July 03, 2012

Tela’s Amazing Underwater Discovery

For those not familiarized with the destination, Tela is a portside town located in the Atlantic coast of Honduras, better known for the banana exploitation by foreign companies of yesteryear, extensive white sand beaches, and a large afro-descendant community, however some recent studies are giving the TeleƱos (people of Tela) something else to show off and feel proud about. 

The findings tell of an amazing discovery. It turns out that an area off the Bay of Tela boasts one of the highest coral cover in the ENTIRE Caribbean! This latest research is headed in part by Healthy Reefs, an international organization working with local efforts in charge of tracking the health of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS). It’s important to point out that the MBRS is the second largest barrier reef system in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and it extends from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, all the way down to Belize and Guatemala, and then east across the north coast of Honduras; therefore, a sighting of this kind can be catalogued as a remarkable event, creating a big buzz among environmentalists, policy makers, and local institutions alike. Applying the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGGRA) methodology, a study which determines the composition and conditions of the coral reefs, local researchers have found that a specific area which goes by the name of Capiro Bank possesses the second highest coral coverage per square meter in all of the MBRS with a coral coverage of 69%. This is extremely significant when compared to the rest of the Mesoamerican region, where the average cover observed is between 18 and 22%. Another major revelation is the abundance of a specific type of coral commonly known as lettuce coral due to its cabbage–like shape, essential in creating the foundation for new coral reefs. In addition, some species of coral which are almost extinct in other parts of the world, flourish in this area, such is the case of the Elkhorn coral, extinct in 90% of the Caribbean. It was found in abundant numbers in Cocalito, another site located near Punta Sal, and off-shore to Jeanette Kawas National Park. This coral with its protruding extensions which resemble the horns of an elk, thus the name, plays an important part in a coral reef ecosystem, serving as a protective habitat for young fish.
There shouldn’t be any doubt in anyone’s mind that the protection and preservation of these sites is paramount, not just for Honduras but for the planet, and as a result, several international NGOs, national and local GOs, and a team of passionate environmentalists are getting involved in taking the initiatives to protect these natural jewels. Together they are pushing to elevate each area as a Site of Wildlife Importance; a decree issued by the Instituto Nacional de Conservacion y Desarrollo Forestal, Areas Protegidas y Vida Silvestre, also known as (ICF) in much shorter form. This is the Honduran entity in charge of regulating and controlling protected areas. It is extremely important that each site is delimited and that a set of guidelines is established for their proper use. Some of the measures sought to be implemented include the setting up of buoys to prevent boats from anchoring and destroying the reef, as well as applying restrictions on commercial fishing among others. One thing is certain; no one knows for sure why these reefs are so healthy. There are many theories but some have speculated that it could be caused by the over population of sea urchins which cleanse the sea bed from algae which compete for space with the coralline structures, allowing for coral larvae to settle and reproduce.
I still remember when the news came out about this latest discovery and I got really excited, not just for what this meant for Tela and Honduras, but moreover because I began to plan a dive trip to Capiro to see for myself what all the buzz was about. And sure enough, it did not take long till my family and I drove to this part of the country on a family vacation and I set aside a few hours from my relatives to go on two dives, and explored one of the healthiest and best preserved marine gardens in the Caribbean (more about these dives in the following entry). On a special note of interest, I can proudly say that the area with the HIGHEST coral coverage in all of MBRS is also found in Honduras and it goes by the name of Cordelia bank. It lies on the south side of the beautiful island of Roatan and it possesses an astonishing 70% coral coverage per square meter… but that’s a future dive and entry.

I have to give a special recognition to my good friend Ian Drysdale, from Healthy Reefs Initiative and Luna Consultores Ambientales, who provided key information mentioned in this article together with some extraordinary photos. Although I believe he needs to receive greater credit for being one of those persons who is actively working to protect and conserve this marvel of the sea for future generations to admire.