Tag Archives: SCUBA Certification

Diving the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Roatan, part I

My first SCUBA diving destination trip was in 2006 to Roatan, the “big island” of the 3 Bay Islands in Honduras.


from www.Honduras.org

It was a very cool locale to do my check-out dives, and then roll right into my first week of boat diving.  I was able to build on that initial momentum and improve my fledgling skills, while surrounded by a fun bunch of skilled – and generous (and opinionated) – divers. (Good advice, PB!)

So I had finally scored my NAUI Open Water Certification, was on my first big trip, and was very happy. But I was so focused on new skills, not making a fool of myself, not dying, and the new people I was meeting, I didn’t pay close attention to the place, itself. 

That said, a few great things stood out immediately:


AKR View from Bar 2006

The dive operation at the well-known Anthony’s Key Resort was very good (not that I had anything to compare it to at that point, but my seasoned pals were impressed), and set in a beautiful landscape.


Shot from Bungalow AKR 2006

We were situated right along the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) so each day we paid our park fees and received our bracelet tags – as in many marine protected areas (MPA), these need to be displayed on your wrist or your BC at all times to show that you have permission to dive there.  This system helps the RMP in its mission to “protect and provide a healthy and sustainable marine environment off Roatan.”

I was also reassured to know that we were steps away from the only re-compression chamber (or hyperbaric chamber) in the area, at Anthony’s Key’s own Cornerstone Recompression Chamber and Clinic.  In partnership with DAN, the chamber is available to commercial and recreational divers, and in turn, the wider clinic provides general medical care to the local community, who might otherwise not have access to treatment.


My first dive site map 2006

May 15, 2006.  It’s hard to describe my first “real” dives, descending over dense coral walls and through the spectacular coral canyons along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Everywhere I looked I saw one more beautiful, weird, creepy, funny, intriguing thing after the next.  It felt like the closest thing I could imagine to being in space – exploring an environment that I couldn’t comprehend until I was in it.

I wasn’t tuned in to the state of the MBRS (a.k.a. the Great Mayan Reef) back then, but I remember a lot of the other divers talking to the dive masters about it, and being cautiously but pleasantly surprised by what seemed like good size and density of the corals.

They were relieved, I learned, because much of the reef had been badly damaged about eight years earlier, by a double-whammy of weather conditions. First, El Nino effects caused sustained ocean temperature rise and resultant, widespread coral bleaching in 1997-98. Then the destructive Hurricane Mitch struck in October of 1998.  [For more on this period, check out this 2001 report from the United States Geological Survey.]

As for the current state of the MBRS, now another eight years later, I found a good resource in the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and their frequent “Report Cards” that assess the situation. 2012-RC-cover-straight

I’ve been reading their clear and thorough Mesoamerica Barrier Reef’s HRI Report Card from 2012.

As anticipated, the news is not good.

Like coral reefs world-wide, the MBRS suffers the very common but serious problems of:

  1. Urbanization and over-development on land
  2. Ocean acidification leading to coral bleaching (that’s climate change, people)
  3. Over fishing and by-catch depletion
  4. Marine debris from litter and run off
  5. Chemical pollution and marine oil leaks

And then another great threat is our ol’ frenemy, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish, a dastardly invasive species that has spread widely, and increasingly threatens marine ecosystems in the Caribbean and the Eastern U.S.

Pretty but Unwelcome!

Pretty but Unwelcome! Cozumel circa 2010 RS

These beauties live harmoniously in Indo-Pacific Ocean environs, but are now wreaking havoc in places where they don’t belong.  Stay tuned for more on the lionfish problem.

I’ll also have more to come on my (limited) experience in Roatan, but for now – if you have a chance to dive the Bay Islands, definitely take it.  It is a beautiful part of the world, with great diving and important marine conservation initiatives going on, but the reef is in trouble.  (Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s already an “it” market for U.S. & Euro expats to (over)develop, so…better get a move on!)

Have any of you been to Roatan recently?  Or maybe to Utila and Guanaja?  What was your experience?   Please leave a reply – I’d love to know the latest.

Thanks!  Until next time.


UPDATE: On Feb. 27, 2014, I came across a new article in Marine Science Today.  The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) has recently released a new report on the state of the Mesoamerican Reef System.  Here’s a quote from this article:

The Eco-Audit revealed that encouraging progress has been made on some issues, particularly with marine protected areas, but the overall pace of implementation of management actions is far too slow.  Since the last Eco-Audit in 2011, 80 percent of the 22 indicators measured in both 2011 and 2014 had no changes; only 18 percent increased. If this pace continues, it will take 50 years to fully implement all of the recommended management actions, which is too long for reefs that are already in danger.