Saving the Reefs One at a Time
Cordelia Banks off Roatan Gets Enhanced Protection

June 28th, 2012
by Robert Armstrong

[private]

Aerial view of Cordelia Banks. (photo by Ian Drysdale)

Aerial view of Cordelia Banks. (photo by Ian Drysdale)

Cordelia Banks, a coral formation about two kilometers southeast of Coxen Hole, Roatan, will be subjected to a more restrictive use and management plan pursuant to a recent ministerial decree.

The National Insitute of Forest Conservation and Development, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF), published a decree in the Honduran official gazette in May designating Cordelia Banks a “Site of Importance for Wildlife,” the first Honduran marine area so designated. Cordelia will also be added to the Honduran Catalogue of Inalienable Public Forest Heritage. Only the National Congress may overturn this designation.

At press time, the Port of Roatan was preparing to announce a contract to prepare a management plan for the area to promote its sustainable use. Previously the area, although within the Bay Islands Marine Reserve, had been zoned for multiple use, meaning anything other than industrial fishing was permitted. Now anchoring on the reef will be prohibitted, and measures will be taken to reduce the impacts of tourism and traditional fishing. The Roatan Marine Park, with funding from Port of Roatan, has already begun holding meetings with local fishermen and handing out copies of fishing laws and regulations to sensitize them to the need to protect the area.

Cordelia Banks, about two kilometers southeast of Coxen Hole, has the densest live coral coverage in the Caribbean at 70 percent. (photo by Daniel Pendygrasse) .

Cordelia Banks, about two kilometers southeast of Coxen Hole, has the densest live coral coverage in the Caribbean at 70 percent. (photo by Daniel Pendygrasse) .

According to Ian Drysdale of the conservation group Arrecifes Saludables (healthy reefs), Cordelia was accorded this special status because it has the highest percentage of live coral cover in the Caribbean at 70 percent. It is particularly notable for its staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) and shark habitat, Drysdale said.

Yanu Ramirez, the Port of Roatan’s environmental regent, said the designation resulted from the efforts of “many different actors at the local, national and regional level” dating back to 2005, when the environmental impact study for the expansion of the Port of Roatan to create the Town Center cruise ship village recommended mitigation measures. She said the first technical study was prepared by Jennifer Keck in 2005. The World Wildlife Fund supported a more complete assessment by Roatan Marine Park and Luna Consultores that was submitted in 2009.

Conservation groups are now working to link Cordelia to other nearby marine areas of high ecological value to create a protected corridor along the Honduran north coast between the Bay Islands and Tela. Drysdale said investigations had indicated a high degree of cross fertilization between the Bay Islands and Cayos Cochinos marine reserves and coral formations off Tela and Punta Sal. For instance, Vietnam Banks, between Utila and Tela, has staghorn formations similar to those of Cordelia.

One result of those research efforts, said Drysdale, is that Tela recently gave municipal-level protected status to Capiro Banks, which has live coral coverage of 69 percent, second only to Cordelia in the Caribbean. Researchers found 800 colonies of Palmara (lettuce-leaf) coral in Capiro, which Drysdale said were the healthiest in the Caribbean. Capiro was also found to have 15 sea urchins per square meter, compared with a Caribbean average of less than one, said Drysdale. Sea urchins are like vaccum cleaners that remove debris from reefs, allowing new corals to establish themselves, he said, and they were decimated by disease throughout the Caribbean in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Diploria Labyrinthiformis. (Dominic Gauvin)

Diploria Labyrinthiformis. (Dominic Gauvin)

Tela authorities issued a municipal declaration to protect Capiro within eight months of these discoveries, which Drysdale said was “the fastest we have ever seen something” happen. The Roatan Marine Park has already installed buoys around Capiro and Punta Sal so that fishing and tourist boats won’t have to anchor on the reefs.

Of course, issuing decrees declaring areas protected and actually protecting them are two different things. A key component of the management plan for Cordelia will therefore be who will enforce the restrictions and with what resources. [/private]

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