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The Turtles of Coral Cay

A tourist destination becomes a breeding center for a protected mammal

Turtles are breeding and the phenomenon is taking place not only in the waters of Bay Islands but also in the enclosures at the Marine Park in Coral Cay. Between August and September, 10 turtle nests were dug on a stretch of sandy beach adjacent to the Marine Park's turtle enclosure in Dixon Cove.
Since some female green turtles lay more than one time, the program probably has six to eight egg-laying females. Considering there are 15 females in total and females don't lay eggs two years in a row, the ratio is especially impressive.
By end of November there was still one nest that hadn't hatched. Coral Cay staff divided the nest into two, so the turtles in more deeply situated eggs had a better chance to dig themselves out of the sand and survive. Then there was nothing else to do but wait.
With each nest containing between 100 and 200 eggs, Coral Cay turtles have given birth to over 900 offspring. 100 of these young turtles are kept in one of the tanks. "When they are so small everything wants to eat them … snakes, birds, fish. Here they have a place to grow," says Elena Gonzalez, tours manager. On a diet of shrimp and mazuki feed, within a couple weeks the green turtles double in size. When the small turtles grow a bit more, 50 of them will be tagged and released into the wild.
Over the last three years, since Coral Cay opened for business, the attitude of the environmentally conscious towards the Coral Cay marine park has swayed. Originally many Sandy Bay-West End Marine Park representatives remained skeptical and even opposed the concept of the tourist marine park. The idea of keeping captured marine animals and making money from tourists viewing them wasn't an easy sell in the West End diver community. But when the turtles started laying eggs, the attitudes changed, and changed quickly.
"I am really surprised that they have reproduced in such a confined space," said Greg Puncher, an ex-co-director of Sandy Bay Marine Park. "That's a breeding program and I am all for breeding programs."
The Coral Cay facility sits on a half of a cay known as Green Cay on the southeast corner of Dixon Cove. The facility opened to the public in March 2005, right before their original 45 turtles were brought in from Nicaragua. Since then other turtles and marine animals have joined them. A 30-year-old Loggerhead turtle was brought in by one of Roatan's shrimp boat captains. "It was wounded and too weak to be with the green turtles," says Elena. A year later the Loggerhead, a vegetarian, hangs out in the pool with six smaller and less aggressive Hawksbills.
Coral Cay's open water enclosure is home to 45 green turtles, 12 nurse sharks, several puffer fish, tarpon and sucker fish. Originally the enclosure had naturally growing turtle grass, but the turtles ate the entire strip. The turtles required daily harvesting of turtle grass that would then be thrown into the enclosure.
Over the last year, all but one of the green turtles transitioned from eating sea grass to mazuki feed. An old green female still only eats sea grass which has to be harvested daily and brought in to the enclosure.
Workers usually (and visitors always) use gloves whenever touching the marine mammals. This protects turtles and humans, as turtles are common carriers for salmonella and sun lotion worn by people can easily get into the turtles' eyes and cause infection.
As the pools are cleaned every week, so are the turtles. The keepers lift the turtles out of the pool and place them on sand where they clean algae from their shell, flippers, tail, and head using stiff plastic brushes and sand. "The Loggerhead turtles are much gentler and easier to handle," says Fredy Urbina, the caretaker of the marine animals at the Cay. Urbina is one of half a dozen Coral Cay staff who care for the turtles or tourists. The visitors to Coral Cay receive a 45-minute tour explaining the behavior and habitat of the turtles and the marine environment of the Bay Islands. "Some of them have never seen a reef or a mangrove," says Elena.
While turtle breeding has shown Coral Cay's marine program to be successful, there is room for improvement. Without the oversight of a biologist, or just a specialized veterinarian, the proper maintenance of these delicate animals is difficult and at times impossible. The growing menagerie of Coral Cay animals begs for a biologist or marine scientist to look after them..
While the keepers use their instincts and best intentions in handling the turtles, their instincts are not always accurate. While green turtles are herbivores, the park caretakers feed the animals fish. This can lead to internal infections and even death.
"That may not harm them as long as they eat only a little bit," says Stephen Dunbar, PhD, from Loma Linda University's Marine Sciences Department. Dr. Dunbar wants to study the Coral Cay turtles and bring Loma Linda graduate students to study the content of fats, carbohydrates and proteins in the diets of the Coral Cay's turtles.
For the last year Dr. Dunbar has been tagging and studying wild turtles off the coast of Roatan. Dr. Dunbar is heading two turtle protection organizations: TAPS (Turtle Awareness and Protection Studies) and ProTECTOR (Protective Turtle Ecology Cooperative for Training, Outreach and Research), its umbrella organization. Through the TAPS program, 50-54 turtles, the majority of them Hawksbills, have been tagged off Roatan in 2007. Dr. Dunbar wants to continue the work on Roatan and work also with the captured animals.
Coral Cay is not the only place on the island to see captured marine animals or even turtles. The Iguana Farm in French Cay has five freshwater turtles and four green turtles. The 6,500 sf enclosure is smaller than in Coral Cay and doesn't have beach access where the female turtles could even consider laying eggs.
Blue Ocean Reef, a condominium development on the north shore of Roatan, has begun constructing a marine enclosure where, amongst other animals, turtles will be kept. The enclosure will have beach access.

Green Turtle’s A, B, Cs

The green turtle lives in tropical and subtropical seas around the world. The green turtle has a teardrop-shaped carapace and a pair of large, paddle-like flippers which are lightly-colored olive brown.
The carapaces of juvenile green turtles are dark brown to olive, while those of mature adults are lighter in color--brown, spotted or marbled. Its limbs are dark-colored or yellow and are usually marked with a large dark brown spot.
Unlike the closely-related hawksbill turtle, the green turtle's snout is very short and its beak is unhooked. The horny sheath of the turtle's upper jaw possesses a slightly denticulated edge, while its lower jaw has stronger, serrated, more defined denticulation. The dorsal surface of the turtle's head has a single pair of prefrontal scales.
The turtle is named for the greenish coloration of its fat and flesh, not for its olive brown color. Its carapace is composed of five central scutes flanked by four pairs of lateral scutes. Underneath, the green turtle has four pairs of infra-marginal scutes covering the area between the turtle's plastron and its shell. The mature green turtles' front appendages have a single claw, as opposed to the hawksbill's two claws.
Unlike the hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, the green turtle is mostly herbivorous. The adults are commonly found in shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on sea grass. Green turtles migrate hundreds of miles between their feeding grounds and the beaches they hatched from.
Female green turtles decide if and with whom they will mate. After mating in the water at night, the females haul themselves onto the beach above the high tide line. Upon reaching a suitable nesting site, the pregnant female then digs a hole with her hind flippers and deposits a number of eggs in the nest. The number of eggs laid per litter depends on the age of the female but ranges between 100 to 200 eggs.
After 45 to 75 days, the eggs hatch during the night and the newborn turtles instinctively head directly towards the water. This is the most dangerous time in a turtle's life. A significant percentage of turtle hatchlings never make it to the ocean. Juvenile green turtles spend from three to five years in the open ocean as carnivores before they settle as immature juveniles into a more herbivorous, shallow-water lifestyle. Those that survive grow to maturity and live to a maximum of 80 years, 1.5 meters long and up to 300 kilograms in weight.
As a species recognized as endangered by international nature protection organizations, green turtle is protected from exploitation in most countries worldwide. It is illegal to collect, harm or kill individual turtles. Many turtles die as a result of being caught in fishermen's nets and drowning. Honduran shrimp boats are required to carry Turtle Exclusion Devices, or TEDs, that lower the chance of turtles being caught in the nets and drowning.

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The Honduran Psyche By Thomas Tomczyk
Or, What Makes Hondurans the Way They Are

Honduras does not have Panama's trans-isthmus canal, Costa Rica's eco-tourism, Nicaragua's poets and revolutionaries, nor Guatemala's deep Mayan roots. Sadly, what Honduras is known for is its failures: national railroad scandal, submission to US banana companies and ridiculous yet tragic "football war." In brief, Honduras' claim to fame is its long and sad history of selling out to US interests.
Even in the last several years Honduras has come into US and international spotlight only after sad news: Hurricane Felix approaching, the killing of a presidential body guard, deadly La Ceiba prison riots and fire, executions of 24 bus passengers, the kidnapping and murder of a president's son.
Honduran history books record few people to aspire to: no poets, revolutionaries, discoverers, engineers, nor inventors. The people most Hondurans aspire to emulate are politicians and military men. Too often they see political leadership not as an opportunity for public service, but as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rich. The average Honduran esteems people who have things--cars, power, houses and influence. Education, intellectual accomplishment and rule of law are way down the list.
Much more than their neighbors, Hondurans have been brainwashed into thinking that they are one big, happy family. The reality is that Hondurans are the most economically, ethnically and religiously divided nation in Central America. Top Honduran leaders, however, have always been and remain to be all white, male

I recently argued with my Honduran friend about why he has had such bad experiences with Honduran employees. While he praised Salvadorans and Guatemalans with whom he had been doing business, he sounded almost despairing about his Honduran compatriots. Almost by default, I found myself explaining and defending his countrymen's work ethics.
Lonely Planet's Honduras guidebook writes about the country's national psyche: "a prevailing go-with-the flow attitude." The publication sees a nexus of two tendencies which make up the Honduran ego: mellow and accepting on one hand, committed to justice and collective action on the other.
The reality is that Hondurans are no different from others. But while they want the same things for their children--education, health, wealth, security, status--they just want them in a different order than their equivalents in the US, Vietnam or El Salvador. Hondurans, in general, value influence, wealth and status above education and rule of law.
Honduras is a small country with barely 150 years to forge its identity. While the five Central American republics began to forge their identity at the same time, even the newcomers, Belize and Panama, have developed a more defined sense of who they are than Honduras. For Panamanians, it was gaining independence from Columbia, construction of the Panama Canal and the removal of US troops. For Belize it was gaining independence and the struggle against Guatemalan land claims. For Nicaragua, the Sandinista revolution and for El Salvador it was the civil war. Honduras, unlike all its neighbors, had no revolution, no civil war. Hondurans know who they are not, but they do not yet know who they are and often related and in business with one another.

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Light at the End of a TunnelBy Thomas Tomczyk

ZOLITUR is coming. But when? And what will this really mean?

One reason for the slowdown is Roatan Municipal moratorium on issuing business licenses for individuals and businesses that are not already on the island. For the last 18 months the stack of applications has grown. "We have to be vigilant of the businesses from the mainland who try to relocate here as a tax shelter," said Solomon.
An "I'll believe it when it happens" attitude about the Freeport status has permeated Bay Island businessmen. Despite assurances from ZOLITUR officials, politicians and businessmen, several Freeport deadlines were already broken and many business people remain skeptical about the efficacy of the changes being implemented. "It will take another three years to make this happen," says Shawn Hyde, general manager of Mariscos Hybur.
While the bylaws should have been submitted to Tegucigalpa in April, "In all fairness the process started in mid July," said Solomon. While the import duty bylaws are significant, there are at least three other bylaws that need to go through the same process. Making ZOLITUR fully functional will really take another year or two. Bylaws concerning migration control, security and environment protection are yet to be written. The process for these ZOLITUR bylaws will start all over again: meetings, drafting the bylaws, submitting them to Tegucigalpa for review, publishing them in La Gazeta and applying them in the Freeport zone.
The Secretary of Finances has had only a few changes to the 24-page duty bylaws document. To reduce the chances of the bylaws being completely rewritten by the finance ministry, the ZOLITUR commission invited ministry representatives to be involved from the beginning. According to Solomon the four-person staff of ZOLITUR, working out of their offices in French Harbour's Jared Hynds Community Center, follow the application with phone calls and relentless querying of officials involved in moving the process and paperwork forward.
Further delays are likely as some bylaws, for example the gun carry laws, will require changing the national Honduran laws. The national gun carry permits will have to be adjusted to say "valid in all Honduras except for ZOLITUR zones." Cayos Cochinos, while part of Bay Islands is not part of ZOLITUR.
Still, some aspects of the laws are already being implemented. The $1 and $2 visitor fees of persons traveling to the Bay Islands are currently only collected on the Utila Princess and Guanaja's Bimini Breeze. The Galaxy Wave and airlines flying to the Bay Islands have yet to implement the fee that goes to the Ministry of Finances and is eventually released to ZOLITUR.

Selling goods by the Coxen Hole cruise ship dock.

L One year after putting his signature on ZOLITUR, Bay Islands' Freeport status, on December 13, President Mel Zelaya is expected to hold an open town meeting. This date should mark the beginning of the duty and importation tax-exempt laws taking effect.
Application for ZOLITUR tax-exempt status is expected to become available in December and Cynthia Solomon, executive director of ZOLITUR, is preparing for a rush of applicants. While the two page application is simple enough to fill out, it is the 13 documents required with the application that could prove difficult for some businesses to comply with. Alongside environmental permits, RTNs, etc., ZOLITUR is creating a document that could evaluate the economic and migration impact of each applicant. While the law is generous enough to consider just about any business tourism related, "by no means do we guarantee that a business will receive a permit," says Solomon.
One of the biggest delays came from conducting a census that began when it should have been ending. While eventually the census was completed in all four municipalities, entry and tabulation of data is still underway. At this point, no one knows how many people live in the department, their education level, or amongst other data, their ownership of firearms.
The year long wait has frustrated many businesspeople. "You could feel the slowdown in investment. Many people are waiting for what will happen," said Solomon.
Going Once, Going Twice...
Six companies from six different countries bid to control the faltering power company

"We feel that the bids are fair and transparent," said Walter Sandoval, representative of the only Honduran bidder EMCE [Empresa de Mantenimiento Construccion y Energia], part of Grupo Terra, owned by San Pedro millionaire and energy potentate Fredy Nasser. Nasser's EMCE and Kelcy Warren are considered the two frontrunners in the bidding process.
A nine-member RECO evaluation committee began evaluating the bids using a 50 point system. "The RECO board should have done this [bidding out] a long time ago. They were hoping that they could manage their way out of it," said Charles George, an ex-RECO board member and one of nine sub-evaluation committee members. While originally the winner was to be announced on February 20, the announcement of the winner was postponed two times. By November 30, the committee was still deliberating over which bidder to sell the controlling RECO interest to.
According to Meza, by December 15 the winner of the bid will have a general manager in place and will begin the process of restructuring and modernizing RECO.
Since ENEE stepped in to manage RECO on a temporary basis in February, it has administered the failed company through an intervention commission. RECO has found itself working with obsolete and failing equipment, little maintenance and disintegrating infrastructure. Black-outs, some as long as 10 hours, have become an accepted part of life.
Due to rising fuel costs and the inability of RECO to transfer these rising costs to customers, for every Lps. 100 of energy RECO provides only Lps. 77 is billed to the customer. Due to public disturbances and protests, RECO has not raised its rates since December 2005.
Since the government bail-out, RECO has indiscriminately shut down non-payers and late-payers. In pursuit of pennies of every dollar, RECO decided to say goodbye to convenience for its customers. Payments for RECO bills can no longer be done at a bank and have to be done by certified check or in cash. Currently RECO is trying to convince its commercial clients that they need to pay one month's worth of electricity up-front as security.

Accepting the bids at Coral Cay

On November 15 Coral Cay was filled with RECO employees, politicians, lawyers and international businessmen. Several jets and a private helicopter landed at Roatan airport bringing in representatives of one Honduran and five international companies interested in taking control of RECO, a monopolist power provider on Roatan. Even President Zelaya showed up to overlook the privatization.
Bids as high as $3.4 million were offered for a 51% share of the practically bankrupt company, and documents proposing investments as high as $68 million were presented. "The circumstances are right," explained RECO General Director Eng. Humberto Meza of why the sale is taking place now rather than when RECO was taken over by the government intervention commission.
George Hunter came in as a representative of Fortis, a Canadian energy company powering Cayman Islands and parts of Belize. While the Cayman Islands power company had expressed interest in purchasing RECO for several years, for the bid itself, Fortis failed to secure a financial bond. This disqualified them from the bid.
Not every bidder was a happy bidder. Phil Weir, representing the interest of Kelcy Warren, an American billionaire and owner of Barbarat, said that Warren had declined the opportunity to purchase controlling shares of RECO in September because he was not given an opportunity to review the company's books, obligations and technical data. "Kelcy asked (from ENEE, the National Energy Company) for two weeks of due diligence. In the end he was happy with bids being transparent," said Weir.
Losing for a Cause

Ana Svoboda sold $2 playing chips with 30% going off the top to Little Friends Foundation. After that, all the donors/players were welcome to break the casino bank. Few people did, and many gave back even the chips they managed not too lose.
"Since it was a charitable event we didn't need permits," said Alie Thompson, president of Roatan Women's Club. Over 90 women are members of the organization that took shape from the long running Roatan Ladies Luncheon. A gathering of local ladies meets once a month to socialize and plan charitable events.
While the Casino Night raised $5,500 for Little Friends Foundation the goal for the Roatan Women's Club is to eventually raise $30-$40 thousand for the cause. The casino event was the first of three events that are planned to be held annually. The accounting of the organization's fundraising is transparent and is available at the organization's website:

Myrt Tugwell manning the blackjack table.

Losing can also be fun … as long as the money ends up in the right hands. November 3, just such an occasion took place as Little Friends Foundation became the direct beneficiary of Casino Night at Parrot Tree Plantation, organized by the Roatan Women's Club.
A conference space at the resort was turned into a small casino and over 60 people tried their luck at blackjack, left-right, bingo and poker. American retiree Myrt Tugwell, wearing a dapper tuxedo, dealt blackjack cards. Radio personality Bruce Starr manned the bingo station and called out the winner for a donated round trip on Galaxy Wave.

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Reinventing Dixon Cove

A fast-track, two-berth project likely to open ahead of Royal Caribbean Cruise terminal

Adjacent to the facility will be a 35,000-square-foot Welcome Center with retail shops, restaurants and bars, along with a 60-foot-high lighthouse, a lagoon with cascading waterfalls and a nature trail. A transportation hub with the ability to accommodate taxis, rental cars and tour buses is also planned. A variety of shore excursion opportunities, to be provided by local tour operators, are being developed as well.
"Many of our ships, of our brands will be coming to Roatan for many years. We believe in Roatan," said Giora Israel, Carnival's vice-president of strategic planning, who promised that Carnival would not own any excursions, shops, or transportation companies on the island. "We would like to become residents and stay here forever," said Israel.
Mahogany Bay will surpass in expense and scale Carnival's biggest terminal (in Grand Turk) which in its first year of operation hosted nearly 300,000 passengers. "The Caribbean remains the world's number one cruise destination and Carnival Corporation is always looking for ways to capitalize on many distinct attributes that make the region so attractive to consumers," said Israel.
Strategically located, Dixon Cove has grown from an obscure cove to a maritime and tourist hub of Roatan. With this development there are voices of concern about the environmental disruption to local marine ecosystem. According to Israel the entrance to Dixon Cove is around 300 feet wide and deep enough to accommodate its widest, 120 foot wide ships. Therefore, no enlarging of entrance to the bay and change to the reef will be done.

The site plan of Mahogany Bay cruise ship terminal on the east shore of Dixon Cove.

Carnival Corporation has signed an agreement to build and operate a cruise terminal in Dixon Cove. Work on "Mahogany Bay - Roatan" is expected to begin in early 2008 and to be completed by October 1, 2009, at a cost of $50 million.
The 22-month work schedule is likely to put Carnival ahead of Royal Caribbean, whose construction of the Coxen Hole cruise ship terminal has been troubled by permit delays and a halt in July.
The Mahogany Bay cruise ship facility will be situated on 20 acres of Dixon Cove waterfront and will consist of a two-berth cruise terminal capable of accommodating super post-Panamax vessels and up to 7,000 passengers daily. Within five years of operation, Mahogany Bay is expected to host 225 cruise ship calls and 500,000 passengers annually.

Click for the latest Roatan weather forecast.

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