Coral Conservation in a COVID-19 World: CORAL and Its Partners Rising to Meet New Challenges

COVID-19 has affected all of us in one way or another. Some people have lost loved ones or friends and neighbors to this pandemic. Some of us are now sheltering in place, unable to travel or do many other activities that we recently took for granted. We are all experiencing uncertainty about what the future holds. However you may be affected, we at the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), continue to extend our heartfelt thoughts to all of you, our extended CORAL family.

CORAL and our community partners have been working to rapidly change our work in response to COVID-related lockdowns. We wanted to take this opportunity to talk about how we are adapting our approach to coral conservation in the face of this pandemic.

CORAL is on a mission to save the world’s coral reefs. We do this, in part, by working collaboratively with communities to reduce local stressors to reefs—like overfishing and wastewater pollution. Key to our success are our local partner organizations. Over time, we have helped many local community groups grow into strong organizations that are largely self-sufficient. However, even the strongest organizations are now threatened by the ramification of the pandemic. To illustrate the challenges that our partners face, we are going to take you on a virtual trip to Honduras to see what life is currently like for our partner Roatán Marine Park, and how they are adapting to their new situation with CORAL right by their side.

Roatán Marine Park (RMP) is one of the local organizations responsible for managing the Bay Islands National Marine Park, which at 650,000 hectares is Honduras’ largest marine protected area (MPA) (see it on a map). One of the biggest threats to reefs in Honduras is overfishing—and indeed, overfishing thought to affect more than 55 percent of the world’s coral reefs. When people overharvest fish on a reef, whether for food or the aquarium trade, the entire food web is affected. On healthy reefs, seaweeds (also called macroalgae) are kept at low levels thanks to intense grazing by herbivorous fish, like parrotfish and surgeonfish. When these fish disappear, the delicate balance of the coral reef ecosystem is disrupted, and macroalgae can grow unchecked, smothering reefs and making it harder for corals to reproduce and for their larvae to settle.

RMP is reducing overfishing by establishing sustainable fisheries policies and practices. These regulations mean little unless they are enforced, and so one of the key roles that RMP plays is conducting regularly law enforcement patrols. RMP is also building awareness among fishers about the detrimental impacts of overfishing to help them make different decisions.

CORAL and RMP have been partners since 2005. CORAL’s team in Honduras helped build RMP’s financial and management systems, and have supported key positions at RMP. CORAL also financially supports their patrol operations, which enforce local fishing regulations up to eight hours a day, six days a week. As a result of our partnership, herbivorous and commercial fish biomass in Roatán has increased significantly. Find out more here.

COVID-19 has severely impacted the lives of the people of Honduras. On March 16th, the Honduran government closed its borders and required all of its 9.5 million citizens to remain at home. Tourism, once the principal source of income, has stopped. Organizations like RMP derive most of their revenue voluntary fees paid by scuba divers and products sold to tourists at their eco-stores. As RMP’s Executive Director Francis Lean says, “People who once depended on tourism for their livelihoods are turning to illegal fishing practices, which is creating an enormous pressure on the reef. Rangers are continuing their patrols for now but our ability to keep them up is uncertain.”

While the pandemic has thrown a curveball at us, at CORAL we pride ourselves on our resilience and ability to discover innovative ways to support our community partners, like RMP. Our team in Honduras is working with the leaders at RMP to create plans to address this sudden reduction in income. They have come up with unique and creative ways to raise funds and drive traffic to their on-line eco-store. They are also looking at how to reduce expenses. To support them, CORAL is directly providing grants to support staff salaries at RMP and other organizations across the country. Additionally, we are also working with our generous funders to seek flexibility in how the grant monies will be spent so that they can be used to support ongoing operations.

As of now, we are making headway with funding RMP’s programs but we have no idea how long borders will be closed nor how long tourists will stay away. “The spirit of collaboration has always been strong here in Honduras between CORAL and its partners. If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has strengthened our bonds and determination. We are banding together to overcome these new challenges. Our hopes are high, our minds are focused and our hearts are committed to getting through this together.” – Jenny Myton, CORAL’s Associate Program Director, Honduras.

You Can Help!
You can help our friends in Honduras and at RMP. You can help us to ensure that we can continue to safeguard our precious reefs. You can help us to keep the momentum going with our conservation programs.

You can also support CORAL’s efforts to save the world’s coral reefs by supporting our spring appeal. Help us raise $10,000 by April 30th and we will unlock another $10,000.

While you may not be able to travel Roatán right now, you can travel to RMP’s online eco-store and buy some awesome RMP branded t-shirts, mugs or other fun products.

With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day happening on April 22nd, you can learn about our efforts to save coral reefs for generations to come and how you can do more to help save them by attending our Earth Day webinar on Wednesday, April 22nd at Noon (Pacific Daylight Time). You can register here for the webinar. You can also take our Earth Day quiz and see how you can take better care of our planet.

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