The reef looks great - a lot better than it
did after Hurricane Mitch; there's even new growth of some branch corals,"
commented Miguel Alamilla Jr., Manager of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This was in
response to questions this week on the condition of Ambergris Caye's biggest
asset-the barrier reef.
Mr. Alamilla has performed
assessments on the lee side of the island, Bacalar Chico and Hol Chan Marine
Reserve since the hurricane. He stated overall damage was minimal. From his
accounts, in the fore reef, the hill and valley part where most of the diving
takes place, visibility was at about 50 feet, two weeks after the storm. Further
information learned from more recent divers say that visibility has greatly
improved since then. The reserve manager then explained he saw new colonies of
stag horn coral with about one foot of growth in spots where it had been
obliterated by Hurricane Mitch just two years ago. This was encouraging, since
stag horn and elk horn, both branch corals, are very fragile with stag horn
being almost an endangered species. Mr. Alamilla continued saying that the fish,
sharks and rays have not decreased in numbers, stating he observed a Jew Fish in
the reserve just the day before, a rare sighting. He noticed a significant
amount of sand erosion in the Bacalar Chico National Park, (a World Heritage
Site). He explained this was due to storm surge as well as the damage to soft
corals located there, such as the uprooted sea fans and plumes.
Speaking specifically about Hol Chan (Mayan for "little channel")
reserve, Mr. Alamilla said he had done an assessment about a month ago. He
noticed more damage was done by a boat breaking up, approximately 400 meters
north of the cut. The manager explained that a 40 foot catamaran that had been
anchored south of the island in Boca Chica was dragged by the hurricane to the
point mentioned. "This boat broke apart on the reef, damaging more coral than
the storm," he commented.
The fact that Hurricane Keith
came from the back side of the island had adverse effects on that side of the
island. This area of reef is obviously much more shallow and therefore the
corals were affected from the wave action. Mr. Alamilla stated that the surge
overturned boulder corals which is a feat in itself. He observed several broken
elk horn corals as well. When questioned on the state of the mangrove, the
manager commented that those in the reserve would recover sooner than the ones
in the San Pedrito area which were heavily damaged.
Chan personnel are currently trying to catch up from the set backs incurred by
Hurricane Keith. The roof of their office building was destroyed which damaged
many of their files, posters and their Visitor's Center. Additionally, three
boats and engines were damaged and their dock needed replaced. Problems with
their only computer added to their challenges, but they have tackled tasks one
by one and things are finally being restored to normal. Part of this restoration
is being funded by grants from Oak Foundation of the US and the World Wildlife
Fifty new mooring buoys complete with shackles and
ropes have been purchased through a grant from Project Aware, sponsored by the
Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). Placement of these buoys
is being coordinated with the help of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association. Part
of these are replacing old mooring buoys and some are being installed in new
locations. Six additional buoys will join the existing six at Shark/Ray Alley
totaling twelve new buoys at this popular reserve attraction. Marking buoys that
designate reserve boundaries are also being replaced.
if this were not enough, Hol Chan continues to assess the Marine Reserve, zoning
it into smaller measured sections and assessing it in more detail. They have
already cleared the reef of three boats full of garbage and debris. The staff
has also created a new brochure with the aid of a grant from the World
Conservation Union, who have also funded new information booklets (still in
draft stage) to be used by local tour guides.
Besides the manager, Hol Chan's staff consists of
three rangers, Edgar Badillo, Grimaldo Acosta and Antonio Calderon; Biologist/
Peace Corp volunteer Brandon Kitawaga and Administrative Assistant Heider Perez.
Hol Chan continues to work hard preserving their part of one of Belize's most
precious natural resources. Anyone wishing to offer assistance, may contact them
at (501) 26-2247, fax 26-2420 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.