The Roatan Reef Guardians (RRG), a local community of passionate and eco-conscious individuals hosted a humble but well organized event, in West End, Roatan. Their goal was to celebrate a very important date in the conservationist calendar – World Oceans Day. This group of nearly 20 volunteers assembled several of Roatan’s stalwart conservation institutions for an afternoon filled with lectures and presentations about the work they do, efforts which although vary in scope, are aimed towards the one thing they all have in common, their love and appreciation for the ocean.
Since their inception near the end of 2017, these stewards of the seas have been pursuing different activities aimed at finding ways to protect our oceans and our coral reefs. They have hosted electronic music parties and dance workshops as a way to collect funds to organize a variety of projects, such as educational snorkel trips for children, as well as volunteering with the Bay Islands Coastal Cleanup (BICCU) and the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center staff, organizations responsible for coordinating large-scale beach cleanups.
Their most recent endeavor was honoring our oceans on June 8th. A day marked by global celebrations in honor of this valuable resource that connects us all and one which the Bay Islands so highly depends on. For this occasion, they managed to convert the Off the Hook Bar & Restaurant in West End into a makeshift convention center, where they set up an “eco fair”-like event with the help of some of the Bay Islands’ most active conservation organizations. The idea was for The Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), the Bay Islands Reef Restoration program, the Go Blue Bay Islands initiative, Mar Alliance Honduras, the Roatan Marine Park, and Subway Watersports, to come together under one roof (something that does not happen very often), to help raise awareness on the importance of protecting our precious oceans. In addition, these organizations had a chance to set up and host their own informational booth and display some of the work they do so diligently.
The event also included morning activities for kids that began with a snorkel tour organized by Go Blue member Ecodivers together with the Roatan Marine Park. The youngsters in attendance received hands on instruction on how to identify fish and coral species in the Half Moon Bay area. This enlightening excursion was followed by a fun paint party that was sponsored by Dip & Sip Roatan, where the participating boys and girls, guided by an instructor, had the opportunity to express their creativity on canvas, drawing their inspiration directly from the ocean.
However, the main attraction were the organizations and their representatives who succeeded in transmitting a full dose of marine conservation education to a group of high school students from the Methodist Bilingual Education Center in French Harbor. It all began with a crash course on Rays and Sharks by the Mar Alliance’s, Research Associate, Ely Agustinus, who delivered a comprehensive message about the importance of these majestic creatures, including the bad rap they get in social media and movies, in contradiction with the crucial role they play as an Apex predator in the food chain. Manlio Martinez from the Go Blue Bay Islands initiative took the floor next and gave some valuable insight into the importance of practicing sustainable tourism in a destination like Roatan, and the little things we all can do to minimize our impacts on our fragile environment, such as selecting sustainable seafood, limiting the use of plastics, minimizing energy, and reducing water consumption, among others. Tripp Funderburk from the Bay Islands Reef Restoration program delved deep into coral reef ecology and their mission to repopulate Roatan with the threatened Staghorn and Elkhorn coral species and how this coral restoration project ties into the GoPro Green dive master training program at Subway Watersports. Tripp’s associate, Daryl Craig-Jones revealed another side project they have ventured on, one which Go Blue fully endorses, which is the promotion and distribution of biodegradable and reef safe sunscreens such as Stream2Sea, a product that is mineral based as opposed to the regular commercial brands that contain the coral bleaching chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The education and understanding about our oceans continued with the participation of the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) and their Coordinator for Community Development, Nidia Ramos, who explained the equally vital role mangroves play in favor of our oceans, coral reefs and fisheries, and how this ecosystem is often overlooked in coastal destinations. The day’s lectures ended with an interesting contribution from the Roatan Marine Park’s Coordinator of Marine Infrastructure, Nicholas Bach, who played an instructional video with a broad explanation into the invasive lionfish phenomenon and a practical approach on how to control this species through their Lionfish Management Program.
The eco-filled evening culminated with a raffle crammed with fabulous prizes from dozens of local businesses that made their contributions to the cause, with gifts ranging from free fun dives, meals, clothing and even free stays at hotels.
It is safe to say that the RRG pulled off a very well organized event in favor of our oceans, hopefully empowering these young minds to understand their impacts and act more responsibly and in favor of a sustainable and healthy ocean, definitely an event to be replicated in 2019.