Coral Reefs in Roatán Thrive with Clean Water

Blue Flag Certification

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), our partners in the Bay Islands of Honduras, and the people of Roatán celebrated a major win as a decade of work recently came to fruition when the island passed clean water standards for the first time since monitoring began in 2013.

The island of Roatán, part of the Bay Islands of Honduras, is world-renowned for its colorful reefs, white sand beaches, and clear waters. Over a million tourists visit this small island each year, contributing over 1 billion US dollars to the Honduran economy.

About a decade ago, CORAL and partners realized that polluted ocean water in Roatán was beginning to threaten coral reef health and human health — and with it, the tourism industry and local economy.

CORAL began working with the communities of West End and Half Moon Bay on Roatán, where – due to a lack of funding and few alternatives – the majority of homes and businesses were discharging their wastewater directly into the environment, resulting in unsafe levels of fecal bacteria along the coast. CORAL and partners stepped in to help resolve chronic ocean pollution problems resulting from wastewater by conducting water quality monitoring, building the capacity of local organizations to manage water resources, and connecting nearly 300 homes and businesses to a nearby wastewater treatment facility.

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Today, the water in Roatán is now passing clean water standards, with a 95% reduction in fecal bacteria since our water quality monitoring began in 2013. The amount of raw sewage discharged into the coastal environment has been reduced by nearly 30 million gallons per year. Ninety-seven percent of the homes and businesses that can be connected to a water treatment facility are connected. As a result of providing clean water, the most recent coral health survey showed a dramatic drop in coral disease from 25% in 2011 to zero in 2018.

CORAL proudly celebrated the declaration of West End as a Blue Flag beach last year. Blue Flag certification comes from a third party that validates marine water quality, freshwater availability, and garbage disposal practices. This is a remarkable achievement, as West End previously did not pass safe swimming standards.

Blue Flag Certification
CORAL’s Jenny Myton (right) and partners proudly hold up West End’s new Blue Flag

Our success in Roatán is a rallying cry for others across the Bay Islands and Honduras to tackle this issue, and we are seeing results as government entities, local communities, and the private sector are increasing their commitment to addressing wastewater issues. We’re continuing to work closely with these stakeholders to improve local conditions and provide clean water for coral reefs in the region.

Efforts like these are creating the local conditions that allow healthy corals to thrive, and because this work is part of a network, these reefs contribute to adaptation and repopulation of corals across the entire Mesoamerican Reef system. We will continue to support our local partners in their efforts to reduce local stressors so that corals can adapt to the effects of climate change and continue to support the people of the Mesoamerican Region.

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