Day 5 on Roatan began bright and early, with a return to our 7:00 am scheduled breakfast. Students were noticeably groggier after last night’s incredible night dive at Mike’s Place; we were excited to share with the snorkeling group what we saw and the whole group was together at mealtime for the first time in a few days. 

Our first excursion of the day involved us going to the Port of Roatan at Coxen Hole. We met two representatives working at the port; one was in charge of the port security and the other was associated with the coral transplantation program at the port - he detailed the process in which his association carefully assessed the transplant destination, constructed and transplanted substrate material, removed the healthy coral, and safely transported the coral to a new location to make way for the port and preserve the natural environment as much as possible. 

We saw this location firsthand with a shallow water snorkel, where we were able to see the man-made substrate mixed in with natural rock formations forming the base for a thriving reef, which included squid, various corals, a scorpionfish, and even some black-spotted nudibranchs (perhaps indicative as to the long term health of the transplanted reef)! I must admit, I went into this meeting slightly skeptical given the relative lack of governmental support (at least to the level we are used to in the United States), but I was pleased to see that the organization had done their due diligence and didn’t cut any corners in transplanting and monitoring the reef. I spoke to the representative, Jose Carlos, about the norms of government involvement within the environmental sector - he pretty much said that it’s normal for Central American governments to provide oversight but not anything in the way of monetary support (“we pay the government, not the other way around”). I found this interesting considering the economic importance of the reefs and local ecosystems not just to the local area, but to the country as a whole. Indeed, one must wonder how much money ecotourism brings compared to other sectors, and how this differs from an ecotourism-based economy such as Costa Rica. Regardless, I was pleased to see my previously held bias towards the project was unjustified.

The second stop of the day was at the Coral Restoration Center of Roatan. We took a closer look at the coral restoration efforts that were underway - a system based on the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo. The PVC structure nursery, microfragmenting, and outplanting process was similar in many ways, save for the implementation of coral restoration incubators (of which I do not recall being utilized in the CRF when I volunteered, though this was 9 years ago). It was interesting and gratifying seeing this successful system enjoying similar success in the marine park, though the representative we spoke to did state they were an understaffed operation. In this I could relate from my own experience working with an environmental NGO; grassroots organizations in the U.S. unattached to several major organizations or a government agency tend to run into the similar pitfalls of staffing, floundering for sources of funding, and end up reliant on a dedicated and reliable pool of volunteers. It was concerning to see similar issues faced by CRCR, though involving locals in their operations was good to see and gave me hope that the program could see some expansion and outreach success in local communities. 

We finished the day early after our tour of CRCR and spent the rest of it relaxing and giving more thought to our projects after we had seen a bit more of the island and the local conservation efforts.

- Cadet Nick Paz

Professors Stephen Kielar and Ariel Setniker contributed to this blog entry.

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Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus offers undergraduate degrees that prepare students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.