Swimming in History
An underwater museum provides Roatanians with a Glance at the Island’s past

November 1st, 2010
by Giordana Toccaceli

[private]

A fiberglass statue of Queen Isabela of Spain is one of dozens of artifacts at the underwater museum

A fiberglass statue of Queen Isabela of Spain is one of dozens of artifacts at the underwater museum

A statue of queen Isabel of Spain lies hauntingly submerged at the helm of what looks like the remains of a sunken wreck. Three dreamers: Constantino Monterroso (Tino), Loren Monterroso and Alvaro Sanchez created a unique underwater world that combines snorkeling and lessons in history. Sandy Bay’s Underwater Museum opened in July and is a business whose profitability is not the primary goal. Tino Monterroso, a legendary Roatan diver, sees this as a legacy he wants to leave behind.

The location is quite unique as it has the advantage of four ecosystems: the deep sea, the channel, the reef and the shallows. The museum site attracts fish from all these different ecosystems.

Sanchez, a retired dentist from Guatemala, dive instructor and part owner of the museum, was approached a year ago by his good friend, Tino Monterroso, with the idea of building an underwater museum that would connect islanders and tourists with underwater life and raise awareness about dwindling coral reefs and marine life. “I was working in the Cayman Islands in the boating industry and saw similar projects there, but Caymans did not possess as abundant natural resources or rich historical stories like the ones we have,” said Tino Monterroso regarding where the idea came from.

The vision to generate ecological awareness in the youth of the island is taking form in future plans for a permanent program for kids. Students with good grades or great behavior will get to visit the museum and eat a snack for free. “Environmental week” is also in the works, with experts in the environmental field organizing lectures and school visits.

The entrepreneurs have invested $35,000 and done all of the hands on labor themselves to keep fixed costs as low as possible. “When I began working on this project using my own hands I lost 25 lbs and have never been happier” said Sanchez.

An hour long tour costs $35 and takes you to sandy patches amidst five tons of river rocks brought in from the mainland to create a diverse environment in the shallows.

Methodist Bilingual School students swim over the museum site in pairs

Methodist Bilingual School students swim over the museum site in pairs

To acknowledge Spanish influence, there is a galleon skeleton sunk at 35 feet made from various different wreck parts with eight wooden ribs. There are replicas of Spanish canons, carved and molded out of fiberglass. There are also treasure chests filled with 200 Lempira’s worth of ten cent Honduras centavos, Mayan artifacts and a Garifuna canoe.

As an unexpected bonus the site of the museum has provided a safe habitat for marine life to flourish, like sea urchins, conks, and lobsters. “We are trying to prove you can really have a lot of fish by taking care of them” says Alvaro Sanchez who also plans to attract not only lobsters but cruise ship tourism. [/private]

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