The Roatan Marine Park (RMP) is a non-profit, community-based organization, established in January 2005 by a group of dive operators and local businesses that were concerned about the alarming rate of reef degradation in the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Reserve (SBWEMR). The Municipality of Roatan declared the Reserve a marine protected area in 1988. It encompasses 13km of coastline and its boundaries extend from the high watermark down to 60m in depth between Key Hole and Lawson Rock. The RMP was finally recognized as an official entity in May of 2008 after acquiring Honduran Non-Governmental Organization Status. With NGO status, the organization was able to secure international funding which has greatly helped the development of the programs listed below:
Initial efforts focused on reducing illegal activities within the Reserve, including the harvesting of lobster or conch and the use of spear guns, nets, and fish and lobster traps. This was achieved through an alliance with the Honduran National Police who accompany Park Rangers on patrols which operate seven days a week, weather permitting, at all hours of the day and night. Three boats and a scooter are used by RMP Rangers to monitor the Reserve, however patrols often travel miles beyond boundaries in search of large nets. In addition to searching for poachers, the Rangers act as a watchdog by reporting any illegal occurrences including new unlawful developments, mangrove cuts, and sewage leaks. As the patrols cannot be everywhere at once the RMP does rely on the public to report suspicious activities. The patrols are a public service whose Roatan 29success is closely linked to public participation.
The RMPs main source of funding comes from the diving industry on Roatan; memberships from local dive shops and the purchase of the voluntary user fee by divers. It is imperative, then, that the RMP provide divers and all park users with the adequate marine infrastructure. Grants from CORAL, USAID, and PADI Project AWARE have enabled the RMP to create an extensive marine infrastructure program. The RMP now maintains over 70 dive moorings, 20 yacht moorings, channel markers with solar beacons, boat exclusion areas, and fishing moorings within the Reserve. In May 2010, with the support of the Municipality, a mandatory mooring fee was introduced for visiting yachts wishing to stay in the Reserve. The RMP donates 50% of the net profit back to the West End community. The maintenance of this infrastructure is a costly and time-consuming process and the RMP is constantly applying for grants to assist in the upkeep.
Education & Public Awareness
The RMP recognizes that long-term sustainability can only be achieved through improved education and community participation. This bottom-up approach will enable our children to take responsibility for protection of the reef in the future. For this reason, we have developed our education program to not only bring marine education to the classroom but to bring the classroom to the reef. School snorkeling trips, beach clean ups, glass-bottom boat rides, and Discover Scuba Diving experiences allow children to develop a deeper understanding of the value of our island.
Recently, with funding from CORAL, the RMP has been working on a project entitled the Coral Reef Leadership Network (CRLN). This ongoing project involves CRLN teaching local groups including tour 30 Roatan guides, water taxi operators, taxi and minibus drivers, fishermen and snorkel and dive shop operators about coral reef ecology and sustainable practices which they can relay to their customers. Roatan’s tourism industry is booming, with thousands of visitors arriving by plane, ferry and on cruise ships each week. With this huge influx of tourists, it’s imperative that these visitors are also educated on the reef and advised how they can minimize their impact during their stay. With funding from WWF and CORAL, the RMP has developed posters, brochures, signs, videos, and radio announcements to help convey its conservation message. The purpose of this constant bombardment of information is to raise awareness.
Research is an essential component of successful marine resource management. Besides enabling the RMP to monitor the effectiveness of our conservation efforts, scientific information is being fed into our education programs, providing information that we disseminate to the general public. The more people understand about their effect on the reef, the more they become empowered to participate in our activities, and take responsibility to protect the marine environment upon which local livelihoods depend. Volunteers and students from local universities have participated in this program, and we are always searching for more participants.
In 2008 the RMP opened an office at Barefoot Cay to manage Roatan’s southern shore. The office operates daily patrols between the airport and Oak Ridge and maintains and installs marine infrastructure along Roatan’s southern shore. The opening of this second office has allowed the RMP to extend their programs and Roatan 31broaden their reach.
The RMP runs many other activities alongside its major programs. They’ve been working for two years to reintroduce recycling to Roatan through the establishment of a recycling micro-business with people that live in the Municipal Dump. They also perform mangrove re-plantations, assist with governmental environmental damage inspections, and attend development proposal environmental impact assessments. They have also been instrumental in setting up community empowerment initiatives through supporting the creation of the Water Taxi’s Association and the Fisherman’s Alliance.
The RMP raises a significant portion of funding needed for activities mentioned above through the sale of merchandise and other products in their Eco-Store, snorkel rental, cruise ship booths, and the Marine Park voluntary “user fee”. The RMP also rely on donations and memberships as a source of income. Finally, a large portion of RMP’s funds come in the form of grants from organizations including WWF, USAID, PADI Project AWARE, CORAL, The Nature Conservancy, and PMAIB. If you wish to find out more about the organization and how you can support its activities, please visit www.roatanmarinepark.com