story / editorial
Roatan Sky High by
Bird's Eye View on the Impact of the Island's Growth
Cruise ship terminal in Dixon Cove is the biggest construction
site in Bay Islands history.
best vantage point on Roatan's changing face is about 500
meters in the sky. On February 3, two BICA board members
boarded a light aircraft to assess the environmental impact
of changes to Roatan over the last year. "We [BICA]
are a watchdog organization. We rely on complaints from
regular citizens," explains Brady.
BICA has conducted flyover environmental monitoring in 1999,
2002 and this year. "The purpose of the flyovers is
to promote sustainable development, not to name any one
culprit or infraction," says Irma Brady, BICA president.
She says that most times when property owners are approached
directly, they refuse to cooperate and make changes to assure
that damage to the environment is minimized. "If they
know that we are only a local organization with no enforcement
power, they often become abusive," says Brady.
The more powerful organization responsible for environmental
enforcement and monitoring is the Honduran Ministry of Environment
- SERNA. Their presence on the island is sporadic and limited
to prolonged battles over building, or dredging permits.
"They [SERNA] don't come for inspections as often as
they should," says Brady. "They issue a permit
and sometimes come for inspections three years later, for
a project that was never started." While many on Roatan
are preoccupied with SERNA permits, few understand that
a project's subsequent construction methods impact the environment
Much of the development on the Bay Islands goes practically
unsupervised. In many cases SERNA gives permits and doesn't
follow up with inspections to monitor the environmental
impact of construction. Some developers take advantage of
SERNA's lack of monitoring, with many projects removing
vast quantities of mangroves without regard for potential
impact on the reef which made the site so attractive to
Pearl golf course, an 18 hole golf coursed designed in Pete
environment has been irreversibly changed: hundreds of acres
of mangroves have been cut, improperly built roads spill red
soil onto the reef, construction sites fail to provide minimum
netting and maintain or even provide adequate catch basins.
"On Roatan it's like a Pandora's box- everyone's guilty
of something," says Brady.
Flying in a little Cessna above the island, two facts become
clear. Roatan is in the middle of a construction boom that
will enlarge Roatan's tourist and residential capacity three-fold.
And while many projects are well underway, others lie half
finished, spurned by bankrupt owners with faltering lines
of credit. They are ready to sell to anyone with enough cash.
Anderson and Mary Monterroso, two-long time Roatan residents
and BICA board members, flew over the island in the four-passenger
Cessna. "It almost looks pretty. We should be flying
over right after the rain to see all the run off," says
Monterroso. "Every creek on the island runs red except
the one in Port Royal," says Brady, who monitors Roatan's
gulleys during the rainy season. Red soil is full of sediment,
which clogs up and suffocates coral heads. The soil's high
nutrient level provides fertile territory for algae which
also eventually kills the reef.
The disturbingly high rate of environmental damage becomes
most evident at the West End of the island. As recently as
1995, West Bay was a pristine, undeveloped beach visited by
divers from the island's premiere resorts. Since then the
island's most beautiful beach has rapidly transformed into
a concrete grid of condos and hotels. During the rainy season
the water often smells of sewage, fish make for cleaner waters
and coral heads die in increasing numbers.
Roatan's most important resource is its reef. Like money in
the bank, the reef provides more income every year that the
island is able to preserve it. A generation from now, a pristine
reef will be worth tenfold the income that any hotel or housing
development could ever bring. "The development of the
island has caught us [islanders] with our pants down and we
haven't caught up yet," says Brady.
Coral reefs are deeply interconnected and in many ways function
as whole organisms. Current damage could spread to neighboring
sections of reef - even without further development. This
'West Bay effect' has already weakened the reef in Sandy Bay,
Flowers Bay, and Dixon Cove. Should the impact spread to the
East side of the island's continuous reef, Roatan's once world-class
reef will be in danger of becoming a world famous dead reef,
such as those is Jamaica and Dominican Republic.
"The carrying capacity of the island has not been determined,"
says Brady. The island's capacity to sustain infrastructure
and population is an unknown, but a bird's eye view of development
raises an ominous possibility: that damage to the island's
ecosystem through development is approaching a point of no
137 homes, Colonia Santa Maria in Dixon Cove is the biggest-to-date
low income housing development in the Bay Islands.
story / editorial
/ local new s
______________back to top
by Thomas Tomczyk
it better to be Moral or Educated? I say: We Should be Both
or Non at All
of the most corrupt officials in Honduras have university
degrees, even law degrees. They use their education to further
their ambitions at the cost to society. It has gotten to
the point that many uneducated Hondurans associate education
with financial success and immoral behavior. Educated public
officials are almost expected to fend for themselves and
use the system for their own benefit. If an educated public
official didn't secure a financial gain from his time in
office he is seen as gullible and dim-witted.
Where I come from, education is connected more with intellect
then with competence. The world is full of pseudo intellectuals,
educated and competent people that are unable to hold meaningful
discussions about morality or question the direction of
where they are heading. Education provide opportunities
for people and it is the necessary, yet not sufficient element
in the functioning of a civilization.
The entire idea that education is the principle and only
solution to the ills of a Honduran, or any other society
is false. I believe that education is not as important as
individual's moral core. In fact, education without ethical
core is dangerous to the foundations of society or group.
For the good of itself and others, an immoral society should
better remain uneducated.
One way to look at it is as a dilemma whether it is better
to have competent, but corrupt officials running the country,
or no competent officials at all. The choice is not easy.
As a comfort I say that many societies lack education, but
manage to lead productive and happy existences.
On a motorcycle trip in Bhutan, a little visited, extremely
poor, Himalayan kingdom, I realized that this country has
very low number of educated people, but it is one of the
safest, friendliest countries you could find.
There is something that is more needed then education in
Honduras and Bay Islands, societies that have been deeply
traumatized. Majority of children here grow up without fathers,
in abusive families; and they are surrounded by drugs, guns
and violence at home and on the streets. Hondurans need
psychologists and counselors more then they need teachers.
They need healing and guidance, more then they need another
unequipped classroom and unprepared teacher.
his book "Collapse" Pulitzer-winning author
Jared Diamond analyzes a history of societies that grew,
educated themselves and then imploded, sometime vanished.
One of the societies Diamond describes is Easter Islanders,
who lived on a remote, once lush and forested island.
As the islanders mastered new skills and educated themselves,
they begun almost obsessively building statues as symbols
of their own power. Different islander groups competed
for best trees to be used to transport the sculptures
around the island. In a span of just few generations Easter
island became completely deforested. Islanders became
stranded and unable to build boats to travel to other
Polynesian islands for help. Their power dwindled and
they had nothing left to do but stare at their lonely
I hear a mantra being repeated over and over again: lets
build school, put children in classrooms and education
will solve all our problems. This mantra is told to the
American public about Iraq, and in Honduras to the masses.
Morality of individuals comes first from family, neighbors
and churches. School is only a secondary place where moral
values are instilled. Education and building schools should
only be a first priority if the education system assures
that it is also creating moral individuals.
While education provides opportunities for individuals
and societies, it also provides a responsibility of acting
in a moral way. An educated person in Honduras faces far
more moral dilemmas and questions then an uneducated,
often illiterate person. Competent, yet immoral individuals
are destructive to the society around them, even more
so in a country with few educated people.
story / editorial
/ local news
for the Masses - But at What Cost?
Needed Colonia Luz y Vida Development Could Provide
Low Cost Housing With a High Cost to the Environment
the 'cookie cutter' design of homes, which replicates designs used
on the Honduran coast, raises serious questions about the suitability
of the housing. The designs don't take into account surrounding
island architecture, and may seem out of place. "We have decided
to make the roof color green, to make the homes more like island
homes," said Arguetta. However it will take more than a coat
of paint to address a failure to amend coastal designs to reinforce
against earthquakes which are far more likely in Roatan than on
Further problems may stem from the topography of the site. Much
of the Colonia is located on a 45 degree slope, which makes building
more expensive, access from main roads more difficult, and creates
a soil runoff problem. "With such a number of homes on such
extreme slopes... this is a blueprint for disaster," said Gary
Chamer, a licensed architect, whose Palmetto Bay Plantation property
is down the road from Luz y Vida project.
According to Irma Brady, president of Bay Islands Conservation Association,
BICA has received three complaints about the project from neighbors.
Several neighboring property owners worry about the negative affect
of the colonia on their property values. "Beautiful old growth
trees were indiscriminately cut and burned. Bulldozers cleared land
of all vegetation. I do not understand how this project was allowed
to proceed at this time of year," said Chamer.
Rumors that the development is funded by Punta Cana, a Dominican
Republic competitor that lost a bid for RECO, could not be substantiated
and were denied by Luz y Vida coordinators. "We had presented
the project to Kelcy Warren [owner of RECO] and he said we could
receive funds from the [Warren] foundation he set up," said
Leuba. "Deputy Jerry Hynds said he will help us in getting
the environmental permits."
The project broke ground in June 2007. Hundreds of Cohoon palms
were cut, and mountain ridges were cleared for housing sites. In
what is now a common practice throughout the Bay Islands, the project
went ahead without the issue of environmental permits.
At a meeting with the foreign community Mayor Dale Jackson tried
to distance himself from the Luz y Vida Project. "Municipality
has nothing to do with that project. I guess they put the Municipal
Corporation [on the signage] as a sign of our moral support,"
said Mayor Jackson. But Leuba and Arguetta said that Jackson was
instrumental in securing the land and negotiating a low price. "Dale
[Jackson] is a politician. He knows that with three people voting
at each home, he can win an election with our support," explained
"Thanks to assistance to Mayor Jackson, Mr. Albert Jackson
sold us the land at half price," said Leuba, who coordinated
the over $600,000 land transaction. According to Leuba the original
site of the project was going to be close to Los Fuertes, but studies
showed it to be situated directly over an aquifer. "We already
paid money and Mr. Albert offered this other site," said Leuba.
The next step in the Luz y Vida development will be a lottery to
decide the allocation of lots scheduled for early March.
Luz y Vida sign in front of the project's site
face of Roatan is changing. While growing urban centers house the
majority of the population, low income housing developments are cropping
up far from existing infrastructure. Gated community developments
on prime real estate spring up for those who can afford it, and new
government housing developments attempt to secure a piece of the Roatan
dream for people on low incomes. But the choice of land for some new
developments raises questions about cost and sustainability.
Cristobal Leuba, a minibus driver, heard about the PROVICESOL (Programa
de Vivienda Ciudadana y Credito Social) program on the TV, then travelled
to Tegucigalpa to train as the program coordinator. "Leuba gave
us the idea and inspiration that we can achieve this," said Joel
Arguetta, a Los Fuertes pastor who coordinates Luz y Vida with 14
other project board members.
The government program aims to construct 250,000 affordable homes
across the country, 1,200 of them in the Bay Islands. Luz y Vida is
the first of these projects, with another project for Oak Ridge in
A Lps. 40,000 subsidy, drawn by the government from World Development
Bank funds, will be paid to each qualifying homebuyer. "We have
worked out a deal, so while mainland homes cost Lps. 208,000, Roatan
homes worth Lps. 325,000 will still qualify for the subsidy,"
For around $17,000 a family will be able to own a small home lot with
magnificent views south towards the mountains of the Honduran coast.
The one to twenty year housing loans will be paid at 9% interest in
installments averaging Lps. 1,800 to Lps. 2,000. The entire project
should cost around $4.7 million.
The project will contain 275 two bedroom, one bathroom homes. The
concrete block structures will be at 42.5 square meters and placed
on lots of 200 'barras' or 140 square meters. Luz y Vida will be the
largest ever affordable housing community on the Bay Islands and almost
twice the size of the nearby and recently opened Colonia Santa Maria
that has 137 home sites.
The 24.3 acre site and its only access point is situated on a south
facing slope on the Palmetto road by Tres Flores. At around 120 meters
above sea level the development will have a towering view of the Honduran
coast and sierra Gracias a Dios peaks.
Guardiola 'New Dump' newer opened
a much vaunted grand opening on April 12, 2008, Santos Guardiola
dump remains one of the cleanest places in Roatan's eastern
municipality nearly a year later. The 20,000 square meter Punta
Blanca facility is fenced in and safe from the illegal garbage
dumping that Santos Guardiola residents may have resorted to.
The dump's expensive membrane which covers the dump is exposed
to the elements and may already be damaged.
The Punta Blanca project was funded by Inter American Development
Bank (IDB) funds at a cost of $1.6 million. The equipment -
two trucks, a tractor and a compactor - are yet to be delivered.
The compactor and mover have been delivered, but sit in the
sun gathering dust. The dump awaits delivery of the two dump
trucks, but according to Governor Arlie Thompson, "this
is not an excuse for the dump to remain unused."
The old SG dump trucks are being used to pick up and drop garbage
in the temporary Diamond Rock dump, but have not been using
the new purpose-built dump. Meanwhile the temporary dump is
rapidly growing in size. Situated just 100 meters from main
road in Diamond Rock Aggregates, the dump leaks toxic chemicals
from car batteries into the aquifer while dogs scour the dump
in search of food. The one ray of hope comes from the promise
of Paola Bonilla, Vice Minister of Tourism, that two new dump
trucks will arrive on the island in late March.
opened, never used, Municipal dump in Punta Blanca.
view of the Diamond Rock dump.
Foothold on Roatan
Biggest Dredging Project Ever Turns Dixon Cove into the Archipelago's
Biggest Commercial Harbour
Royal Caribbean inaugurating its cruise ship dock in January,
Carnival isn't far behind and plans to open its two-berth cruise
ship facility in November. The biggest ever dredging operation
in Roatan is underway at Dixon Cove, now the island's biggest
commercial harbor. The dredging to a depth of 10.3 meters is
planned to allow the harbor to accommodate Carnival's 'mega
class', its biggest ships.
Dredging work has progressed 24/7 since beginning on December
9 of last year. In these 80 days of work, the Great Lakes Company
has been contracted to remove 400,000 cubic meters of mostly
alluvial material in a 16 acre area. Another company will now
armor the slopes, stabilizing the dredged area against sliding
Two 6,000 cubic meter scull barges and three buckets manned
by 18 people have taken part in the operation. A turbidity curtain
was used to prevent silt disturbed during the process from leaking
out of the dredged area.
A one kilometer square area about two-and-a-half miles offshore
was used to dump the spoils. An area was divided into a grid
to more evenly distribute the spoils. sKarl Stanley's deepwater
submarine was hired to scout a site where the sledge is dropped.
It located a site 1,600 feet deep with apparently little life.
The Mahogany Bay Cruise Ship terminal project has been given
coveted "project of national interest" status, as
it should generate jobs and revenue across the entire country.
According to BICA President Irma Brady, Ministry of the Environment
(SERNA) holds a significant financial bond as guarantee against
any environmental damage, the first such bond in SERNA's history.
According to Rick Elizondo, contract manager for Great Lakes,
SERNA made several site visits to assure that dredging was in
accordance with permits. "I think they've done a great
job trying to protect the natural resources here," said
Elizondo, who has experience dredging in restricted Florida
costal areas, as well as the Persian Gulf.
barge heads out from Carnival's two dock cruise ship terminal
scheduled to open in fall of 2009.
story / editorial
Candidates for Liberal Party's Congress Seats See Themselves as
far seven stores, two car rental companies and bank FICOHSA - which
finances the project - occupy the 'Town Center.' Two of the biggest
stores are Diamonds International and Duty Free America. The center
has currently 11,500 square feet of retail space with seven stores
and two restaurants, but operates at just 30% capacity. Once phase
II of the project is completed, the site will encompass around 8.7
acres and include 33,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and
2008 around $67 million was generated at the dock in local spending,
with an additional $2.1 million in port and passenger fees and $10
million spent as direct infrastructure investment. In total Roatan
saw around $79 million from cruise ship passengers in 2008, or $1,200
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Royal Caribbean terminal
is Honduran Tourism Ministry (IHT), receiving $494,000 in 2008 fees
and due to receive $730,000 in 2009. In 2005 IHT received practically
nothing from the Roatan cruise ship passengers, but with so much
income now flowing, keeping Roatan growing directly affects Tegucigalpa.
The numbers of visitors at the Port of Roatan in 2009 are projected
to be around 404,000. These numbers however don't reflect possible
increases due to Carnival constructing its two berth facility in
Dixon Cove in November.
Current studies show that disembarked tourists spend roughly $78
on excursions and purchases on the island, well below the $108 spent
at an average Caribbean destination. Shore excursions and jewelry
purchases make up 66% of the money spent by tourists. Molina sees
a trend of passengers spending less, but this trend likely reflects
the overall economic downturn in US rather than a problem with Roatan.
Roatan's vital cruise ship industry is set to flourish, but one
factor may prove a great limitation: the island's capacity to contain
its civil unrest. Roatan was hit by two strikes in 2008 and five
cruise ships cancelled their Roatan visits. Royal Caribbean is concerned
about Roatan's ability to consistently deliver a product to cruise
ship passengers. 'The recent negative episodes of social unrest
in the island have severely impacted the image of Roatan. Cancelling
ship calls is a "Mortal Sin" for a destination!' read
a Royal Caribbean presentation shown at the inauguration of the
Port of Roatan.
But if recent civil unrest can be left in the past, Roatan can continue
its growth trajectory in visiting cruise shippers. In 2008 Roatan
captured 6% of the Caribbean cruise ship market, or as many passengers
as Guatemala and Costa Rica combined. Roatan is approaching the
700,000 cruise ship passengers that Belize receives, and could surpass
Belize as soon as 2011.
walk thru a parking area of the 'Roatan Town Center.'
numbers are big. Municipality of Roatan expects to receive $609,000,
Honduran Ministry of Tourism $730,000, and income from passengers
and crew should surpass $103 million. These are the projected financial
impact of cruise ship passengers in 2009, and 2010 looks even better.
Indeed the cruise ship industry might be the savior that pulls Roatan
through the global recession.
The 'Town Center at Port of Roatan' inaugurated in January has become
a landmark to the investment in the island by Royal Caribbean and
Carnival. "This is the best designed dock in Honduras, it's a
natural, deep water harbor," said Jairo Molina, Port of Roatan
General Manager. HTH Architects based in California designed 'Town
Center' to be reminiscent of a Caribbean town feel, with large window
shutters, zinc roofing, and wood arcades. Only one thing remains:
finish the project.
Phase I of the Royal Caribbean's foothold on Roatan has cost $10 million.
An 11,500 square foot facility has been opened and Royal Caribbean
estimates that 125 jobs have been generated, mostly for Roatan residents.
Phase II will cost around $30 million, but still awaits Ministry of
Environment (SERNA) inspection and permits. Completion of the project
is scheduled for 2010, with more Royal Caribbean ships being sent
But construction has been halted as planners face destroying or moving
coral heads living in an area needed to be filled in to create the
marina and retail areas. The favored plan involves moving the coral
to a nearby location, an operation with a price tag of around $600,000
and no guarantee of the coral surviving.