This week’s blog comes from BlueVaue intern Grace Rush.
I grew up with wetlands behind my house and woods down the block, so any free time I had was spent looking for animals to admire from afar. But I didn’t just wander close to home, my family has always been very keen on traveling. From Florida to California, Maine to Washington, we visited beaches and other coastal habitats. It wasn’t until we visited Utila, a small island off the coast of Honduras, that I found my favorite place to explore.
My scuba-diving family and I learned of this paradise from friends, so we visited and immediately fell in love with the magnificent coral reefs there, which are part of the Mesoamerican Reef System. Spanning a whopping 625 miles, it is the second largest reef system in the world, and every year provides an estimated 12.5 million tourists the opportunity to explore. Since my first salt-water dive, I have been up close to a whale shark, within arm’s length of a massive green moray eel, and spotted the tiniest of beauties such as sea horses and shrimp.
As we all know, the ocean is vast, yet much is still unknown about what lies in its depths. Sadly, Utila’s beautiful waters are rapidly degrading, and the coral reefs and their inhabitants, like many other reef systems of the world, are dying. Coral reefs face many challenges such as climate change, disease, ocean acidification, and pollution. These living creatures provide humans with numerous benefits, also known as ecosystem services. They contain elements for new medications, provide food and a source of income, and protect coastal cities from waves caused by storms. If coral reefs weren’t around, millions of people would go without an income, food sources would be scarce in dozens of countries, the new medicines being created to cure diseases would not exist, and we would be without a beautiful place to explore. Exploration led our ancestors to discover coral reefs; with continued exploration we will discover more reef treasures, and benefit from them, as long as they exist.
Fortunately, the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), a non-profit, non-governmental organization helps protect and care for the ecosystems of Utila and the other Bay Islands of Honduras. BICA educates local islanders and tourists on the importance of ocean health, beach restoration, sea turtle protection, and how to replenish coral reefs, all in the hopes of saving mother nature’s natural beauties. Over the years I have volunteered with them, and through this participation, I contribute to creating a healthier ocean. Exploration of these reefs has instilled in me a deep appreciation of them, but has also led me to take action in caring for them. All over the world, organizations like BICA offer people opportunities to help make a difference in the health of the environment. And when the environment is healthy, so are we.
Where will your exploration lead you?