(Blue Ocean Network - November 14, 2012) -- Tela, Honduras—A unique dive site, previously unknown to the scientific community, has been discovered by the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), and their local partners near the coastal town of Tela, Honduras. The reef is so exceptional that the local municipal government recently declared it a marine protected area, and CORAL is now launching an effort with local officials, conservation groups, and business owners to ensure its future protection.
Divers who have the opportunity to visit this area will get an extraordinary glimpse of what a Caribbean reef looked like nearly thirty years ago. The healthy reef includes an area known as Capiro Banks, which boasts an astounding 69 percent live coral cover. With the average coral cover in the Caribbean today at less than 20 percent, the reef is a rare find.
Furthermore, the reef boasts an unusually high concentration of Diadema sea urchins—important reef grazers whose populations plummeted in the 1980s. And just northwest of Capiro Banks, adjacent to a terrestrial park, the team recorded more than 800 critically endangered elkhorn corals. This important reef-building coral provides valuable habitat for marine life.
“These reefs along the Caribbean mainland of Honduras are quite remarkable,” noted Jason Vasques, Assistant Director of Conservation Programs at CORAL. “The discovery of Capiro Banks is surprising because here is a remarkable reef that has no business being where it is. Despite increasing pressure from nearby nutrient-rich and sediment laden rivers and watersheds, this coral oasis appears to be thriving. While many elkhorn coral populations have collapsed throughout the Caribbean due to disease outbreaks, bleaching, and numerous other localized impacts, this particular reef is defying the odds. It may also be a critical source of coral spawn that could potentially allow this endangered species to repopulate the region.”
The declaration of the marine protected area near Tela was based in part on reef monitoring data collected by CORAL and HRI as part of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) program. After the team presented its findings to the Honduras Vice-Minister of Tourism Synthia Bennett Soleman and David Zacaro, the Mayor of Tela, Zacaro wasted no time in making the declaration. “We are very excited about this newly protected area,” he shared, “but we also understand the great responsibility that has been put upon our shoulders. We must work tirelessly together in order to ensure the future of this beautiful gift, so that future generations can also enjoy the benefits of our amazing reefs.”
The protection of the reef area near Tela follows a significant decision made by the Honduran government earlier this year to designate Cordelia Banks a Site of Wildlife Importance. Located not far from Tela, off the southwest coast of Roatan, Honduras, Cordelia is home to one of the Caribbean’s largest known stands of staghorn coral—an IUCN-listed critically endangered species. Honduras, with the elkhorn coral at Tela and the staghorn coral in Cordelia, can now claim protections for significant populations of two endangered corals.
Reports of Tela’s reefs are spreading quickly throughout the local tourism industry. Construction has just broke ground on the new Tela Marine Research Center. This facility is expected to serve as an educational resource for the greater public about coral reef conservation and will accommodate the needs of approximately 30 to 40 divers each day. Marcello Dicunta, a PADI dive instructor and owner of the Tela Dive Center, is looking forward to the possibilities arising from this discovery. “Seasoned divers will find Tela’s reef different from anything they have seen before. And because it’s so different, we need to ask important questions like why are the coral coverage and sea urchin populations thriving here. Compared to the rest of the Caribbean, Capiro Banks is a very healthy reef and it’s worth preserving so that we can spend time studying it.”
Antal Borcsok, member of the Tela Chamber of Tourism’s Board of Directors, also sees tremendous potential for the area. “This incredible news has sent shock waves throughout the entrepreneurial veins of the people of Tela. We recognize how important it is to act quickly and responsibly to ensure a long-term, sustainable source of income for the community.”
CORAL and its partners are already preparing for the potential impact that added dive tourism will have on the reefs near Tela. Recent programs include installing moorings to reduce anchor damage to sensitive reef habitats, training local marine operators and community teachers in sustainable marine recreation principles, and working with federal authorities to eventually designate Tela’s reefs a Site of Wildlife Importance.
“It is critical that political and private interests align to protect these amazing reefs,” said Vasques. “We look forward to being involved in this locally-driven movement and are committed to helping the community of Tela protect its reefs.”
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is an international non-profit organization that unites communities to save coral reefs. By providing education, tools, and inspiration that help local communities become passionate stewards of their reefs, CORAL is building a worldwide network of well-managed marine protected areas and sustainable businesses that benefit both coral reefs and people. CORAL's innovative programs and effective strategies reduce local threats and build reef resilience to climate change. Visit www.coral.org or call 1-888-CORAL-REEF.
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