story / editorial
Three Ways to Feed a Shark
has become a Niche Market for Tourists Fascinated by Sharks
sharks gather over feeding site off Roatan airport. (photo:
three miles south of Coxen Hole, Bay Islands' biggest urban
center, one can find one of the best diving places in the
Bay Islands--the Cordelia Bank. Three to four times a week,
two to three dives a day, between a dozen and 30 Caribbean
reef sharks gather here to look, smell and interact with
humans, and snack.
While the sharks come out of curiosity and appetite, the
humans come here with Roatan's Waihuka Adventure, a dive
operation specializing in shark encounters. While Caribbean
Gray shark is the most common shark seen on the dives, Hammerhead
sharks, Silky sharks and Nurse sharks can sometimes be seen
Each dive group brings what amounts to a shark snack - a
four pound cocktail of fish heads and carcass filets. "This
is like an appetizer to the sharks," explains Maurillio
Mirabella, owner of Waihuka, of his caution to not create
a dependency for the sharks on "regular and full meals."
According to Mirabella the 500-600 lb, nine-foot-long shark
needs to eat about 10% of their body mass every week. That
is an average of over 70 lb a day.
Mirabella came to Roatan with friends in 1994 to construct
West Bay's Las Rocas Resort. In 2000, while spear fishing
on the Cordelia Bank, he was followed to the surface by
a shark. The experience changed his outlook on marine life.
From that time on, says Mirabella, "I wanted to share
my experience with other people."
Sergio Tritto, 46, left his career in 2000 as a lawyer in
Italy to move to Roatan and, with his business partner Mirabella,
to launch Waihuka, the first and only island dive operation
dedicated exclusively to diving with sharks.
The beginning was more like trial and error. The Italians
would dive on the same site every day for months scattering
chum-fish parts. "Within five to six months sharks
became more confident and would come close," explains
Today the most dangerous part of the dive is opening the
lid of the chum container, a five gallon, blue plastic bucket.
Sharks know the routine and compete for position to be the
first in grabbing the fish chunks. When a Waihuka diver
opens the bucket secured with an improvised screwed-in shaft
of a spear gun, a frenzy of fish competing for the chum
breaks out immediately.
A shark can end up with its head stuck inside the bucket
swimming blindly. Groupers, some as large as 1.5 meters,
compete for the chum and are occasionally mauled and ripped
apart by sharks. The situation is never predictable and
you just never know what each dive will bring.
For the paying customers there is a routine to follow. They
are shown videos, instructed on what to do and what not
do and then they dive into the blue. At around 20 meters
depth, divers kneel on sandy patches allowing the sharks
to swim freely around them. "Sharks are like rats,
you see one and then you see many," says Tritto. Competing
for fish scraps are not only sharks but groupers and snappers.
A green moray eel has also been a regular visitor at the
Cordelia shark dive site.
"It's amazing to having them mill around you like that.
They are docile, and we never saw any teeth," said
Judy Schlieman from Ottawa. Schlieman and her husband had
taken an advanced open water course at TGI in West Bay and
decided to cap the course off with some excitement.
dive experience is reasonably priced, usually no more than
$85; and they work with practically all Roatan dive shops,
splitting the money from the dive clients. Tritto estimates
that over 15,000 divers have come to see the Roatan sharks
so far. All without a single accident to a dive client.
"All clients leave smiling," says Mirabella. Tritto,
however, has been bitten by the sharks several times, once
on the back of the head. With over 3,000 logged dives, Tritto
sees that as a calculated risk of working with large, wild
six-gill sharks swim by the Idabel electric submarine. (photo:
with sharks is not a risk-free activity. In February 2008,
a diver was killed by a shark in a cage-free encounter in
the Bahamas, drawing world-wide attention to the risks involved
with mixing sharks and divers..
the danger of running a shark dive operation appears from
other people, not fish. Competition to keep tourist divers
happy and entertained is fierce.
The temptation and proximity of having a shark population
only a mile south of the Roatan International airport has
caused occasional conflict over who has access to the site
where sharks are now used to coming.
Tritto explains that over the years, some dive instructors,
oftentimes working without their dive shop's knowledge or
approval, would bring a group of dive clients to piggy-back
on the Waihuka's group.
In one such incident on January 14, dive instructor Willie
DeBeer took a group of Sueño del Mar tourists to the
shark site, following a group of Waihuka clients who were
already there. Mirabella saw the group coming and attempted
to shut the diver's oxygen tank off. An underwater scuffle
ensued between Mirabella and DeBeer, and charges of attempted
murder were filed with the Roatan fiscal office.
The incident highlighted tensions and competition over the
shark resource. The Waihuka Adventure is one of few such operations
in the Caribbean. St Maarten and the Bahamas have only a half
dozen shark feeding, non-caged shark diving operations. Still,
Roatan's shark diving is unique and famous around the world.
The Waihuka Adventure office proudly displays a laminated
page of the New York Times travel section with an article
about Roatan and photos of Mirabella. "What we sometime
lack is the respect from local community," says Tritto.
Open cage diving is not the only way to see sharks off Roatan.
Roatan's deep sea submarine Idabel, belonging to Karl Stanley,
is another, possibly safer way of seeing sharks around Roatan.
For the past four years Stanley has been taking tourists to
a six-gill shark feeding site located a half mile off West
End and 1,400 feet below the sea surface. This is the only
such shark feeding operation open to tourists in the world.
The 16-foot to 18-foot six-gill sharks are scavengers and
are attracted by the floating smell of rotting flesh. On the
day of the dive Stanley wakes up early to be the first at
the Coxen Hole market to bid for a pig's head. He has sunk
dead horses, dogs and even cat carcasses to the ocean bottom,
all of them donated by neighbors or found on the side of the
road. With time Stanley suspects that some sharks have begun
to associate the sound of his yellow electric submarine with
food, all kinds of food.
Shark enthusiasts have to pay $1,500 and sometimes wait for
seven to eight hours for the giant six-gill sharks to appear.
Occasionally a tiger shark, a hammerhead, or a lantern shark
can be seen on these dives. "There are over 400 species
of sharks and of them we know very little," says Stanley.
His shark dive experience is in many ways the safest way be
so close to a shark. The fish have no way of biting the submarine,
and there is no risk of decompression sickness.
The shark environment around the Bay Islands is changing and
unfortunately changing for the worse. Stanley and Waihuka
divers more and more often see sharks that are maimed by poachers.
The fish swim with their fins sliced off or hooks in their
mouths. These grim realities are becoming not only a concern
for the Bay Islands' shark population, but also for the image
of Roatan as a dive destination and for the safety of Roatan's
divers. "One of the sharks had a metal hook and a 15
foot line. I was concerned I might be caught in it,"
said Judy Schlieman.
Sharks are a prize welcomed not only by divers. Fishing sharks
for their fins is practiced in waters around Roatan and in
the Gulf of Honduras. According to Tritto, shark fishing isn't
illegal in Honduras, but requires a special fishing license
that is just not granted.
While killing of sharks for sport is endangering their populations
around the Bay Islands, it is also reducing the attractiveness
of Roatan as a destination. Without sharks Roatan isn't worth
shark swims by a Waihuka dive client on Cordelia bank.
(photo: Cesar Rodas )
story / editorial
/ local news
Record Cocaine Bust on the Island. No one Arrested
Honduran soldier guards cocaine found on the beach and loaded
into a truck. (photo: Utila East Wind)
police and army interrupted a drug transfer and smuggling operation
at Utila airport on the night of January 26-27. "We heard helicopters
moving all night," said one Utila resident.
Two boats were found abandoned by the airport beach with cocaine
bundles laying in piles nearby. A plane registered in Venezuela
was found abandoned at the Utila airport with some cocaine still
on-board. In total 1,500 kilo of cocaine has reportedly been found,
its total value on Honduran streets at $12 million. The cocaine
was burned on January 30 at the Utila airport.
January 27, 28 and 29 police and Honduran army officials flooded
the streets of Utila town, but made no arrests. According to local
sources at least one person suspected to be part of the smuggling
operation left the island on the January 28, 6:20am ferry to La
Ceiba. His clothes were soaking wet, yet the police did not control
the people leaving the island right after the raid.
Many Utilans felt frustrated by the ineffective way in which the
smuggling operation was handled. Others felt scared about the rising
presence of drug smugglers on the island. "As often as once
a week planes land at night at the airport," said one Utila
resident. The landing strip has no security or lights and is adjacent
to a beach.
Both Utila as well as Guanaja airports are used as reloading points
in smuggling operations. Drugs are carried from Columbia in stripped
down planes, then transferred to speedboats for further journey
to Mexico and the US.
story / editorial
Candidates for Liberal Party's Congress Seats See Themselves as
Islands was one of four Honduran departments where a total of
67 challenges of results were made of the Liberal Party internal
elections for congress seats. Liberal Party's presidential candidate
Elwin Santos and runner-up presidential candidate Roberto Micheleti
have gone through a process of recounts, challenges and, in some
cases, appeals to the supreme court of Honduras to hear their
One of the more bitter battles has taken place for the single,
out of the total of 128, congress seat of Bay Islands, one of
the strongest departments economically of Honduran Departments.
Ernesto Wesley, Micheleti movement candidate, has now been declared
as winner over Dorn Ebanks, the Elwin Santos candidate. Wesley,
36, is a land developer and owner of an accounting firm. Dorn
Ebanks, 40, is an ex-Bay Islands governor and owner of an airline
company in Honduras and in Haiti. Both candidates were born in
results declaring Dorn Ebanks were published in La Gazeta in early
January, the country's official journal, Wesley says that a challenge
to these results was exercised within the prescribed five days.
Wesley explained that Micheleti lawyers working on his behalf
successfully challenged the recount, saying that only 50 out of
the 58 ballot boxes were counted in the recount. Wesley says that
he has not been notified by the National Election Tribunal about
how many votes he has won by, but his own records show that he
was ahead by 37 votes.
believes that he has won Municipalities of Utila, Santos Guardiola,
many parts of Roatan and even Guanaja where he admittedly didn't
even campaign. "If you run four times for elections and lose,
something is wrong," says Wesley about his opponent.
Ebanks has a different view on the matter and remains suspicious
of the process. "They [National Election Tribunal] had no explanation
of how this [the reversal of the decision] happened," says
Ebanks. He added that he has three lawyers working on his side,
two hired by Ebanks' presidential running mate and one hired with
his own money.
While Ebanks still believes he will receive his party's nomination,
he is preparing to enter the November 29 national elections as an
independent, reportedly with Elwin Santos' approval. "Nobody
in Honduras' history has run as an independent for a Congress seat,"
says Ebanks, whose decision to run on independent ticket is likely
to weaken the Liberal Party in the Bay Islands and increase chances
of Romeo Silvestri, the National Party's candidate, winning the