July 27, 2011

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Dr Earle speaking to a local delegation at the Swan Islands expedition farewell dinner, (c) Marisol Rueda

Our last day on Roatan found us preparing for the farewell dinner and fundraiser for Roatan Marine Park. A delegation of local business people and VIPs joined the expedition team for dinner at the Tranquil Seas eco-resort. Guests enjoyed an excellent dinner while expedition team leaders, Dr. Melanie McField, Dr. Rachel Graham, and Kip Evans narrated a presentation on the preliminary results of the Swan Island research. Diners were treated to amazing photographs and learned about the health and status of the Swan Islands. After the presentation, Dr Earle addressed the group, giving her perspective on the expedition, her vision for the future, and a call to action for the attendees to save this special place, to leave a legacy for future generations.

While the expedition may be over, the message still remains. Dr Earle’s idea of Hope Spots carries great importance in the realm of ocean conservation. It embodies her positive approach, looking at the potential and exposing the true condition of these special places. The expedition to the Swan Island was a way to discover the true baseline status of the far flung islands. The hope was, that because of its distance from the Bay Islands and the Honduran mainland (150 miles from Roatan), it would be an oasis of life, teeming with fish, and flush with the multitude of species present on a healthy reef.

The reality of the Swan Islands is very different from our initial visions. The waters of Swan Island are not filled with the abundance of large fish and sharks that signal a healthy reef. It is very clear that there has been significant overfishing occurring in these waters. Expedition divers studying the reef saw only a couple of Caribbean reef sharks. There are very few snapper populating the reef, and what few there are, are juveniles. These reefs should hold grouper by the dozens, yet only two large grouper where sited, a cause for major concern.

However, as Dr. Earle so eloquently explained to our team, there is cause for hope. While there were few groupers sited, we did find an incredible pair of goliath grouper, a critically endangered species in the Caribbean. The reefs around the island had clearly felt the impacts of multiple large hurricanes, however, the expedition surveys found sections of the reefs populated by endangered staghorn coral and elkhorn coral. Even though the expedition divers surveying the reef did not see many Caribbean reef sharks, the shark team had significant success utilizing their baited underwater video surveys. They found sharks on 90% of their deployments, including a sighting of another critically endangered species the great hammerhead shark.

Clearly, there is reason for hope. But there is a desperate need for action. The Swan Islands and Cordelia Bank need our help. They are gems in the Honduran waters begging to be treasured and protected.

The Expedition Team gathers to say farewell to the Swan Islands, (c) Marisol Rueda

Text by Dustin Boeger

Photograph by Marisol Rueda 
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One Comment

  • I am enjoying looking at the studies that your group did on the Swan Islands. I spent time on Great Swan in 1973 and 1974. I took hundreds of 35 mm photos of Great and Little Swan. We were surveying the islands as possible resources to take our marine biology students. The islands were quite different then.

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