by Nick Lakoff, Scuba Instructor
Today I went on two dives off of Flowers Bay. This being the rainy season here in Roatan, the wind changes constantly and the normally calm waters of West Bay Beach give way to roiling waves and surf. When this happens, the South side of the island is leeward, quite calm and perfect for diving. Our boat is moored on a dock in Flowers Bay having been brought to this side of the island before the weather turned. It’s an early day for the dive pro’s as we get all the gear together, double check it, load it onto the van that takes us to the other side. Once there we offload the gear and set it up on the boat once we get it out of the boathouse.
Our first dive was on Church Reef Wall near a quaint little white Church right on the edge of the water. The sky was a little overcast with intermittent rain but the visibility in the water was still fair once below the first 15 feet. It had rained heavily all night and the fresh water mixed with the salty ocean water makes a murky cold top layer but once below it conditions are descent. Shortly after going down the steep Church Wall Reef we came upon a strip of about 250-300 feet where there was sediment and garbage from the top of the reef all the way down to about 150 feet along. Everything was dead or dying. From what I could tell it seems that people have been dumping here for a while since there was so much of it. As a dive pro it’s hard for me to describe the feelings that came over me seeing this scene of total destruction, disgust, disbelief, great sadness and ultimately anger. Overall it’s a really awful feeling and I was ashamed that my clients had to see that some here really don’t care what they are doing to the reef…out of sight out of mind. Even thought you can’t hear anything but your bubbles in the water, I could tell what the others were thinking and I could see the expression on their face through their masks. Eventually we drifted past and onto a pristine and healthy part of the reef however the scene I had witnessed lingered in my mind for the rest of the dive.
It’s not hard to understand why dive professionals like myself take this mindless destruction so personally. Other than destroying the habitat we’ve come to love it’s also destroying our workplace that we depend on to earn a living. There are also other impacts for the island inhabitants as well. As the reef dies so too does its ability to mitigate the strength of waves and surf and protect the shore from land erosion. It also loses its ability to support life and a tourist revenue generating resources becomes nothing but dead rubble. In Mexico there are reefs that have been so damaged that they have literally become a desert. This didn’t happen overnight and was surely the result of a range of issues including the dumping of raw garbage and sewage.
We as a community of divers have a special duty to protect the ocean as we are the eyes of the world that cannot see beyond the surface. I continue to believe that the way forward for conservation is through education and highlighting the economic value of preserving marine habitats. Here in Roatan, for example, it is estimated that every local shark brings in revenues of $86,000 a year. Killing them for their fins for a mere $200 a pound then seems like economic suicide. Diving in Roatan is a religion and by and large the network of Marine Parks here have kept the reefs here healthy but much work remains and you must always be vigilant.
Further down the wall about halfway through the dive a beautiful Eagle Ray came up behind us and then scurried along over top of the reef. My spirit was lifted as if a sign from the Universe that things can be turned around with a little help from men and women of goodwill.