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  • Writer's pictureSteven Hopkinson

A few things to consider before your visit...

Before visiting the gorgeous island of Roatan in the far reaches of the Western Caribbean to join us on an amazing sailing and snorkeling adventure aboard our Beneteau sailing yacht, City Dogs, there are a few things we'd like for you to consider. Things to think about when planning your trip to the Bay Islands of Honduras. First of all, think about what you bring. Some plastic use is almost unavoidable, but leave the single use stuff back home. (Better yet, don't buy it at all). Don't bring single use plastics to Roatan. We don't need anymore of that trash here. And if you're bringing any new things down for family or friends, make sure to take that stuff out of the packaging, get rid of the little plastic bags, the little zip ties, the caps and lids. Leave all that junk back home. Roatan doesn't need it.

Do bring reuseable water bottles, we recycle on City Dogs and have our own branded water bottles to lend our to our guests, but having your own stainless steel or bamboo straw and your own bottle would be ideal, especially if you're going to be spending some time here, because there are no plastic straws on the island. Same thing goes with plastic bags. If you're planning on doing some shopping, bring your own bags.

Do bring your own reef-safe sunscreen. You can buy it here too but you're gonna pay the tourist price for it here. But do carefully read the label before you buy it and read it close, look for the active ingredients, as there are some trickily worded products out there that want you to think they're coral safe when they're toxic. If the active ingredient ends in "ide" then it's probably fine (as in Zinc OxIDE, Titanium OxIDE). If the active ingredient is something else, it is no good for the reef. And if you're snorkeling or diving and slathering up in coral toxic sunscreen before you jump in, well, that's just no good for the reef. Especially if you imagine how many people are doing that per day, all over the island on cruise ship days! So yeah, get the real reef safe stuff.

Reef safe sunscreen usually costs a bit more ("conscience do cost"), but you use less of since it spreads a long way and you only need to use it when you're going diving or snorkeling in the water. If you're just hanging out on the beach or whatever, use whatever cheap coral toxic brand you want, but if you're going in the crystal clear turquoise waters of Roatan and you're wearing sunscreen, it better be the reef safe stuff. Otherwise you're just poisoning the reef.

While we're talking about the coral reef, sponges, marine life in general, please don't touch any of it. Even if it looks dead, it's probably not, and everything on the reef is fragile, everything down there takes years to grow. Just a little bit of excessive finning*, just a slight touch from your fintip as you're lining up that perfect shot for your Instagram Page, and years of growth are destroyed. Further strain is put on an ecosystem already stressed by excessive nutrients, rising temperatures and acidity in the water. So let's not make things worse. Look, but don't touch. Leave only Memories. And that goes for fish and other aquatic life too. Don't touch any fish or underwater life, don't harass them. Just look and take pictures if you're gonna do anything. Leave no trace. Do no harm.

Unless you see a lionfish and you're a certified lionfish hunter like me, then you can use your Roatan Marine Park approved Hawaiian Sling and kill as many of these invasive species as you can. And if you're going snorkeling or diving with us and are certified lionfish hunters, we've got a nice City Dogs Zookeeper and I do a decent job filleting them up, so we can have some fun out there helping to keep this invasive species population in check and have a nice meal while we're at it. Because unlike other species on the reef, which only reproduce once a year, the invasive lionfish reproduces every 3-5 days. That's sick and alone would make them a menace to other native species, but the fact that nothing here eats them makes it even worse.

And please, if you're gonna hunt lionfish, take them with you from the water. Don't try to feed them to other marine life. You're not going to teach them anything except that the sharks and snappers and rays and barracuda will learn that divers have food. You can see evidence of this in certain areas of the island. It's altering behavior like chumming the water and will ultimately cause some accidents in the future if it's not immediately stopped.

While we're talking about fish, let's remember that the entire island of Roatan and indeed all of the Bay Islands of Honduras (Utila, Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos) are Marine Protected Area. We must remember there are regulations on certain types of activities and respect them at all times. There are closed seasons for both lobster and conch, which we respect. And there are size restrictions on lobster, so make sure if you're getting lobster tail and it's local and fresh that a)- it's in season and b)- it's at least 5" long. Otherwise you're breaking the law and putting a species that's already having a tough time under even more strain. We choose not to eat lobster here and we've been avoiding shrimp too. Fishing hasn't been easy of late and we're trying to do our small part to help keep demand down right now.

There is also a Roatan Marine Park list of recommended fish to eat called the Responsible Seafood Guide. It's a pretty good guide. Most restaurants on the island will have some version of this sign posted. You'll note lionfish is at the very top, the one they're encouraging people to eat, while sharks and turtles are listed as protected species that should never be taken for food. Keep this in mind when eating out locally on the island. Lionfish Louies at Havana Beach Club in the mid-island area is a great choice for lionfish and more in a really great beach location. But wherever you go, just order seafood choices that make ecological sense for the continued safety and health of the reef. Go for lionfish over sea bass. Make sure if you're getting lobster or conch that they are within size limits and in season.

Oh, and donate to the Marine Park if you can. I know, there are so many places doing so much good, it's hard to single one out but they're doing a lot of good and trying to patrol a big long island like Roatan is not easy. There's a lot of water to cover, a lot of bays to navigate, a lot of places to hide and they need more resources to do their job more effectively. If you can, give them a donation and let them know you want it to go to the East End patrol fund. We frequently snorkel out there, take our boat out there and they have a huge amount of island to cover with just one patrol boat. And they're doing great work like saving turtle eggs from being slaughtered and enforcing size restrictions and season bans on endangered species like lobster and conch, in short keeping the reef safe for future generations.

* A note on finning. Less is more. Take it easy; float. Andrea and I will be right there with you. We're both experienced dive professionals, both PADI specialty instructors with first aid training. For those of you who aren't in the water all the time, we know it can be disorienting, especially if your mask fogs up and there's some current, just be aware that if you are doing big sweeping flutter kicks with stiff fins in a vertical position, you're putting a lot of strain on the fragile ecosystems directly underneath you. If you're in fifteen, twenty feet of water over a sandy bottom that's probably fine unless you're giant size, but if you're really shallow or in a delicate area your fins alone could be doing huge amounts of catastrophic damage to a precious collection of marine ecosystems all around you. We've seen it happen and it's tragic, so even if you're experienced divers we're going to remind you to please use the utmost situational awareness when near the reef to respect, honor, and treasure it. Hopefully we won't sound obnoxious, we just want to make sure the abundant cathedral of natural splendor that is the MesoAmerican barrier reef system which surrounds the island of Roatan and the Bay Islands of Honduras, never loses one fragment of beauty. We want to preserve it so our children and their children can enjoy it as well, instead of merely being able to read about it in a book, or see in a video about how amazing the coral reef once was before we completely destroyed it. So if we ask you to be careful, or move away from the reef while adjusting your mask, don't get mad, we're just being good ambassadors of the underwater world, helping to take care of the reef that we cherish so much.


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