It’s raining today (Friday). Not mere showers, but full-out downpours that soak you within seconds. But it’s not snowing and still warm enough to wander around in tee shirts and shorts.
One of the positives is that the shifting weather has sent much of the sargassum that washed in yesterday back out to sea.
We stop into the Roatan Marine Park office to chat with marine biologist Nick Bach to find out exactly what it is these folks do. As it turns out, this non-governmental agency does a lot to help preserve Roatan’s jewel of a coral reef. They maintain 140 dive, fishing and yacht moorings and patrol to thwart poaching of turtles, lobster and conch. They’ve been busy in local classrooms, teaching school children how to take responsibility for the reef in the future. But instead of boring classroom lectures, they’re taking the kids out on glass bottom boat rides, on snorkel trips and on Discover Scuba dives. My elementary school science lessons weren’t nearly as fun.
Many restaurants in West End have signs designating them as participants in the Responsible Seafood Program initiated by the Marine Park. That means they are serving fish dishes such as tuna, kingfisher, wahoo, mahi-mahi, etc. that aren’t threatened, and not putting species such as grouper, parrotfish, shark or turtle that are endangered on their menus.
I do my part for the reef ecosystem at dinnertime, ordering lionfish cakes. No one knows exactly how this invasive species from Japan came to settle in the Caribbean. The most popular theory is that half a dozen of them escaped from the Biscayne Bay Aquarium in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. A more likely explanation is that hotels with large aquariums with breeding pairs unwittingly released eggs and larvae into the sea during cleaning.
Lionfish are here now in large numbers and while Nick says they can’t be wiped out, their numbers can be controlled. While they have no natural predators, eels, snappers and sharks have been spotted eating them even though they aren’t part of the usual diet. And licensed lionfish hunters are catching them and local restaurants have put lionfish on the menu (they are delicious).
We saw a juvenile lionfish on our first dive last week. As Rolland went to point at it, divemaster Chip snatched back his hand. While exotic and beautiful to look at, these reddish brown and white striped fish are venomous, delivering a nasty sting that won’t kill you but cause extreme pain that lasts for hours.
“You are going to hate your life,” says Chip.
In the afternoon, we take a five minute cab ride to Alba Plaza to check out some unique Roatan industries. One of them is the Roatan Chocolate Factory, where you can watch chocolate being made fresh from Honduran cacao that comes from cacao beans grown on the island and Honduran mainland. I am in chocolate heaven! There are free samples!
After careful deliberation, we buy four bars for $15 ($5 for one bar) including one 75 per cent organic, one coffee flavoured and two sea salt bars. The sugar rush continues with a stop into the neighbouring coffee shop for a snack of cinnamon coffee cake and a big chocolate cookie to go.
The last stop is one of my favourite places on Roatan – the Rusty Fish. Here you can get great, reasonably priced souvenirs from fridge magnets to colourful fish, turtles and crabs to hang on your walls, made from recycled metal and painted with enamel or acrylic paint. Other recycled pieces in the shop are made from plastic and glass including some beautiful little blue and white turtles. The cool thing is that most of the source materials come from the dump.
The Rusty Fish workshop adjoins the store where you can watch the artists at work. The venture provides training and much-needed jobs for the local community as well as creates memorable made-in-Roatan items for visitors to take home. If you don’t want to venture out to the Alba Plaza workshop, a Rusty Fish shop is also open in the heart of West End.