25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Innocent Coral Reef Damage


I
know the environmentalists and conservationists must have gone, “Ahhh” with last week’s story on manatee killing. I realize I did speak of how nice the meat is, and it is true, and I hope it is no incentive for any more killing of manatees. It happened because there was a true need twenty five years ago. Well, here is another one for the environmentalists, and this time it was the killing of the coral reef.

A young Genaro Nuñez prepares to sink his lobster trap.
You know that lobster fishermen who used to build the lobster traps or lobster pats as they are called actually helped kill some parts of the reef? You see, when you build a lobster trap out of pimento sticks or bamboo sticks and you throw it into the water, it floats. Like that you will never be able to catch lobsters. Well if you soak the lobster trap in the sea for a week or so, it will become heavier and will partly submerge, but not totally. So the lobster fishermen used to tie up to 100 of the traps together and kept them underwater for up to ten day near their fishing grounds. After this they needed something to keep them anchored to the ocean floor on the grassy beds where lobster feed and need a place to hide.

How do you keep the trap anchored to the floor of the sea? You can purchase an anchor at the store, but that is expensive. You could use small chunks of heavy iron, but those were used as ballast in their boats. You could use rocks. That is right you could use rocks. Solid river rocks or mountain rocks were not to be found on the island. In the lagoon the fishermen could pick out some heavy coral type rocks. Guess what place was easily accessible for rocks. The Reef! Yes, fishermen thought that the reef was made of rocks, not corals. There are some very heavy corals like the brain corals and these make perfect sinkers for the lobster traps.

Fishermen used to go to the reef on a calm day, of course, and equipped with a pinch bar or crow bar, they used to pry out small chunks of corals (rocks), perhaps pieces ten to fifteen inches in diameter. Two or three hundred pounds of these corals were loaded up in a dory until it was almost sinking. They would be piled up on the beach in front of the fishermen’s homes and they would make another trip to the coral reef in search for more “rocks”. With a pile as large as fifteen feet high, two or three tons, a fisherman had enough “rock” to sink some two hundred lobster traps in his fishing grounds. The trap would be able to withstand rough weather and rough seas and not move unless there was a hurricane. Each trap would be visited weekly, the large lobsters removed, the trap scrubbed clean, the rocks placed well on the floor and sunk once again to the bottom of the sea for a new catch.

Well, I want to assure you that fishermen really thought that corals were rocks and had no idea of the damage they did to the reef. That is why I call it “innocent destruction of the reef”. No one slept in jail. However, if one were to do that today, with all the knowledge we have, it would be criminal. If on a calm day you go near the reef and you see like a canal cut through the corals, a canal where a small dory can pass through, it is probably an area where your dad and mine removed several loads of corals to use them as sinkers for their lobster traps.


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