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Iguana Nation

Mr. Sherman Arch's Island Farm Provides a Refuge for Threatened Green Iguanas

A group of about fifty iguanas basks in the January sun. After weeks of rain every minute of warm rays is precious. A dozen tourists take photos of the iguanas. They place the lenses of their cameras inches from the noses of these prehistoric looking creatures. The five claws of the iguanas' front paws are clasped in tension on the ground. The rear paws are relaxed, folded alongside the tail. They are indifferent, without so much as the blinking of an eye. They know the ritual, they know what to expect. While some enjoy the spectacle of tourists close-up, other iguanas watch the goings-on from among tree branches 30 feet up.
Mr. Sherman Arch began the farm in 1980 as way to protect the iguana from unscrupulous hunting. Their numbers depleted to the point of threatening their existence on parts of Roatan. In 1991, the year of the first cruise ships to Roatan, the iguana farm was opened to the public. Still, the iguana farm has been looked on as an Arch family hobby, a passion, not as a source of revenue.
"The tourists are fascinated because they can get so close to the iguana. You can pet them, you can hold them … because they are so tame. Nowhere else can they do that," says Nora, an islander tour guide who brings Coco-View guests for a visit to the iguana farm every week.
Mr. Sherman began feeding several iguanas with banana leaves. As the news spread from one iguana to another, more and more were attracted by the regular, filling meals. "Every day there would be more and more," said Gale Arch, Mr. Sherman's daughter.
Within a couple months several Green iguana females laid eggs in a construction sand patch near the Arch's house. Iguanas lay their eggs in dug out holes four feet deep, so the artificial sand patch immediately attracted their attention and is still used today. Located 100 feet from the Arch home, the iguana breeding sand pile offers a place of shelter to hundreds of thousands of iguana eggs. Mr. Sherman always brings more sand before the iguanas start laying their eggs in the spring months of March, April and May.
Female iguanas are ready to reproduce at three years of age. Each female lays around 35 to 40 eggs that, after a 70-day gestation period, become little iguanas. If they are able to avoid the predation of carnivorous Hammo Negro iguanas and dogs, they can live up to thirty years.
The iguana gestation period is a particularly vulnerable time for the iguanas as poachers hunt them ever more intensely for their eggs, which are considered a culinary delicacy. While the sale of the Green iguana as food is illegal in the Bay Islands, the practice of hunting pregnant iguanas has reduced the ability of the species to reproduce.
The 15-acre Arch property in French Cay is home to an estimated 6,000 iguanas. The most numerous are the Green iguanas with around 4,500 individuals. There are also 2,000 Hammo Negro iguanas, 2,000 Monkey Lalas or Jesus lizards, and hundreds of Blue Head lizards. While the Green iguanas eat mostly plant leaves, vegetables and fruits, the Hammo iguanas sometimes eat young chickens.
Iguanas are not the only animals populating the farm. It also shelters rescued exotic mammals brought in by Roatan police. In 2000 two light-faced cappuccino monkeys were brought in to the farm. In addition, Pancho, a young coatimundi (pizote), was rescued by Roatan police and brought to the farm.
After Hurricane Mitch battered Guanaja and the east part of Roatan, Mr. Sherman's farm took in several yellow naped parrots native to the Bay Islands. The birds suffered numerous injuries - broken beaks, wings - and many were starved, barely hanging on to life. Mr. Sherman's farm provided them a place to recover and get healthy. Nine years later several of the parrots, those with broken wings and damaged beaks, still live on the farm.

Mr. Sherman Arch with his daughter Gale.
Just south of the iguana area a 6,500-square-foot marine enclosure serves to keep the marine animals. In 2000 Mr. Sherman discovered thousands of tarpon bony fish trapped in a lagoon on the north side of Roatan. When the property owner cut the mangroves that served as a place for breeding tarpons, the fish found themselves unable to swim out to sea. Mr. Sherman brought several barrels and moved around 150 baby tarpons to his French Cay marine enclosure. "We need to take care of what we have because tomorrow it can all be gone," says Mr. Sherman. Six years later the surviving 60 tarpon have grown to four feet and reach 45 pounds.
The water enclosure is also home to six hawk's bill turtles. Four of them were bought from poachers and two were brought in after being entangled in shrimp nets. There are hundreds of lobsters and even reef fish who swim in and out from the enclosure until they grow too big to swim back into the open water.
An indispensable person in the Iguana Farm is Gale, who once a month swims around the marine cage to make sure it is secure. She also has a unique, life-long relationship with the farm's iguanas. One of them, Ben, has resided in Gale's home since she was three years old. Ben, six feet long, is still fed inside the house; but as one of the biggest iguanas on the farm, he prefers to display his dominance amongst his fellow reptilians outside.
The biggest iguana ever grown on the farm is "Godzilla," a male that has grown to be 5' 6" long. The males achieve their prime in their 20s and can be aggressive, swiping their tails back and forth. "I've gotten scratched many times, but never bitten," says Gale.
The Arches are using life experience and books to guide them in raising the reptilians. Others have tried to raise iguanas but failed. In 1998 an American tried to start an iguana farm in Sandy Bay. The man paid local people to catch 135 iguanas and place them in cages. "It was a disaster," said Mr. Sherman. The few that were still alive were released into the wild.
Pond turtle in its pen.

Iguanas can only be caged if they are placed in cages as babies and grow accustomed to the restrictions of movement. When the caged iguanas grow to be three to four years old, they are allowed to move around outside the cage and come back at night to their cages. Eventually, instead of the cages, they choose the protection of the trees.
Wild iguanas don't want to be caged. They fight, bite the cage and refuse to eat. Eventually they tear their snouts on the metal cage wire and die.
In 2005 a foreigner living on the island cut a hole in the fencing of the marine enclosure at the iguana farm. Twenty-one tarpon, 50-60 lobster and several turtles all escaped. About a week later Mr. Sherman found the man in West End. "I told him 'I forgive you, but please don't do it again,'" said Mr. Sherman. "A lot of work went into saving and raising these animals."
There are other methods of ensuring the survival of the Green iguana. In Belize there are several farms raising iguanas to provide a food source for the local population. The pioneer of iguana farming is Dr. Dagmar Werner, a German herpetologist who founded the Pro Iguana Verde Foundation that manages the Belize farm. In La Mosquitia there is the Iguana Vigilantes group whose motto is, "The iguana is our heritage, our future. We have to take care of it." Mr. Sherman supports the idea of raising iguanas for food. "They grow cows, pigs, chickens. They can also grow Green iguanas for food as well," says Mr. Sherman. "It's a good thing."
Mr. Sherman believes that the attitude of the islanders towards saving the Green iguana has changed. In some cases it is the conscience that speaks to iguana hunters who, when visiting the farm, are confronted with examples of healthy, proud and unafraid reptilians comfortable with their surroundings. "I feel I have accomplished something important. People who have hunted iguanas before come here and tell me, looking at these iguanas, they feel that they can't kill them anymore," says Mr. Sherman. "My goal is to feed them and protect them," says Mr. Sherman.
In 2001 Mr. Sherman received the Bruno H. Schubert Environment Prize for his efforts in protecting the Green iguana. "Mr. Sherman is a true grass roots environmentalist. He's impressed me so much," said Bill Brady, an American architect living on Roatan since the 1970s.

A, B, Cs of Green Iguana Farm

Artificial nests increase the number of hatched eggs and improve the overall survival rates of the Green iguana from 50% in the wild to 90%. The iguana population is maintained at several times the density in the wild, around 50 adult iguanas per hectare. An efficient food for the reptile is a mixture of rice, meat, bone, and fish meal, as well as papayas, mangos, bananas, avocados, and a variety of leaves and flowers. Simple feeding stations are kept and stocked with table scraps or weedy vegetation. This makes for low-cost production before the iguanas reach harvesting size.
While females are green year round, males turn orange during the mating season. Male Green iguanas have highly developed femoral pores on the underside of their thighs which secrete a scent (females also have femoral pores, but they are smaller in comparison to those of the males). In addition, the dorsal spines that run along a Green iguana's back are noticeably longer and thicker in males than in females, making the animals somewhat sexually dimorphic.
Green iguanas are oviparous with females laying clutches of 20 to 70 eggs once per year during a synchronized nesting period. The female Green iguana gives no parental protection after egg laying, apart from defending the nesting burrow during excavation. In Panama, the Green iguana has been observed sharing nest sites with American Crocodiles and in Honduras with Spectacled Caimans.
Young are usually hatched between June and July. The hatchlings emerge from the nest after 10-15 weeks of incubation. Once hatched, the young iguanas look similar to the adults in color and shape, resembling adult females more so than males and lack dorsal spines. Juveniles stay in familial groups for the first year of their lives. Male Green iguanas in these groups often use their own bodies to shield and protect females from predators. The Green iguana appears to be the only species of reptile which does this.
When frightened by a predator, Green iguanas will attempt to flee and, if near a body of water, dive into it and swim away. If cornered by a threat, the Green iguana will extend and display the dewlap under its neck, stiffen and puff up its body, and bob its head at the aggressor. If the threat persists the Green iguana will lash with ts tail, bite and use its claws in defense. Wounded animals are more inclined to fight than uninjured ones.
Green iguanas use "head bobs" and dewlaps in a variety of ways in social interactions, such as greeting another iguana or to court a possible mate. The frequency and number of head bobs have particular meanings to other iguanas.
On Roatan people are the biggest predator of the reptilians. In other places, Green iguanas are preyed upon by hawks, and their fear of hawks is exploited as a ploy to catch them in the wild. The sound of a hawk's whistle or scream makes the iguana freeze and become more easily captured.
Green iguanas are diurnal and arboreal and often found near water. Agile climbers, iguanas can fall up to 50 feet and land unhurt, using their hind leg claws to "hook" leaves, branches or anything in a clasping motion to break a fall. During cold, wet weather, Green iguanas prefer to stay on the ground for greater warmth. When swimming an iguana remains submerged and lets its four legs hang limply against its side as it propels itself through the water with powerful tail strokes.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes by Thomas Tomczyk
Two of the most important elements in a free society are respect for the truth and tolerance for the opinions of others. Just as important is the role of free press in the public's right to know about issues that affect the community. Another role is controlling the egos of people convinced that they are beyond criticism or public scrutiny.
In late January Roatan Municipal Corporation met to discuss the issue of declaring me 'persona non grata.' I am proud to say that out of all the characters ever and still residing on Roatan--pirates, murderers, convicted criminals and thieves--it was a journalist who was considered most troublesome. Unfortunately, at least for now, I cannot hang this document of recognition on my wall.
I have been fighting bullies since grade school. I know a bully when I see one and recently, I found myself fighting with one. Bullies who are not challenged become tyrants.
Some public officials seemed to confuse their responsibility of acting as "public servants" with an opportunity to "rule as kings." They disguise their own self-interest with slogans like: "For the good of Roatan." Such hypocrisy, if left unchecked, grows and spreads like cancer. It can spread from top officials down to business owners and ordinary people. Honest, hardworking investors are scared off, while opportunists and scammers flock to a place permeated with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy and arrogance can corrupt a society to its core. The Bay Islands have an opportunity to prevent this from continuing to take place. If no one challenges a hypocrisy that surrounds us - shame on us all.
We at the Bay Islands Voice are only here at the pleasure of the Bay Islands community. If Bay Islanders want to continue to have a free press representing their interests, they need to step up to the plate and voice their opinions in public forums and defend their right-to-know.
As the Bay Islands develop, the need for a free press becomes greater. The need for transparency in the actions of government, government officials and businesses becomes paramount. Without the ability to hold people accountable to their word, the press's existence is of little value.
With this issue we commemorate launching the Bay Islands Voice five years ago. In our first issue from March 2003, we published our mission statement: "We will make all efforts to provide a dependable venue for good journalism and exchange of ideas that would improve human condition on the islands. (...) We will make mistakes and we will never be perfect, but we promise to improve with time and respond to your comments." Over the last five years, we have kept our promise.
Bay Islands have provided everything we could ask for: a growing and ambitious reading public, a generous advertising community and plenty of stories to write about. We have gone through high points and low points; but most importantly the up and down ride was a thrill for everyone involved in the making of the magazine.
Bay Islands Voice built opportunities for dialogue and created actual dialogue among different cultural, ethnic, religious, national and political groups on the Bay Islands. We haven't always been right, but we've always taken criticism and corrected our mistakes whenever we've realized them or were asked.
I'd like to think that we have provided an example of good, honest and thorough journalism for everyone in Honduras to look at and learn from. The Honduran press is mediocre at best. It lacks objectivity, thoroughness, and most importantly integrity. It can be, and often is, for sale. With all that said, Honduras does have a free press and Hondurans do value the venue for discussion.
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Intimidation and Threats to Free Press on Roatan

Mayor Dale Jackson threatens refusal of operating license, sends immigration, undertakes proceedings for removal from the Municipality… Anything to escape criticism, scrutiny of his conduct in public office

Following the print publication of the article "Dale in Trouble … Again" in the January issue of Bay Islands Voice (BIV), Mayor Jackson turned his threats to intimidation. Over the course of the month Mayor Jackson initiated suspension of the magazines operating license, demanded a launching of immigration investigation and initiated a Roatan Municipality proposal to make BIV publisher a "persona non grata."
While Mayor Jackson never asked nor received a follow-up story from La Tribuna, which ran the Castle Rock charge story first, in a phone conversation on January 8, Mayor Jackson demanded that BIV write a retraction of the entire piece. "Everything in the article is a lie," said Mayor Jackson, "I am the most important person on Roatan."
On January 9, Mayor Jackson referred to Castle Rock writing a letter withdrawing its charges against him, but he refused to make a copy of the letter available to BIV. Castle Rock's letter is in fact not an apology, nor a withdrawal of charges, but an offer of reconciliation. In exchange for granting a business permit, Castle Rock "offers 10 yds per month of concrete to be donated to the Municipal for public works programs," Janior Fabricio Romero, Manager of Castle Rock, wrote in the letter.
"You are not even Honduran and you shouldn't write about Hondurans," told BIV publisher Mayor Jackson, who admitted he only reads the BIV magazine when alerted to a negative coverage of his persona. Mayor Jackson again stated he will not renew BIV operating permit for 2008. BIV has had a Roatan Municipal operating permit since 2003, with 2006 and 2007 permits approved by Mayor Jackson himself.

On January 9, the harassment followed with Bay Islands Immigration Chief Mario Pacheco calling BIV publisher at 8:30pm and demanding an immediate meeting. Pacheco refused to give reason for the demand and refused to talk to the legal representative of BIV. "The reason I want to see you is because I want to see you," said Pacheco. On January 15, based on a written Roatan Municipality complaint signed by Mayor Jackson, BIV publisher's US passport was seized "to investigate application for residency."
During a meeting with Governor Arlie Thompson, Mayor Jackson was asked to point out all inaccuracies in the article "Dale in Trouble … Again." Mayor Jackson had comments about the photo used with the article and said that, unlike the article states, he no longer operates under Diamond Jack Construction but owns the construction company in his own name.
On January 25, the Municipality of Roatan held a corporation meeting in which, as a point on the agenda, a proposal to make BIV publisher "persona non grata" was discussed. According to Mayor Jackson, Roatan Municipal board voted to demand the halt of "further printing of Bay Islands Voice until operating permit is granted and immigration issues clarified."
The US Embassy has contacted Mayor Jackson to discourage him from considering refusal of the renewal of the BIV operating license. "I strongly encouraged him [Mayor Jackson] to engage with you in a constructive manner over the disagreement he has with your stories, or, failing that, simply to ignore your reporting," wrote Douglass Benning, US Consul in Tegucigalpa. "As a public figure, being the subject of such criticism could not be surprising."

Mangrove cutting on a municipal site in Flowers Bay (Photo: Roatan Marine Park)
Sleepless in West End
A tourist hub of Roatan looks to authorities for help in bringing the bar noise under control
It soon became evident that the concerns of the petitioners lay not in the operating hours of the bars but in the noise level. "We are asking to play your music in a reasonable way and not to disturb your neighbor. If you want to play your music loud, then enclose your place," said Lorna Watler, who gathered 60 signatures for the petition. "Community should come first, not economics."
The noise level goes beyond simple economics and lost sleep. Maud Watler described a situation where her grandson got an asthma attack which she suspects was triggered by persistent noise coming from a bar with loud live music. "We thought he was going to die," Maud Watler said at the meeting.
While the national municipal law stipulates a 10pm closing time for bars and discos, Roatan Municipal has extended these hours until midnight for years. Half a dozen establishments have had live music concerts, while the municipality issued only two live music permits. While Mayor Jackson hired extra Municipal Police, fewer of them than under previous administrations are sent to West End. "Only when it suits the Municipal they want us to stay open," said Etches.
"We need to have two, three policemen telling you to lower the noise. We will remind you two, three times and eventually we will shut you down," said Joe Solomon, chief of Municipal Police.
"[Noise] detracts from the very beauty, uniqueness and draw of your island," wrote Nate Scott, a tourist who stayed at Lost Paradise Inn, but complained of the noise coming from Fosters Bar until 2am. "Don't put all tourists in one box. We have tourists who can't sleep at night and complain of the noise," said Lorna Watler. "The only way to reduce the level of noise is to soundproof the bars."
The people concerned about the noise made one point clear: "We don't want to hurt the bars. We want all bars to be as good neighbors as Sundowners," said Cynthia Miller, West End resident.

At a Municipality meeting, Lorna Watler, a West End resident, shows a petition to control noise level in West End.

Through a lack of vision about how West End community should grow and through failure to act when approached for help, the Municipality of Roatan has allowed for a simmering conflict between West End bar owners and residents concerned about noise.
These concerns have been brought to the attention of Roatan Municipality for years. Last year on July 7, Aaron Etches, West End patronato representative, presented a patronato document asking Mayor Jackson to tackle the noise concerns in West End.
"[Mayor] Dale [Jackson] let us down. We went begging for help and they let us down time and time again," said Maud Watler, West End resident and restaurant owner. "Wherever they are dealing with West End people, he just walks out."
An October 31, 2007, petition signed by six hotel owners and 60 West End residents pleaded for reducing the noise. "We are actually losing tourists because of the noise," said Lorna Watler, a West End resident.
Finally, on January 14, an emotionally charged meeting discussing West End drinking establishments' operating hours and noise levels took place at the Roatan Municipality.
A four-point petition to limit the operating hours from 4pm to 10pm, Monday through Thursday, 8pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and to keep all bars and discos closed on Sundays, was presented and discussed. "Some people bought businesses based on existing operating hours. It [change of hours] will affect the value," said Thomas Brousek, owner of Eagle Rays.
Where Are the Groupers?
For the first time in Saint Helene island history, the community has been active in protecting its fishing resources

This year was the first time that Helene community decided to ask for help in protecting its fishing resources. For two weeks two Preventiva police were given lodging and food on Helene; in return they would do boat patrols and be prepared to arrest anyone engaged in illegal fishing. "I was very impressed with how the Helene community prepared to protect its resources," said Alvin Jackson, board of directors member of Roatan Marine Park, who saw the preparations a week before the full moon. Indeed one boat with four divers was spotted and its Guanajan owners were let go with a warning.
While police helped catch a poacher with a live turtle and managed to save the animal, patrolling has limited effects. The poachers on Roatan use several techniques to evade detection and arrest. "We are concerned for dozen of boats coming at one time. They swarm in and police would be unable to control this," said James Foley, Director of Research and Development at Roatan Marine Park.
According to Foley, grouper breeding cycles are complicated and a decline in spawning in one location can have disastrous consequences hundreds of miles away. Fertilized grouper eggs travel with the sea current for many miles. Grouper eggs fertilized in the Bay Islands might grow up in Belize. Groupers growing up in Bay Islands come from spawning events to the east and northeast of the archipelago. The water temperature, reportedly higher this year than last, could be another reason for the change in the breeding cycle. For now, Saint Helenians celebrate the success of the conservation effort. They also hold their breath that during the second full moon of the year on February 20, the even bigger black groupers will come to spawn.

The passage between Morat and Barbarat, not far from the two grouper breeding sites.

The annual spawning of Saint Helene groupers is not only a chance at boosting the fish population, but a bonanza for poachers. Every first full moon in January, two sites northeast of Barbarat: North-East-Bank and Bungas Nose, has become only one of two grouper spawning locations on the Bay Islands. Red and later black groupers come there from as far as Utila and Cayos Cochinos.
While the first full moon of 2008, wolf moon, fell on January 22, no groupers have been spotted on that night. "The groupers, if scared by poachers, can actually abandon a breeding site," said Wally Bodden, Saint Helen representative to Jose Santos Guardiola municipality. On January 24, the groupers finally showed… by their thousands.
For dozen of years Helene community has witnessed fishermen, and spear fishermen coming in boats mostly from Guanaja, killing groupers in their hundreds. The groupers are distracted by spawning and are an easy target for the fishermen.

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Trouble... Again

In January, Roatan Municipality and Mayor Jackson has managed to stay in the national news. On January 29 Tegucigalpa-based Radio America reported on Mayor Jackson's construction company, which has ignored the Municipality's moratorium (November 1 thru January 31) on heavy site construction and conducted heavy construction work on a supermarket site and a Municipal road in Coxen Hole. An article in La Prensa reported that Clive Ebanks, President of Roatan's National Settlers Council, filed charges against abuse of authority for doing construction work. Rod Reconco, Public Ministry's Prosecutor based on Roatan, is investigating the charges.
This is not the first time Mayor Jackson has been involved in cases of damage to the environment. Roatan Marine Park has documented a case in which Roatan Municipality ordered and permitted mangrove cutting in Flowers Bay. "Workers confirmed they had orders from the Municipality to clear the mangroves down to the shoreline," reads the October report. "Not all the trees by the water were mangroves," Mayor Jackson commented on the matter.

In violating a November-February heavey construction ban - Mayor Jackson's construction company works on a site behind Bojangles.

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