Roatán Island is the perfect tropical getaway for divers and snorkelers. Few of them see the poverty and environmental degradation in the small community of El Berrinche, even though it’s near the popular West End dive area.
But El Berrinche is taking steps to reclaim its marine environment by declaring a 20-acre no-take zone just offshore, in Half Moon Bay, to protect coral reefs damaged by overfishing. The bay is being seriously overfished. A 2018 survey by Healthy Reefs for Healthy People showed a broad decline in biodiversity, including decreasing stocks of parrotfish and other species critical to reef health. (Some of the damage was caused by sewage, which was untreated until 2012. In 2017, Seacology funded repairs to the treatment plant.)
The prospects for recovery are good, however. The beach received a 2019 Blue Flag Beach Award for meeting strict water quality standards. Under the new rules, only hook-and-line fishing is allowed. Boat traffic, which has injured kids swimming there, is banned. Roatán Marine Park, a partner of Seacology in other projects on the island, will install buoys to demarcate the area and expand its daily patrol route to include this area.
Seacology funds are being used to turn an unused one-room school building into an environmental education hub with computers, books, and supplies such as fish ID cards and snorkel gear. Roatán Marine Park will provide a year-round environmental educator. This is an enormous benefit to the community, where children have little access to books or computers. And because families don’t have computers or internet, students lost a year of school during the pandemic.
In addition to classroom instruction, kids will take part in beach clean-ups and citizen science surveys of fish, corals, algae, and other indicators of reef health. This fieldwork helps ensure good management of the beach and gives youth skills they can apply in conservation careers, steering them away from environmentally damaging sources of income.