story / george
by Karl Stanley Photos by Lia Barrett
Reveals Secrets of the Unexplored Cayman Trench
Caribbean roughshark (Oxynotus caribbaeus), below 1700 feet
during the day, as shallow as 1000 at night.
Only photographed live off Roatan.
many people visit Roatan for their love of the ocean, most
often their love remains shallow and superficial. As opposed
to the mere 130-foot depths explored by Roatan scuba divers,
the world's oceans have an average depth of over 14,000
feet. Most of the planet is covered in waters that have
never seen light and are inhabited by otherworldly animals
adapted to this extreme environment. Currently the most
accessible point for people to explore this world for themselves
is right here on Roatan.
To better understand the uniqueness of the Roatan Institute
of Deep-sea Exploration (RIDE) and its current submersible
Idabel, it is useful to have a brief history of submersibles.
It was in the 1960s that modern submersibles were born,
that interest was at the highest in exploring the ocean,
(as well as space one could add), and that most developments
in submersible design were made as well as in vehicles.
It was during this time the submersible Alvin was launched
that famously found the Titanic (1964), and the standing
record for deep submergence was made by the Trieste to the
bottom of the Marianas Trench (1960). In 1968, six men spent
over a month drifting 1500 miles in the Gulf stream in a
submersible named the Ben Franklin. Television regularly
featured the exploits of Cousteau piloting his diving saucer
and living underwater in the Conshelf habitats. In short,
it was an exciting time to be exploring underwater.
By the 1970s, enthusiasm to explore the depths was considerably
dampened. Many large companies that had built submersibles
in an effort to demonstrate their ability to do so and in
the hopes of getting funding in a government funded "wet
NASA" realized they had invested poorly and began mothballing
their subs. There was a surge of sub building activity however
due to their use, particularly in the North Sea for support
of oil extraction. One company in Florida came the closest
to a "mass produced sub," manufacturing over 20
submersibles with a 1000 foot depth rating and a cylindrical
design. Interestingly this company was started as a hobby
by John Perry, a newspaper publisher. It was Perry-made
subs that were making tourist dives for years in the Cayman
Islands, and a high-strength steel sphere that used to belong
to a Perry sub is incorporated into my submersible Idabel.
By the 1980s even this market was drying up as oil companies
decided it was more cost effective to send ROVs - (Remote
Operated Vehicles) to replace the subs, reducing risks and
with unlimited power supplied down an umbilical cord.
The 1990s saw the growing of the Atlantis submarine company
that claims a fleet of subs "larger than that of many
national navies" with 11 subs operating in seven countries.
The company has provided tours to over 11 million people
and claims to be the largest tourism service provider in
North America. Though the owner of Atlantis got his start
working with subs at depths up to 6000 feet, he quickly
decided that the real money was in taking the 99% of people
that have never been scuba diving to 100-150 feet under,
and the success of his company has proven this philosophy.
It also was something of a death toll for deep submersible
innovation and investment. We now find ourselves living
on a planet that is more than 70% covered with water, with
an average depth of 14,000 feet and yet only nine nations
on the planet - USA, Germany, Portugal, Russia, France,
Greece, Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras - have the capability
to explore past the first 1000 feet of that. The majority
of these vehicles are operated by federal governments, off
200-300 foot long ships, at the cost of $20,000 to $50,000
per day to support the overhead. With such a small number
of vehicles worldwide, operating in such a limited basis
due to their extreme cost, the amount of deep ocean exploration
done by humans is scarce at best.
It was in such a scarcity that my dream as a 9-year-old
boy to build a sub was born. With the chance encounters
of many people that have benefited the project, and more
than two decades of stubborn determination, that I have
found myself operating the deepest submersible in the hemisphere
south of the US. Due to total vertical integration of the
business- (being my own designer, welder, machinist, pilot,
etc.), I have kept my costs to levels that are less than
10% of my nearest competitor. It is for these reasons magazine
reporters and TV crews have been sent from as far away as
Brazil, Japan, England and Germany to document what lives
in Roatan's deep waters.
Beginning in 1998, I have made over 1200 dives, as deep
as 2620 feet in the waters off Roatan. Most have been 2-3
hours, but many have lasted 7-9 hours, and once I stayed
down for 17 hours. I would like to share with the Voice
readers some of what I have learned and observed from these
One of the most common misperceptions about the deep ocean
is how quickly light fades. Due to Roatan's large distance
from a major land mass, and lack of rivers to put sediment
into the water on a regular basis, the visibility here can
be as good as visibility possibly gets in saltwater. I base
this on conversations with pilots of other subs, who are
always amazed to learn I have seen the sun hitting the surface
here as deep as 800 feet. The only time I have heard of
the sun being visible any deeper is in Crater Lake in Oregon,
which is fresh water and so high in the mountains no rivers
run into it, and the volcanic crater lip even protects the
lake's surface from wind driven waves. There, people have
seen the sun strike the surface as deep as 1000 feet.
Surrounding Roatan, there is a thermo cline at 250-300 feet
down. Not only does the temperature change here, but the
visibility at least doubles, as the sediment rich waters
above are in another layer. This deeper water is so clear
that I often turn my lights out at 1000 feet and can easily
navigate with only the natural light. Once I was even able
to do this at 1300 feet. What is strange about light at
this level is the color, or should I say complete lack of
it. As any diver can tell you, in the first 50 feet, red
light waves are absorbed by the water; in the 500 foot range
even the blue starts to go; and in a few hundred more feet
the indigo leaves. What is left is not exactly black and
white, but you can't quite say what is different about it,
because you have watched each color being leached out one
Another surprising fact is how far the moonlight can penetrate.
You must remember 98% of the light has already been absorbed
in the first 100 meters. It is not the intensity of the
light that lets it get so deep, it is the remarkable clarity
of the water. Thus it is on many occasions I have seen the
moon striking the surface, at depths to 500 feet. I have
also had people tell me they could see the glow of the submersibles
lights- from shore when I was 400 feet underwater.
Part of the equation that makes RIDE possible is the unique
geology of Roatan. There is only a two mile stretch (between
Sandy Bay and West End) that offers a combination of being
in the lea of the island, having safe harbors, and immediate
access to waters thousands of feet deep. I have done much
investigating for other places in the world with these three
requirements, and one or more is always missing. If any
world travelers have seen such a place, please contact me
with the coordinates!
The largest contributor to this unique geology is Roatan's
location on the edge of a Caribbean plate. In case the name
of the country wasn't enough of a reminder (Honduras means
"depths") that we live on the edge of a trench,
the 7.3 earthquake that rocked us in May 2009 was evidence
in which most of us took notice. Looking at a map it is
clear that Guanaja, Roatan and Utila are the tops of a mostly
submerged mountain range. These mountains are being formed
as the Caribbean Plate is pushed down into the trench. The
Cayman trench is the deepest in the Caribbean and plunges
to depths of over 25,000 feet. It is worth noting that no
manned vessel in the world today is capable of reaching
Besides being pushed upwards, these mountains are riding
a plate that is slowly moving into the trench. That is why
the north side of the island is much steeper than the South
side. Over the years, various projects, including inspecting
the dumping site for materials from the new cruise ship
dock, have allowed me to explore depths of every area between
French Harbor and Flowers Bay. I would estimate the slope
on the south side to be less than half of that on the north
side. There is also at least 3x the trash to be found on
the south side, as would be expected from the larger population
and industrial centers being found on that side of the island.
The north side is so steep in places there is often a vertical
wall in the depth ranges of 250-1200 feet. Just like a glacier
moving continually downhill "calves" off pieces
of itself, the north side of the island is constantly losing
chunks that break loose. On a dive done only 16 hours after
the earthquake, enough material had broken free that below
900 feet visibility was less than a few feet and the sub
could safely go no deeper. These processes are also on display
in certain areas, for example directly in front of Half
Moon Bay, and also in front of Peter's Place dive site,
where a slab of the deep wall (250-500 feet) is starting
to split away but has not yet fallen off. Think of Mary's
Place, but many times larger. The cave formed in front of
Peter's place is large enough that I have been able to drive
my sub thru it, 400+ feet down.
Most know Roatan's gnarled "iron shore" used to
be coral and that sea levels used to be approximately 20
feet higher, but how often do you see evidence of when the
sea levels were up to 400 feet lower? This fact is on clear
display because of the coral (now limestone) left at depths
up to 700 feet below current sea level. Reef building coral
relies on the algae that grows inside of it, thus generating
due to photosynthesis. There is only enough energy in sunlight
to permit photosynthesis down to about 300 feet. Seeing
the drowned and eroded reef left behind from 20,000 years
ago, during the last ice age, at depths of up to 750 feet
is a stark reminder in the variability of sea level over
time. Where waves used to hammer Roatan's ancient cliffs,
there are now many areas in the 300-450 foot range where
the wall is severely undercut - these are truly dramatic
places to navigate the submersible.
Below this, the landscape changes dramatically. The wall
starts to slope out at about a 45 degree angle and the landscape
is dominated by blocks of limestone that have tumbled down.
These giant blocks of stone, many the size of two- and three-story
buildings, provide safe habitats for many creatures that
need protection from being smothered by the rain of sediment
from above. Below 1500 feet the numbers of boulders diminishes
and the most common rock is the black igneous rock that
forms the base of the island.
Geographic Host Dr. Brady Barr photo shoot in the submarine
One hundred and fifty years ago the prevailing scientific paradigm
was that conditions in the deep sea (cold, dark, extreme pressures)
were so hostile that life could not exist there. In fact in 1854,
British Naturalist Edward Forbes published his "azoic hypothesis"
based on limited dredging he did in the Aegean Sea stating that
by 300 fathoms (about 1800 feet) "all life would cease to
This theory was held by most until the Challenger Oceanographic
expedition of 1873-1876 proved it untrue. I find this to be a
valuable lesson pertaining to the big question of "are we
alone" in the universe? The human race seems to think life
will only exist to the very limits of our ability to find it.
When our technology didn't allow us to see in the ocean depths
it was easier to say nothing could live down there. We have yet
to really explore any other planets, but most people like to think
that earth may be the only planet supporting life.
Idabel offers access to three of the five zones of the ocean.
Those are the Epipelagic zone (where photosynthesis still
occurs); the Mesopelagic zone, or Twilight zone, (where there
is light, but not enough for photosynthesis); and the Abyssopelagic
zone, where you have passed into total darkness. Around Roatan
this tends to happen between 1700-1800 feet. Besides being
totally dark, you can tell when you have passed into this
zone as there is a surge of animal life, also known as the
"Deep Scattering Layer." It is named this because
it was first discovered by people mapping the oceans with
sonar, who kept getting false reads back from the same 1700-1800
foot depth range. This is because there are many animals that
wait at these depths for night to fall. After dark, they vertically
migrate to relatively shallower water to feed, then return
to the darkness before the sun comes up. Besides fish, that
tend to hang in the water on their heads or looking straight
up, orienteering themselves so as to make as small of a silhouette
as possible for any predators trying to see them from below,
or trying to see prey above them. The main animal that makes
up this layer is squid. On some night dives I have seen thousands
of 3-6 inch squid as they migrate to shallower water. This
migration of animals in the world's oceans not only happens
daily, but by sheer mass of animal life it far outweighs the
caribou or the wildebeest.
On most dives I try to go thru the Epipelagic zone as quickly
as possible. The warm water makes it uncomfortable to linger
there, visibility is relatively poor, and my philosophy is
people are paying to go in the sub to see things they cannot
in any other way. Most of the animal life in the first 300
feet tends to be the same to what you can see diving or snorkeling.
Once you get below 300 feet things change dramatically. The
visibility jumps, water temperature drops, and there are no
more reef building corals or algae. Most of the animal life
is new to even the most experienced diver. You are now in
the Mesopelagic or Twilight zone. Surprisingly there are a
few stragglers from the surface. For example four eyed butterfly
fish (which wander to 500 feet), Barracuda's and scroll file
fish (400 feet), Moray eels (1000 feet), and manta rays go
as deep as 1500 feet.
Some things divers see nearer to the surface actually like
it best deeper than divers usually go. My overwhelming majority
of hammerhead shark sightings over the years have been at
300-500 feet. I have seen two tiger sharks (500 feet, and
1400 feet), and tuna and jacks prefer the edge of the 2nd
wall at around 250 feet. The one animal that has no concern
for depth is the hermit crab - they seem to thrive in any
environment, from mangroves to well past 2000 feet.
Most animal life, however, is very different. There are fan
corals growing under overhangs up to 4 feet across with purple
and neon pink on their base. Colorful sponges dominate the
transition zone of 250-350 feet, with elephant ear, rope,
antler, and encrusting sponges exploding in yellows, oranges,
and purples. Invertebrates are the most common type of animal,
with many types of urchins, anemones and starfish found. One
of the largest types of anemones only comes out at night.
It took me years of diving to realize this as the daytime
and nighttime version of the same animal look so different.
During the day it is retracted into its self and looks like
a knobby mass only about 4 inches long. At night it grows
into a formidable predator stretching 3 foot long arms into
the current off of a foot long body. For some reason it also
never connects itself to the rock directly, it chooses to
attach to sea fans and corals. Only after seeing this large
animal so many times at night and never in the day, and marking
the location of where I was seeing them, did I realize the
transformation it went thru each day.
One animal I see on every dive is a Sea Lilly or Stalked Crinoid.
They are one of the oldest forms of life on the planet, being
found in the fossil record as far back as 500 million years
ago. (Dinosaurs came and went 65 million years ago) They were
first thought to be extinct, and only in the last 50 years
did submersibles start to see them. This is because the shallowest
you will find one is at 470 feet. Though they look a lot like
flowers, they are in fact animals and in 2005 were first filmed
"walking" along the ocean floor.
One of the most common animals below 300 feet is the glass
sponge. They come in many varieties - some make tubes, others
encrust the rock, and the largest ones resemble the openings
of a tuba, growing from a central base. What they all share
is a very hard structure that has silica spicules in it, making
it very unattractive to predators. Interestingly, one variety
of these sponges, found only below 1700 feet seems to have
some sort of symbiotic relationship with a shrimp that must
spend its entire life trapped inside the sponge. This is because
these sponges have what appears to be a lace net over their
opening, and the shrimps that are much too large to fit thru
the openings in this net can be seen happily living inside
The areas with the most life are the Lophelia reefs. Deep
water corals are only just beginning to be understood, but
what we are discovering is amazing. Most scientists now think
that there are more square miles of deep water corals than
there is coral reef in sunlit waters, even though the majority
of the reefs may have already been damaged by trawling. This
is because these deep water reefs are not limited to the tropics,
they only need suitable currents and structure to attach to.
The largest deepwater reef found so far is off Norway, but
they have been found almost everywhere submersibles have looked.
I have found two such deep water Lophelia coral reefs off
Roatan. They both are between 1200 and 1500 feet, and the
types of corals and density of life to be found there are
largely exclusive to those areas. The main purpose of inspecting
the dump site for the cruise ship dock was to ensure that
such a site was not buried alive.
The backbone of these communities is Lophelia coral, which
is a hard coral with polyps that live by filtering the water,
not by cultivating algae. They grow in fans up to six feet
across, and are usually bright yellow, but can be white or
brown. Where Lophelia coral is found, gold coral can be found
as well that get up to 8 feet across and have up to 25 large
pink brittle stars wrapped on their branches. These corals
are thought to live up to 2700 years. The most common fish
to be found on these reefs is the Orange Roughy, which some
of you may recognize from menus. This is a particularly poor
choice for people to eat, as the only way Orange Roughy is
caught is by trawling. Besides the fact that Orange Roughy
are thought to live over 130 years and not reproduce until
they are over 30 years old. In the act of catching them once,
deep water reefs can be wiped out that have taken thousands
of years to grow.
One of the largest fish to be found on the Lophelia reefs
is the Tinselfish whose flat teardrop shaped body gets to
be 2 feet long. They have huge eyes, but swim very poorly
using translucent ribbons of fins running over the top and
bottom of their bodies for propulsion. They are so named because
of their shiny, mirror like body, though to be fair many fish
at these depths are shiny like mirrors as well. For example,
the 3 foot long frost fish that is shaped like the blade of
a sword hangs motionless in the water column looking straight
upwards. Tinselfish make their homes in cracks and crevices
of the Lophelia reef, and seem to defend their turf. This
is because when approached by the submersible they will stand
their ground, and if we linger too long they stare us down,
and begin to angrily shake their head at us.
It is when you pass thru to the Abyssopelagic zone that, as
one writer put it, the "freak show" begins. A favorite
for passengers to see is the dumbo octopus, that swims with
its ears and its eyes can change from pin pricks to the size
of nickels in seconds. The Jellynose eel can reach lengths
of 4 feet, and has large round pectoral and dorsal fins, and
a face that only a mother could love. The Chimera is the animal
to be found in my logo. Like sharks and rays it has no bones,
only cartilage as it is a hybrid of these two animals. It
has a mouth with bony plates that is uses to crush mollusks
and small animals it digs in the sediment and a body that
shimmers with iridescent green. It often seems curious about
the sub and comes to the front window and stares in.
Of the over 400 species of sharks known, most live in deep
water, so it should not be a surprise to the reader that there
are many more species of sharks living around Roatan than
the ones divers see. I have observed over a dozen species
including cat sharks (that live below 1000 feet, are two feet
long, and are patterned somewhat like a leopard shark), dog
sharks, white tips sharks, and of course six gill sharks.
Six gills are the largest animals I see regularly. I have
on rare occasion seen whale sharks and mola molas, but have
spent hundreds of hours observing six gills. During the day
these giants prefer the total darkness, and during daylight
hours I most often see them below 2000 feet. At night I have
seen them as shallow as 1000 feet, but even with bait to entice
them, they seem to prefer it below 1500 feet. On numerous
occasions I have had a large female (the females are always
significantly larger) swimming alongside the sub and can say
with confidence they grow up to 18 feet long.
To give one a better understanding of the mass of these animals,
consider on numerous occasions I have been able to secure
entire horses to feed them, and most often by the time I arrive
at the bottom to see the sharks the horse is mostly devoured.
On one occasion I got there too late, as the pile of 10 cinderblocks
the horse had been chained to were dragged 200 feet down the
sloping ocean bottom and nothing but a short piece of one
leg remained, with so little flesh attached only a few shrimp
remained to pick over it. It was to film these sharks that
National Geographic television sent host Dr. Brady Barr and
a producer to film, a television special they tell me 300
million people around the world were able to enjoy.
One of the least known sharks in our waters has to be the
Caribbean Rough Shark, Oxynotus caribbaeus. Though it has
been known to science since 1961, and is listed in any book
on sharks, they are so rarely observed that I have never found
a photo of one. They are very distinctive, with their forward
dorsal fin having a spine in it and being unusually large.
The body is even stranger, with two keel-like ridges on the
sides of its belly that probably contain organs that detect
electrical impulses in the water, much like a hammerhead's
head contains such organs.
Other strange animals that live this deep include a creature
that looks like an orange slimeball. It anchors its self to
the ocean floor with a pyramid of 2 foot long clear arms,
and when approached starts pulling the arms up to its body
and jets off. I have also observed blue sea cumbers with two
rows of purple spines that can flatten their bodies and swim,
multiple variations of jellyfish that resemble spacecraft,
and predatory tunicates that wait with an open mouth for small
fish to swim in and then trap them, much like a Venus fly
In the 1960s, Jacques Cousteau observed that thirty percent
of life in the oceans had already been killed by human activities.
New discoveries show that he may have been overly optimistic.
In 1987, a whale carcass was first observed on the sea floor
from a sub and scientists quickly realized the explosion of
life this huge amount of biomass puts into the deep-sea food
chains. It is estimated that over 60,000 whales die and sink
into the abyss every year, but the eye opening figure is that
in the last two centuries humans have killed over 1.5 million
whales. These whales that spent a lifetime in surface waters
accumulating nutrients were never able to deposit them on
the sea floor the way nature had for millions of years.
In other words, the oceans Jacques Cousteau was observing
50 years ago may have already had whole branches lopped off
its "tree of life."
The figures today are even more disturbing: ninety percent
of large fish have already disappeared worldwide, and catches
have not gone up since 1989, despite massive increase in the
numbers of boats and technology used to catch fish. These
figures bear true to my personal observations. In only a decade
of diving I have witnessed a dramatic (more than 90%) reduction
in the numbers of tuna and hammerhead sharks, due no doubt
to the international demand for sushi and shark fin soup.
In short, history has shown humans to have a remarkable inclination
to destroy nature, and an even more remarkable ability to
not care about what it is they are destroying before doing
I am proud to be providing the only spot on the planet that
allows the general public to educate themselves on the deep
ocean in the best way possible, by experiencing it. I am thankful
to all my passengers over the last decade that have had the
curiosity to want to see this world for themselves and that
have made this unique operation possible.
for Honduras' National and Liberal Parties flooded the main
road in Coxen Hole in front of the polls on Sunday, November
story / george
/ local news
______________back to top
in Frustration - Again by George Crimmin
also need new leadership that has the will, skill and courage
to succeed in this endeavor. We are separate and entirely
different from mainland Honduras and deserve to be considered
by different standards. We have always been treated differently:
in negative and punitive ways. It is not only the time to
divide the Roatán Municipal territory into two separate
entities, from upper Brick Bay to the Oakridge border forming
a new municipality, but each individual Island being awarded
it's own representative in congress - both Utila and Guanaja
deserve their own individual "diputados."
Roatán, being the capital, should be awarded two
representatives in congress. I believe that this would create
at least a resemblance of fairness - today we basically
have no voice in national affairs. One Congressman for all
three islands no longer makes sense, and is inherently unfair.
We cannot compete with mainland Honduras because we do not
possess the necessary territory and will never be able to
accommodate the population required to increase our representation
based on the current formula. We must be judged by a different
standard. It's interesting, when the U.S. was forming its
government and decided on a representative form based on
population, the large states were delighted, the smaller
states however recognized that they would have little say
in government, that's why the Senate was created. Therefore
any law that passes the House of Representatives must also
be approved by the Senate where all the states are equal
(two senators per state) that way the little states are
able to be heard as well. Since in Honduras we do not have
a Senate we must have greater representation in Congress
to be able to have a proper voice in national affairs, particularly
when it directly affects the Bay Islands.
My Fellow Bay Islanders: we have a right to demand to be
treated fairly. We have given enough, or should I say, enough
has been taken from us and we deserve all of the afore mentioned
merits and privileges. I for one will not let this issue
rest until we are awarded our equal and deserving rights
under the law.
We are the gateway to tourism in Honduras, and if we speak
with one voice we will be heard. If we come together as
one, we can get the job done. I have said this before but
I think it is worth repeating: "Destiny is not a matter
of chance; it is a matter of choice".
September of 2007, I wrote an editorial entitled "Deadlocked
in Frustration", where I outlined my reasons why I
believe the current Roatán Municipal district should
be sub-divided. Perhaps it's time to revisit this topic.
However, before doing so let me reiterate that readers have
the right to disagree or even be offended by what I write,
and I am not necessarily trying to convince them that they
shouldn't be. That, I believe would be a monumental waste
of time and energy. And it's somewhat depressing to have
to restate the obvious.
Now back to the topic at hand. I believe most native Bay
Islanders would agree that the current format has been a
dismal failure. Very little has been accomplished from lower
Brick Bay to West Bay. The demands of the West End/West
Bay area and those of Mt. Pleasant are worlds apart. Our
politicians employ the strategy of divide and conquer, therefore
some areas win and some areas lose. Not a very productive
formula for running a successful administration. In my earlier
editorial I mentioned that there is one thing stronger than
all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time
has come. To succeed in this venture however we need the
right people in the right places. I frequently get my inspiration
from nature. It is said that "the secret of success
is to start from scratch and keep on scratching."
Any worthwhile accomplishment requires effort. Take the
hen for instance, hard work means nothing to her. Regardless
of what business prognosticators say about the price of
eggs, she keeps on digging for worms and laying eggs. If
the ground is hard she scratches harder, if it is wet, she
scratches where it is dry. If she strikes rock, she digs
around it. Have you ever seen a pessimistic hen? I haven't.
Have you seen a hen cackle in disgust at the prospect of
her job? I doubt it. Yet some of us humans give up at the
first sign of the slightest opposition. We could learn a
lot by paying close attention to nature. Our current municipal
arrangement is totally dysfunctional and completely ineffective.
We need a change of format as soon as possible.
story / george
/ local news
Park Holds Second General Assembly
New Members to Board of Directors
has two chapters: Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve (SBWEMR) and
the South Side. Reported accomplishments in 2009 were the increased
installation and maintenance of dive, yacht, and fishing moorings
and channel markers; higher numbers of people and contraband apprehended
when patrolling for illegal activity; new education projects for
schools, public awareness, Bags for Life, beach cleanup, and community
development; and launching the official website, complete with interactive
maps and forms where the community can report lionfish sightings
and damaged or missing moorings.
Patrolling led to 79 arrests for such activities as wielding spear
guns, traps and gaffs, carrying stolen dive and snorkel equipment,
cutting mangroves, and creating oil spills and land fills. Of those
arrested, 35 were imprisoned. According to Nic Bach and South Side
Field Coordinator Licario Zepeda, those released were typically
elder or underage, but who were punished through community service
such as beach cleanup.
As a crucial addition to budget, the RMP found a way to capitalize
on the cruise ship traffic with a stand at the Port of Roatan cruise
ship dock selling Marine Park eco-store merchandise. In the initial
14 days, RMP representatives report that more than 700 cruise ship
passengers were educated by staff at the stand, and revenues amassed
$4,023 for RMP efforts.
Presented goals for 2010 are to increase the number of schools that
participate in the RMP environmental education program, add to diving
courses offered to the general community, continue building the
Coral Reef Leadership Network in certifying the youth of Roatan,
launch a recycling program, give support to the Fisherman's Alliance,
and complete the official declaration of the Cordelia Banks as a
protected area. In addition, plans will be put into action for the
licensing, training, and eradication program for controlling the
lionfish population. Other possibilities include a restaurant and
food awareness program.
New members elected to the Board of Directors are Enry Padilla,
Santos Cruz, Trevor Brown, and Kevin Braun. Continuing members are
President Alvin Jackson, Vice President Jennifer Keck, Secretary
Mark Havey, Treasurer Mish Akel,
Zepeda, Grazzia Matamoros, and Mish Akel count votes for the new members
of the Board of Directors.
50 people gathered at the Blue Marlin on December 16 for the Roatan
Marine Park's (RMP) general assembly for the presentation of the
organization's 2009 achievements, goals for 2010, and to select
new members for the Board of Directors. This was the second meeting
of its type.
What started in 2005 as a grassroots organization has grown to a
major regulating and governing body over Roatan's reefs and ecological
systems. The RMP achieved non-profit status in May of 2008 from
the Secretaria de Gobenacion y Justicia, which then allowed the
organization to apply for international grants, greatly increasing
its scope of service to the island. "Obtaining nonprofit status
was incredibly important, as we could grow in ways we couldn't before,"
said Grazzia Matamoros, Executive Director. By the end of 2009,
RMP received support from USAID, CORAL, Project AWARE, Nature Conservancy,
and WWF. The RMP shares duties as co-managers of the Marine Reserve
with the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) under an agreement
with ICS, the Honduran Institute for Forestry Conservation, Protected
Areas and Wildlife.
and Committee Members Jenny Myton and Patty Grier.
the organization has had access to a greater wealth of resources,
the worldwide economic downturn has kept recent income to a minimum.
"Basically, we're just trying to get by, cutting costs as much
as possible, and maintaining services as best we can," said
Nic Bach, Director of Infrastructure and Patrols. "We need
about $10,000 a month to survive."
Prevention in Roatan
Target Elderly and Infants
program was set to be implemented in November as in the past
three campaigns to combat higher incidents of flu during the
rainy season, but political and economic situations delayed
the program until December.
During the 2009 Bay Islands campaign, approximately 3,000
people were expected to be vaccinated, versus the 2,400 people
who were treated in 2008. While the 2009 campaign only targeted
common flu strains, inoculations for H1N1 will be included
The program operated under strict hygienic rules. Syringes
were transported in coolers with ice packs. Used syringes
were discarded into a biohazard box and later electrically
The nationwide campaign cost Lps. 43,534,162 ($2,304,614.19),
97% of which utilized central government funds, and the remaining
3% were provided in cooperation with USAID, OPS, and UNICEF.
The program was advertised before arriving into the barrios
through local radio and TV, and through announcements from
speakers on cars and motorcycles. "Some refuse the shot,
but through education, the program is getting more accepted,"
said Roatan director Maribel Bejarano de Figueroa. During
visits, the staff also educates the community on basic hygiene,
such as the importance of washing one's hands. The brigades
also collect information on each person inoculated, much like
Carolina Nuñez administers a flu shot to Mercedez Lopez
in Col. Policarpo Galindo.
fourth campaign for flu prevention by the Honduras Secretaria
de Salud sent brigades throughout Honduras on December 7-18.
In the Bay Islands, a group of 30 nurses, teachers, and health
administrators in five brigades visited the local communities
in Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja. The brigades provided free flu
vaccinations for those 60 years of age and older, private or
public health care workers, infants from six to 35 months of
age, and feed handlers for farmlands, especially any of the
above with a history of respiratory illness. Cayos Cuchinos
was not included in the plan for transportation reasons.
story / george
Ride with a Princess
Look at Passenger Maritime Safety between Utila and La Ceiba
for the doors, the new air conditioning system might influence the
crew to use the standard marine-type dog latches properly, without
propping the door open. "There are two exits in the front,
and two in the back, and all exit doors can be opened from both
sides," assured Wardlay. "There would be no problem getting
passengers out of the boat." Tying doors shut are a violation
of maritime safety codes and law in accordance with US Coast Guard
Concerns for passenger safety were also raised when the La Ceiba
port captain re-examined the boat's certification after its structure
and passenger areas were modified. In July the Utila Princess II
certification from 100 passengers was reduced to 70-75, by the La
Ceiba Port Captain. "We operate under a tightly governed system
that is constantly behind us on safety," said Wardlay. "The
US Coast Guard granted the craft 125 passenger status, 20 miles
off shore. The rules of the Honduran Mercantile Marine Division
are much stricter."
The cost of the 21 mile journey to Utila is Lps. 500 per person,
as opposed to the Lps. 524 for the 40 mile trip to Roatan, on the
much larger Galaxy II. Both Guanaja's Bimini Breeze and Roatan's
Galaxy II are bigger boats. The 21 mile journey is covered in 1:05
minutes by the Princess II. If there is high demand, the owners
of the boat will substitute the Utila Princess II with Princess
III, a bigger, monohull and more seaworthy boat, according to Kandy
Ruby, Manager of the Princess II, who is working in San Andres,
According to Robilio Rivera, La Ceiba port Captain, in case a Honduran
passenger boat would go down, the emergency signal would be received
by the National Port Agency in Tegucigalpa, who would then contact
individual port captains in La Ceiba and the Bay Islands. On all
three Bay Island passenger boats bringing passengers between mainland
Honduras and the Bay Islands, it is mandatory to be equipped with
emergency, satellite maintained rescue beacons. Automatic response
and rescue procedures are executed through VHF radio, GPS, radar,
and cell phones. In December, Wardlay was also in the process of
replacing the existing standardized equipment with newer, state-of-the-art
radar and GPS systems in The Princess II.
"Honduras is top in the region as far as maritime safety,"
says Emilio Ulloa, a boat inspector, based in La Ceiba. If the Utila
Princess II catamaran was to capsize, the small emergency rafts
located on the boat's roof would automatically free. "It would
take a 40 ft. wave to capsize that boat," said Wardlay. "And
we certainly would not be running in that type of hurricane weather."
Utila Princess II awaits departure in La Ceiba.
passengers were locked in with door hatches that opened up. While
one door was closed shut, the other was tied with a piece of rope,
while a rubber buoy served as its door stop. When the boat reached
its destination the crew took a minute to "untie the knot"
and let the passengers out. This was the described experience of
a passenger in October 2009, on the 60 foot Catamaran that provides
a life link between Utila and La Ceiba.
Several passengers contacted Bay Islands Voice concerned about the
safety of travel of the Utila Princess II catamaran. "We call
it the shake and bake. It shakes all the time and you bake from
the heat," said Dr. John McVay, a Utila resident, about the
Utila Princess II. "If I know they will use the catamaran,
not the bigger boat, I fly, or just stay at home," said one
La Ceiba resident who travels to Utila for business once a month.
The Utila Princess II boat was originally brought in from the Bahamas
where it served on short inter-island journeys. The journey between
La Ceiba and Utila produced spray and the top of the boat was only
covered with plastic covers. Because of complaints that passengers
were still getting wet in rough weather, the owner of the boat,
Bruce Wardlay, removed the temporary protection and welded aluminum
plates to its top structure. Some passengers feared this made the
boat more top heavy, vulnerable to capsizing, and, as it is a catamaran,
it would not "bounce up."
When asked about passenger concerns, Wardlay replied that the aluminum
addition did not compromise the structure of the boat, adding only
500lbs. to the total weight of the boat. Wardlay has been making
several improvements to the Princess II. The new marine-type, water-cooled
generator installed in the hull of the ship in December 2009 provided
additional low weight to the craft, giving extra stability. The
generator replaced the old system which could not handle the air
conditioning system. Passengers will have air conditioning in 2010.