restrictions, and when and how they can be harvested. Thanks in part to the efforts of local activist, Mr. Sherman Arch, and his band of conservationist friends and allies, they have taken the challenge of protecting Lobster City not just from illegal lobster harvesting, but also from detrimental dredging and landfilling operations taking place in the area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reminiscing about old times, Mr. Arch commented how much this area used to be brimming with life back in his late teens when one could easily find bull sharks, reef sharks, and hammerheads swimming in the vicinity. Times have definitely changed since then, and he knows that all to well, specially after seeing first hand, the negative impacts that unsustainable tourism development can have in a destination, but also the benefits a protected area can bring to a community. His only wish is to get the support he needs to see all the marine life in French Cay thrive and return to the way it used to be. That is definitely the kind of island he would like to be buried in!

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Sadly, lobster heads is all that is left, once the poachers are gone!

Life is Sweet at the Beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAsk anyone who has visited the island of Roatan if they have heard the words banana and donuts mentioned in the same sentence. Although this is an unusual combination, it is not all that uncommon in the highly frequented tourist area of West Bay Beach. So if you are one of those curious travelers who loves to try authentic local products and decided to satisfy your sweet tooth with this tropical version of the small fried cake of sweetened dough in the shape of a ring, otherwise known as a the Banana Donut, we hope you find this article noteworthy.

However, if you came and went and you did not a have taste of this popular West Bay snack we are sorry to say you did not have the full West Bay beach experience; thus, allow us at GBCA to introduce you to this eccentric West Bay personality that is sure to sweeten your vacation next time you come to visit. With his straw hat, white Santa Claus-like beard, and his melodic voice calling out the words “Banaaaana Donuts”, this guy can be spotted all the way out from the reef! His craft is distributing fresh sugarcoated donuts to the multiple beachgoers vacationing in this part of Roatan. His name is Milton Herrera Romero but everyone knows him as Banana Donuts Guy. He is a studied man with a degree in Public Administration, who fell in love with the island lifestyle, and decided to make his hobby of selling donuts, his way of life, and in the process help you kiss your diet goodbye.

Known to strike up a conversOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAation with just about anyone in the vicinity, this extroverted but well-mannered gentleman is out to make friends with the help of a large box filled with his world famous banana donuts. We are not kidding with the world famous adjective, the guy get hugs and kisses from repeat visitors from all over the world as he trudges slowly up and down the beach. He even has T-shirts that were designed personally for him by some of his Canadian fans. Of course, there is a theme song too, with lyrics that says, “Banana Donuts, Banana Donuts – is standing on the beach”. There is also the rumor that there is a poster of Banana Donuts Guy at the Montreal airport invitingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA travelers to come down to Roatan and try his outstanding donuts. If you still do not believe us, do a Banana Donut Guy search on Google or YouTube and see for yourself.

His donuts occasionally vary in taste with the addition of seasonal fruit like mango or pineapple, not to mention rum, coffee and chocolate. Of course the island flavor that is responsible for his donuts’ critical acclaim, is the Honduran Banana. These soft texture donuts are made with special care by his wife, and are prepared hygienically with the use of 14 different ingredients, including ripe banana, coconut milk, and a light coating of sugar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABanana Donuts Guy is easy to find, he hangs mostly up and down the beach in West Bay from around 10:30am until noon, only to return at 3:00pm until the sun sets or by the time he gets to the end of West Bay right by the rocks, where he usually runs out of donuts. Seldom he moves on to West End, the Port of Roatan, or the airport when it is slow season on the island.

So next time you are in West Bay, look for this charismatic soul that will surely remind you that life is sweet at the beach. He will try his best to get you to indulge in a donut eating frenzy, most likely you will leave with three, you just remember to take a selfie with the one and only Banana Donuts Guy, and perhaps you can be famous too.

To learn more about Banana Donuts Guy, check out his nomination page at http://www.gobluecentralamerica.org.

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Hogs, Pelicans, and Roatan Banks!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMoving away from the environmental initiatives, at least for a little while, we now shift our attention to a different element of Roatan’s geographical nature. This entry will take you to two of the most pristine and remote areas in all of the Bay Islands, and quite possibly two of the most beautiful natural attractions Honduras has to offer. One is a marine protected area – Cayos Cochinos, sometimes referred to in English as the Hog Islands, and the other is Roatan Banks – a unique marine site which boasts the healthiest reef in the entire region.

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Heading out to sea in the same direction takes you to both of these destinations. Located first, some 25km. (15mi.) south of Roatan you will find the infamous Roatan Banks, an area which experts in the field of marine research have graded with the highest score when it comes to overall health in all of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Keep going south for about 6km. (3mi.) and you will reach the marine protected area of Cayos Cochinos. An archipelago made up of 2 small islands and 13 smaller cays, Cayos Cochinos was declared as a National Marine Monument by the Honduran government given its rich biodiversity and important interconnectivity with the coastal habitats and marine currents of the region.

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Larger than usual sea fans adorn Roatan Banks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA visit to Roatan Banks and Cayos Cochinos requires a full day trip. Both are accessible from the mainland or from the Bay Islands throughout the year, any day of the week, however, navigation to this area is recommended during daytime hours and not after dark, so if you want to have the full experience, you must head out early. It is also very important OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto always take into account current weather conditions and the availability of a well maintained boat in order to have a pleasant and safe trip. A Dramamine pill may be needed for some as the 2 hours plus return trip can make the unaccustomed seasick. Prices for this excursion vary greatly depending on the number of people, boat characteristics, number of activities planned, and the tour operator’s experience. Remember that this is a voyage out to sea, so do your research, ask questions, and choose the right operator to take you to and from safely.

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A Rock Beauty with its bright colors peeks through the crevice!

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Beautiful smooth Star Coral formations.

Roatan Banks is what you call a sea mount, in other words it is a mountain that rises from the sea, so you can imagine the scenery is quite impressive, especially if you are used to different topography like plunging walls or flat plateaus like the ones closer to Roatan, however, the main attraction is no doubt, all the live animal action found in this site. Roatan Banks is so full of abundant marine life that it could easily resemble a marine biologist’s dream laboratory, not to mention fulfilling every recreational diver’s must-see biodiversity bucket list. As one gets closer to the crest of the seamount, larger than ordinary Sea Fans, giant Barrel Sponges, and Smooth Star coral formations begin to appear, highlighted by the amazing spectacle of exotic and brightly colored reef fish species like Rock Beauty, Damselfish, Blue Tang, Creole Wrasse and Black Durgon dominating the blue backdrop in what appears to be a carefully choreographed dance routine. All this activity is a clear result of the favorable conditions present in the area which have rightfully given Roatan Banks, the title of healthiest reef in all of Mesoamerica – truly an amazing and valuable acknowledgment.

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The tip of Cayo Cochino Menor looks like a turtle’s head!

The actual voyage to Cayos Cochinos is an adventure within an adventure so be on the lookout for dolphins midway through your trip as they frequently show up and playfully swim close to the boat as if to welcome the incoming visitors. Upon arrival to the marine protected area you will be taken to the scientific research station located on Cochino Menor – the smaller of the two largest islands which is oddly shaped like a turtle on its eastern side. There you will disembark and pay an entrance fee of USD $10.00 for foreign nationals while locals pay a fee of USD $2.00 per person.

Next stop on yourOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA dive trip will most likely be Punta Pelicano (Pelican Point in English) which is located a few minutes away right off the coast of neighboring Cayo Cochino Mayor. This is a wall dive, also densely populated with a host of juvenile and adult reef fish swimming in and about the maze of gaps and crevices found all throughout this verticaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAl drop-off. Overhangs of bushy and feathery black coral decorate the face of the wall which combined with the murky water and thick thermoclines (layers of water with different temperatures) create a shadowy and eerie experience right out of a science fiction movie. Some of the creatures which can be spotted on this dive site include Honeycomb Cowfish, Leopard Flatworm, and bright colonies of Blue Bell Tunicates. It must be noted that these are advanced level dive sites, as visibility is not optimal and there may be strong currents in the area.

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A floating Honeycomb Cowfish.

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A hard to find Leopard Flatworm!

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Fisherman arrives in Chachahuate.

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Fried fish, rice & beans, and plantains, Garifuna traditional goodness.

Although activities in Cayos (the short version for Cayos Cochinos) differ from tour to tour, a trip to this remote island paradise cannot be complete if you do not stop in the small fishing community of Chachahuate, one of the smaller cays in the archipelago. Here you will be greeted by the Garifuna (a group of African descendants that settled in the region) and served a traditional Garifuna meal made up of delicious fried fish, rice and beans, and plantains. This cultural experience can’t be any more authentic as you will enjoy your lunch seated in an open sided dwelling with a thatched roof (called a Palapa), sand at your feet, and some of the most stunning ocean views the Caribbean has to offer.

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Cayos Cochinos makes for an unforgettable one day expedition. It is a place that is relatively unknown and remains almost in a virgin-like state where time stands still and life moves really, reeeally slow. We would like to keep it that that way, so in line with the Geotourism values we practice at Go Blue Central America, we highly recommend you leave it as is and not touch or take anything as a souvenir. Also, if you can, go ahead and bring donations for the community, they will surely appreciate it. You just make sure you enjoy the peace and quiet of this tropical getaway and not forget to bring your camera and a large memory card because you will want to cherish the dramatic landscapes and rich biodiversity found above and beneath the sea in Cayos Cochinos, forever.

BICA – MAKING CONNECTIVITY EASIER.

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The Sandy Bay – West End Marine Reserve

BICA which stands for the Bay Islands Conservation Association is the oldest protection and conservation nonprofit organization in and around the Bay Islands. Founded in 1990 in Coxen Hole, Roatan, BICA has the privilege of being the first established conservation organization on the islands, focusing much of its environmental efforts in the protection of the coral reef system which surrounds this picturesque archipelago located off the north coast of Honduras. Its scope of work deals mostly with the management, protection and restoration of terrestrial and marine protected areas, through stakeholder involvement, community patrols, monitoring efforts, and environmental education, among others. BICA has played a pivotal role in the management of the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve, a nationally recognized marine protected area located along the northwest coast of Roatan.

Home made traps used to collect fish larvae are fetched from the shallow reef.

Home made traps used to collect fish larvae are fetched from the shallow reef.

BICA has been divided into three local chapters with each affiliate concentrating its actions in one of the three largest islands (Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja). The BICA Utila Chapter is the one featured on Go Blue Central America, however, all chapters work under the same flag, therefore on this occasion we are pleased to share the role BICA Roatan is playing in a highly important, regional research project.

Before we delve deeper into BICA’s contributions to this initiative, a brief introduction of what is at stake is more than necessary. It should be no surprise to everyone that reef fish populations are part of one of the most complex ecosystems in the marine environment and also one of its most heavily exploited elements being pushed to extremely low levels throughout the Caribbean. Despite the importance of these populations, relatively little is known about them. Important information such as adult spawning behavior, location, and depth of spawning aggregations and recruitment is mostly unknown. Thus, this research project was designed to provide a baseline study of the fisheries properties on the western Caribbean in order to provide a basis for future fisheries management decisions.

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Specimens are hard to spot to the untrained eye.

We are talking about a collaborative effort headed in part by a Research Associate from the University of Miami by the name of Estrella Malca, who in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) – a Mexican center for scientific research, have been conducting studies on the distribution of fish larvae, ocean currents, and the different species of fish that are arriving to the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR). They have focused on this region given the particularity that this is the largest reef system in the area and because of its natural connectivity with the United States and the Gulf of Mexico. Estrella, on a recent visit to Roatan explains that, “It is well known that there is a current heading north where different things are taking place at a larger scale but there is a definite lack of information in smaller areas such as in the Sandy Bay area in Roatan or on its south side where you find the Cordelia Banks for that matter”.

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Baby shrimp, less than half an inch in lenght.

Estrella revealed how in order toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA study what is occurring inside the reef at a micro scale, a series of homemade traps are placed in two to three meter deep water resulting in the collection of fish larvae that will help us understand which fish species are being recruited within the marine protected areas as well as the conditions found in each location. This will provide the local institutions sufficient specimens to analyze and reach conclusions on the connectivity with the different habitats (mangroves, reef lagoons, sea grass) which are so closely tied with human activity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA partnership with the Mar Fund – a privately managed fund which provides financial assistance for conservation initiatives in the MAR region, took advantage of the close relationships already established by this institution with local stakeholders to define priority areas. This is where BICA Roatan comes in.

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Measured, tagged, and bagged.

Go Blue Central America had the opportunity to tag along on field work with one of their own – Technical advisor, Giselle Brady who has been leading the local efforts providing technical assistance and support to this regional larvae monitoring study taking place in the marine protected area of Sandy Bay. Giselle and other BICA staff received through a series of workshops, training and technology transfer which set the foundation to conduct these exercises and define the number one priorities for the region.

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Rising early out to sea in the Sandy Bay – West End Marine Reserve.

One thing we can say for sure after joining Giselle while she went out in the field is that this is not an easy job and it requires a whole lot of dedication. It involves departing at 5am once a month for several months, to collect the fish traps placed in about 10 different locations, spotting the miniscule larvae hiding somewhere within the trap (without missing any) as they are less than 1 inch in length, measure, tag, and bag each individual specimen; not to mention the subsequent preparation and analysis. Given some budgetary constraints, very rudimentary traps were initially being used to collect larvae, a method which was not very efficient producing an average catch of about four to seven specimens per day.

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Modern light traps in place, ready to collect larvae.

 

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Multiple samples sent back to the science lab for analyses.

The second time around however, additional funds were allocated by BICA which allowed them to purchase modern light traps designed to collect more samples. It is important to note that a whole range of marine life react to light, therefore the LED light does not even need to be on for long as it easily attracts multiple species like plankton, shrimp, lobster, crab, puffer, and other juvenile fish. Hopefully, once this research project concludes it will go a long way in providing valuable answers regarding fish spawning, understanding peak seasons for reproduction of different species, what is arriving in the reef, inside vs. outside the protected areas, and a whole lot of other questions which will provide the foundation for more efficient fisheries management plans in these highly vulnerable areas.

BICCU – Recycling & Art Mixed Into One

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Step 1. Pick a tire!

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Step 2. Select your tools!

As if cleaning the beaches of the Bay Islands wasn’t enough, the folks from the Bay Islands Coastal Cleanup (BICCU) organized a Recycled Art Workshop during the first week of September, where they hired the services of two Honduran artisans who set up a vigorous art class with a heavy dose of environmental responsibility. Their main focus was on the three R’s of environmental protection – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – with the spotlight on the REUSE part of the formula, where eager participants learned how to manufacture useful decorations made from worn-out rubber tires.

This workshop not only gave local residents something relaxing and entertaining to do for a few days, but it also provided the participants with the opportunity of learning a new craft with the prospect of even creating their own micro business. It was also the perfect opportunity for them to understand the importance of minimizing wastes which would otherwise end up in the municipal dumpster or on a vacant lot somewhere.

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Illich and Omar, followed by Dawn (from left to right).

This is the first of hopefully many environmental activities to come, organized by the BICCU initiative, a Go Blue Central America member in the Conservation Action category. Dawn Hyde is the founder of this grassroots movement which aims to create awareness about conservation issues in the Bay Islands, and in particular in the island of Roatan, a much needed necessity that goes hand in hand with a thriving tourism industry.

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Birds of all species started popping up everywhere!

BICCU was responsible for bringing Omar Hernandez and Ilich Moradero, two artists from La Ceiba who joined forces since June of this year to teach similar courses in schools, universities, the Honduras Naval Academy, and even at a Honduran penitentiary. They came to Roatan to teach this Recycled Art Workshop with a clear message… they want to spread the word about the 3 R’s and give continuity to these types of initiatives. For three days, they shared their passion for recycling as well as their skillful craftsmanship and creative prowess to instruct and inspire close to 30 local residents to construct colorful flower pots in the shape of tropical birds and large flowers, lounge chairs with an interlaced back support, and a decorative trashcan with closing cover, all made from old tires.

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Adding the finishing touches.

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Have a seat!

The work in progress can be seen throughout the pictures with the final results looking very impressive to say the least!

This event could not have been possible without the collaboration of several sponsors and local institutions. Among them, the Port of Roatan, Parrot Tree Plantation, The Galaxy Wave Ferry service, the Municipality of Roatan, The Rotary Club of Roatan, and The Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce among others, all of which lent a hand in the execution of this workshop.

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The final product – a reused tire converted into a pretty looking flower pot.

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Toucan Sam is ready to be displayed, just add some compost mix and seeds, water consistently, and wait for the flowers to grow.

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Organizers, instructors, and participants can all agree that BICCU’s Recycled Art Workshop was a total success. Congrats to everyone!

Dawn hopes to one day follow up this activity with a new project, where instead of reusing worn out tires, the raw material of choice will be wooden pallets which will be reused to create a very useful item which is always scarce – TRASHCANS!

Saving the Hawksbill Turtle

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Understanding the foraging behavior of the hawksbill sea turtle – credit: Manlio Martinez

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Recording behavioral patterns of these endangered creatures within the Roatan Marine Park – credit: Manlio Martinez

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Photographing a sample of the seafloor in order to analyze the percentage of prey items available to these animals – credit: Manlio Martinez

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In search of the elusive turtles – credit: Manlio Martinez

Already popular amongst the well traveled scuba diving aficionados, it is not surprising to find Roatan as the topic of conversation in more than a few scuba diving forums, as it boasts some of the best diving the Mesoamerican Reef has to offer. With amazing visibility, vibrant coral reefs, and an abundance of tropical fish, Roatan has the appeal to attract not just the recreational fun divers looking for that memorable dive, but also a different kind of diver, one that actually leaves a longer lasting impression on the environment and the community. To be more precise, we are talking about the scientists and students who conduct their research studies underwater amid the rich biodiversity found in the area.

With only a handful of local organizations working to protect this fragile ecosystem, Roatan has opened its doors to a number of graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world, who over the years have taken time off from the classroom to live in the field and carry out their research projects in close coordination with these host NGO’s.

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The Roatan Marine Park provides the logistics and transportation – credit: Manlio Martinez

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Explaining the proper turtle tagging protocols to the RMP’s staff and volunteers – credit: Manlio Martinez

Such is the case with a couple of graduate students from a California university, who have been studying the hawksbill sea turtle within the marine protected area located along the northwest coast of Roatan. Christian Hayes and Dustin Baumbach have been working together with the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) – the local organization in charge of managing the reserve, and the Loma Linda University, ProTECTOR organization – the external nonprofit that oversees a series of sea turtle outreach projects taking place in Honduras. Working in close cooperation with these two entities, their aim is to observe the foraging behavior of the hawksbill sea turtle, in addition to its interaction with divers, inside and outside the marine reserve. These studies are of critical importance given that this marine species is facing a severe decline in its population and is already listed as critically endangered in the IUCN’s Red List since 1996. The results of their studies will be highly valuable as they will allow conservation agencies like the RMP to incorporate more accurate regulations for sea turtle preservation.

Part of their research methodology involves locating and retrieving resident hawksbill turtles outside the marine park in order to properly identify, photograph, measure, and tag each individual. This process also involves the attachment of a radio transmitter and a time and depth recorder with marine epoxy on a couple of specimens for future tracking and data collection.

In addition, reef transects are being performed which are basically linear measurements of the habitat where the turtle forages. This involves extending a 30 meter long rope across the reef and taking photos of sample areas inside a 1meter x 1meter square every 5 meters. The photos will then be inserted into a coral analysis program where the percent coverage of several different organisms can be obtained in order to assess the abundance of prey items inside the area where the turtles were sighted.

Once their studies are published, the plan is to pass on their recommendations for new regulations governing the interactions of sea turtles and SCUBA divers in the Roatan Marine Park, Honduras, and around the world.

Just like them, there are many other experts from different universities and institutions who have come to the Honduran shores to study the spiny lobster, the black iguana, and the Ruatan Island Agouti, just to name a few. Here they can delve deep into the ocean and into the jungle where they will find an untapped source of research opportunities in addition to open arms from host institutions that are willing to pledge their support and assist them in achieving their goals. Together they can develop proactive management strategies for the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources which are much needed in a country like Honduras.

 

 

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Bocas Del Toro – Happy Hours & Sunsets!

Exotic Tropical Fruit Cocktails over the Caribbean Ocean - Credit: Marcos Lucero - Bocas del Toro Restaurant

Exotic Tropical Fruit Cocktails over the Caribbean Ocean – Credit: Marcos Lucero – Bocas del Toro Restaurant

Bocas del Toro is notorious amongst travelers for its festive atmosphere and spectacular views of the Caribbean. The archipelago has no shortage of places to experience both. We have compiled a list of bars and restaurants where you can sit back and enjoy Bocas del Toro’s magical sunsets as you sip on a delicious cocktail! You’ll likely find yourself drinking at an over-the water establishment.

  • El Ultimo Refugio: Located on Isla Colón, El Ultimo Refugio’s quaint wooden architecture extends out over the ocean offering outside seating. Guests can sit back and relax amongst tropical plants and soft lighting while enjoying warm breezes and stunning views. Live music is offered on certain nights.
  • Bibi’s on the Beach: Located on Isla Carenero, Bibi’s on the Beach is known for its welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff and fantastic views. Guests can enjoy passion fruit margaritas, piña coladas made with cream of coconut palms from the area, and other great cocktails!
  • Bocas del Toro Restaurant & Bar: Boasting an oceanfront terrace restaurant and an outside bar, Bocas del Toro Restaurant & Bar has unique Caribbean architecture creating a cozy environment to sit back and enjoy the captivating views of the Caribbean! Enjoy tropical fruit drink specials and classic cocktails during happy hour while listening to the beats of salsa music!
  • Hotel Bocas del Toro: An international boutique hotel located over the ocean on Isla Colón is tailored in a luxurious fashion while still making you feel at home. The Ocean Front Terrace Restaurant and open air bar offers guests a captivating view of the ocean and adjacent islands with classic cocktails and Caribbean Tropical Fruit offerings.
  • Hotel Vista Mar: This 14-room hotel located in a very calm, yet central area of Isla Colón provides a very pleasant
    Sunset at Vista Mar Hotel Deck - Credit: Julio

    Sunset at Vista Mar Hotel Deck – Credit: Julio

    environment with a wonderful Caribbean view. Enjoy Happy Hour in the hotel bar while sipping on exquisite drinks including caipirinhas, Cuban mojitos, and their special “Vista al Mar” cocktail.

  • Mana Bar & Restaurant (sport & terrace): Located on Isla Colón, with a design inspired by a pirate ship, Mana Bar & Restaurant is unlike any other. While the outside terrace area provides guests with great views, the inside boasts a pool table, a free foosball table, darts, dominos and a 48” plasma television airing European and American Football. Mana Bar & Restaurant gives new meaning to Happy Hour, which is daily from 1:00pm – 8:00pm. Specials include national beers (Baloa, Panama, Atlas) for only $1, rum, tequila and Jagermeister shots ranging between $2-$3, and a great variety of other shots and cocktails, as well as delicious natural fruit shakes. With these kinds of specials, Mana Bar & Restaurant will certainly get you ready for Bocas del Toro’s non-stop nightlife.
  • Buena Vista Bar & Grill: Located over the water in downtown Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón, Buena Vista Bar & Grill has been a staple in Bocas, serving food and drinks in a laid-back atmosphere since 1997. The restaurants outdoor seating surrounded by a plethora of ceiling fans is a great way for guests to enjoy the island’s majestic views.
  • La Buguita Café and Ocean Lounge: Located right on the water on main street of Bocas del Toro on Isla Colón, La Buguita Café is a great place to enjoy the sea breeze while listening to great music and delighting on exotic cocktails. Tropical margaritas and Passion or Gin Buguita Crazy’s will certainly make you feel like you are in the Caribbean!

Whether you are looking to simply relax and enjoy the beauty of Panama’s Caribbean Coast and breathtaking sunsets, or you are looking to get an early start on Bocas del Toro’s nightlife scene, you’re sure to find just the place to delight your senses! For more information about the places mentioned, visit Go Blue Central America and start planning your next vacation now!!