The good, the bad, and the ugly
Let's start off with the good. Since it's been too rough for sailing charters of late, with the trade winds hammering the south shore of Roatan, we went diving with Subway Watersports And like always, we had a fabulous time. We ended up on a private boat with our friend Sterling and their awesome divemaster Nelson who was thrilled to take us on a lionfish hunting dive once he saw my hawaiian sling.
We ended up killing five decent sized lionfish on our dive. I got three, Nelson got two. Between us, not bad for an hour's work keeping these invasive species from doing anymore harm to the fragile marine ecosystem. Nelson got a nice dinner and we both got a feeling of accomplishment, knowing we did something good for the reef that has given so much joy to us.
We saw this amazing orange long snout seahorse near Sea Star Wall on our second dive. It's a testament to the knowledge, memory, and skill of local DiveMasters like Nelson that they can consistently find and deliver amazing encounters like this without seeming to break a sweat.
Now that we've covered the good, it's unfortunately time to move on to the bad. On our first dive, after already nailing my first lionfish, I noticed Andrea rapidly kicking in an excited way that normally means one thing: a sea turtle. So I followed her and got psyched when I saw the unmistakable shell of a sea turtle because it's quite rare to find them outside of the heavily patrolled West End Marine Park area here on the island of Roatan. In fact, I'm not sure we've EVER seen a turtle on the north side of the island outside of the West Bay/West End/Sandy Bay area. So I was super psyched, until I got closer and noticed it wasn't moving and that I couldn't see a head or any limbs.
At first, I thought it was scared, frightened, that it had retracted into the shell, but when I got closer, I signaled to Andrea, pointing at the turtle and performing the Out of Air underwater signal, drawing my hand across my throat, asking her if it was dead. When she nodded and I looked closer, the horror of what I was seeing became apparent. It was merely the lifeless shell of an endangered sea turtle that had been butchered for a single meal.
Later in the dive, I noticed a second turtle shell discarded even deeper, evidence of another brutal, sickening crime. Another husk of a once vibrant, gorgeous sea creature reduced to nothing by the greed of people.
Now that we've covered the bad, it's time to finally move on to the ugly. When we shared pictures of the first dead sea turtle carcass, lots of people shared and commented, expressing outrage and distress, but there were some responses that stood out, defending the practice of killing sea turtles as something that islanders have done for years. We were told that we were wrong to tell others what to do on their island, that we were being culturally insensitive to poor island people who lack the opportunities that we have as privileged visitors to this gorgeous island. We were told that native islanders only kill turtles around Easter time, that it wasn't a big deal, that we were imposing our ugly entitled American values on people whose culture was different and was in part defined around eating turtle.
We live on a small island and we do everything we can to respect, honor, and cherish the culture of those islanders who have come here before us, but there is a problem with turning a blind, ignorant eye towards reckless, irresponsible behavior. When people want mangoes, they just take them from the trees here. They don't cut the entire tree down. But that's what some of the people on the island are doing when they butcher turtles for a special meal. And worse, they're defending the practice of eating an endangered species because it's what they always done.
Thing is, islander or mainlander, Honduran or North American, we are all citizens of the world. This issue transcends politics, nationality, ethnicity, and culture. We're all stewards of the one ocean that unites us all. We all came from the sea and we will all suffer if we continue to allow the sea to be pillaged for short-term gain. If we keep taking turtles to eat today, there won't be any left to eat tomorrow. There won't be any turtles to see on the reef. And the reef and tourism will suffer as a result. Just like if we cut down every mango tree pretty soon there would be no mangoes for anyone to enjoy.
The same goes for the people who ignore the posted lobster, shrimp and conch hunting seasons in search of temporary profits or momentary meals. They're putting even more stress on species that cannot handle it, pushing them that closer to collapse, threatening the way of life for most of the honest fisherman out there. Now sure, we understand that people have to eat, that islanders are used to taking what they need from the sea, that they don't want or need to ask permission of anyone to feed their families. We get that. But indiscriminate harvesting of marine life has taken a toll on populations of many species of life on the reef.
This means that we as a community need to do more to increase awareness of the problem, to reach out and educate everyone on the island that the future health of the reef is much more important than any one single meal. If that means providing more sustainable alternatives, then that's what we, as a community need to address moving forward.
To that end, we want to suggest that you donate to the Marine Park to help fund their education programs, to help them expand their patrolling outside of the West End corridor so that the entire island is protected and kept safe for generations to come. To that end, we'll be making donations to the Marine Park, specifically to help them fund programs designed to protect and educate the East End of the island, for every person who goes on a sailing or SCUBA excursion that we undertake moving forward. Every little bit helps.