Over the past 18 months more than 30 percent of coral coverage on the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), the largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, has been killed off by a disease known in Mexico as white syndrome, which attacks stony corals and makes them inert skeletons. It has already devastated coral reefs in Mexico and Belize, two of four countries along the reef system.
“The white syndrome also began to be detected in Honduras, so in the Bay Islands we are identifying where the affected reef patches are in order to isolate them and eventually eliminate them,” said Jimmy Andino, director of the country’s Center for Marine Studies (CEM).
Edoardo Antúnez, director of the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), said his organization is working to get people interested in reef conservation and making them aware of how to practice sustainable tourism.
“We will return to the dive centers to bring non-formal environmental education about this new problem in the MAR,” he said.
BICA’s executive director Irma Brady recommends that the Honduran government promote tourism in the area that is focused on sustainable development, putting economic priorities on the same level as environmental protection.
“2020 will be a good opportunity to promote more projects and conservation actions in the Bay Islands,” Brady said.
In 2017-2018 the Ecological Blue Flag Program of Honduras (PBAEH, by its acronym in Spanish) awarded the Bay Island of Útila with a blue flag due to good practices on the beach of the Sandy Bay sector. The two beaches that took the PBAEH award in 2019 are on Roatán Island, Half Moon Bay in the West End and Camp Bay in the jurisdiction of José Santos Guardiola municipality.
PBAEH is an environmental education initiative aimed at promoting conservation and development in accordance with the protection of natural resources and the implementation of actions to address climate change.
Climate change is one factor among many having a negative impact on the world’s coral ecosystems. But because white band is a new disease its causes and treatments need further study.
Asked whether topical products such as insect repellents and sun blockers and bronzers could intensify the spread of white syndrome in the MAR, Andino said: “We do not have such overwhelming information to say that the use of certain products is directly related to the proliferation of this disease.”
But products that include chemicals are not suitable for personal use and worse for the environment, he noted.
Some countries apply regulations for the protection of beaches and reef areas and prohibit the use of bronzers or blockers, said Andino, who recommends that every visitor to the Bay Islands search the market for organic products that don’t cause harm to marine life.
“Maybe they are more expensive, but it is better to invest. We must try not to use these products with chemical ingredients that come to damage ecosystems,” Andino added.
A Spanish-language version of this story originally appeared in La Tribuna on 20 Dec. 2019.
Banner image: Honduran conservationists in the Bay Islands are already prepared to deal with white syndrome / Credit: Shawn Jackson