Is Honduras A Model For Marine Conservation?

Honduras, with a population of 8 million, has been propelled to the forefront of marine conservation news with the latest Healthy Reefs report. The organization behind the report, Healthy Reefs, consists of members from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the World Bank, The Summit Foundation, Perigee Environmental and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Project.

The organization monitors and advocates the protection and the condition of the vast Mesoamerican barrier reef system, a 1,000-mile reef spanning the western part of the Caribbean Ocean from the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and south to Belize, Guatemala, and as far east as Honduras’ Bay Islands.

Highlighted in the most recent report are the efforts of Honduras. In the report, Dr. Sylvia Earle, the founder of Mission Blue (and known the world over by her nickname, “Her Deepness)” says:

“You must be doing something right, because here, there are plenty of reasons for hope. Cordelia Banks, off Roatán, Honduras, is one of the best places I have seen, even counting 50 years ago, an amazing stand with acres of staghorn coral.”

What makes Honduras’ case interesting is that local communities and grassroots organizations are largely responsible for these efforts, showcasing the strength that can be found in smaller projects. One such organization is the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) on Roatan in the Bay Islands, a grassroots organizations formed by local dive professionals to help protect the local coral reefs.

Michael Webster from Coral Reef Alliance notes on Huffington Post that they have found great success in motivating local communities, organizations and authorities by pointing to not just the environmental arguments but also the economic arguments. For a country such as Honduras, where the economy has historically largely relied on fishing, overfishing and reef destruction have been highly problematic. But by shifting their economy more towards tourism, not least scuba-diving tourism, the motivation to protect coral reefs and the marine life that inhabits them is all the greater.

Similar experiences have been documented in the Philippines, where local fishermen were motivated to give up unsustainable fishing procedures, including dynamite fishing, by turning the local economy more towards scuba diving. As one local put it, “kill a fish and you can sell it once, leave it alive and you can sell it every day.”1For marine conservation organizations worldwide, the bottom-up approach of Honduras should be a strong indicator of hope, showing that international problems can be remedied locally by bringing together community members who stand to gain the most from conservation efforts (and lose the most by the opposite outcome), and by engaging them to help apply pressure further up. Starting with scuba divers and scuba-diving organizations is also an easy win, as divers are very much on the front lines when it comes to seeing the effects of destructive behavior and, by and large, are more interesting in marine-habitat protection than the average citizen.

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