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#414570 - 08/23/11 09:08 PM The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs
Marty Offline
BY RAY AUXILLOU, August, 2011
http://westernbelizehappenings.blogspot.com/

Back in the 1960īs , I was in the prime of my life, in my middle to the late 20īs. There was little or no information in the world, on the seas and fisheries of the Western Caribbean Sea. I published a few things and the next thing I knew I was getting letters from all kinds of international organizations from different countries. It seemed nothing was known then, of coral reefs, marine biology, or very little, for vast swaths of the tropical seas of the world, as far as marine biology went. With the assistance of AID, Agency for International Development, from the USA, the Ministry of Natural Resources in the UK, tropical research department, and the department in the USA called nowadays NOAA ( the Pascagoula, Mississippi base for their research ships, in a long period of a decade or more, by slow mail ( there was no internet back then ) I turned myself into a curious self educated marine biologist. The above agencies sent me all kinds of books and pamphlets on every subject under the sun, to do with the things I was researching.

Eventually I published not only magazine articles, but also some mimeographed books, I made on the island of Caye Caulker. There was not much in the way of affordable, or modern printing equipment in the British Colony at that time. Later I was invited to participate in two Caribbean Sea voyages on the USA Research ships, Oregon 1, and Oregon 2. Oregon 1 came specifically to check out the research in the Western Caribbean Sea, particularly British Honduras. The Oregon 2 Research trip, took me to Puerto Rico and that area, in regard to deep water fishing, of red snapper stocks, which at that time was my specialty of study in British Honduras. I became a courted and acknowledged international expert on the Western Caribbean Sea. It was heady stuff for a young man at the time.

I had developed the British Honduras Fisheries Research Station on Caye Caulker, which was mostly a one man deal. The idea to develop the fishing industry, from what it was then. In particular, I was curious as how to turn the research into making money as a fisherman. The UN FAO eventually got interested and invited me to work for them, but the hiring process took so long and interfered with my private sector earnings, I finally gave up on them. Bureaucratic processes can be very slow.

By the late 1960īs I had acquired a hotel, several boats and was then running an annual Marine Biology Expedition along with Dr. Henry Hildebrand, of the Marine Biology Department of the University of Corpus Christi. It was a three week affair, and I handled the logistics, scuba equipment and provided the boats. This went on for another 13 years, until the University of Corpus Christi was sold to the STATE and dropped their marine biology department. By the 80īs I was ready to get out of the marine life and try something else.

We scuba dived, both as marine biologists and as beginning tourism scuba diving expeditions in what was then a deserted bunch of atolls and barrier reef islands. Most habitations had been wiped out by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. There were few people out there back then. My favorite people were lighthouse keepers in different locations. What concerns us today, is the modern current era of reef research. I can tell you that the dead reef of today, is the same today as it was in the 1960s and the 1970īs. Live reef was sporadic. The most vibrant was at the surf line, where the waves break. Even so, the coral for the most part, except in patches seemed dead. Vast lengths of barrier reef were dead, with just the occasional live brain coral.

There are myriad inner sea reefs, EAST of the Placentia peninsular. Except at the very top, they were mostly composed of dead staghorn coral. The sea was about a 100 feet deep. I surmised back then, that the dead coral was due to effects of Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Since then there have been many hurricanes. Hurricanes do not have to strike the mainland of Belize to damage the coral reefs. Any very large hurricane between Jamaica, Cuba and Honduras will effect the atolls and reefs of Belize. I figured back then, that the tidal surge and storm waves were causing the dead coral. We are in Belize at the end of the bowling alley for hurricanes coming through the Caribbean Sea. We get hit most years, by high waves, if not high winds and the eye of such a storm.

Since then new researchers have put forth new theories. Undoubtedly population explosion over the islands and reefs are contaminating the sea and reefs with detergents, fertilizers and other pollution as causing damage to the reefs. Undoubtedly this is so. One of my duties for Dr. Henry Hildebrand was to keep a year round count of the Pelicans I saw on my boat travels. I reported faithfully by letter and gave him the numbers. The Pelican is top of the food chain and a barometer for the health of the reefs. I can tell you that Caye Caulker has NO PELICANS any more and there was a standard population up until the 1990īs of about 4 dozen resident pelicans. So there is a problem for sure. It is however, a new generation that have to figure out these things. All I can tell you on the dead reef observations, is that most of the Barrier reefs were composed of dead coral to depths of over a hundred feet, except right at the surface, where the breaking surf occurs. To claim that modern events are killing the reefs is just not historically true.

Between Hurricanes and probably sea water temperature changes, I believe we have cyclical phenomena that damages the environmental envelope for reef populations of coral. Recently new marine biologists have postulated about the interaction of many different denizens of the coral reefs as being decimated by overfishing. That too is probably true and has an effect on the life of the reefs. The environmental envelopment for coral reefs produces over 300 species that are necessary to the health of the coral reefs here in Belize. It is badly out of kilter to over fishing. However, that alone cannot make alive reefs that have been dead from my own observations for over 55 years.

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#414589 - 08/24/11 02:44 AM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: Marty]
SimonB Offline
No sardines, no Pelicans. A relatively easy correlation. Start looking there for answers to a core issue.

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#414592 - 08/24/11 03:52 AM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: Marty]
Lan Sluder/Belize First Offline
You're saying that the sardines went away and so the pelicans did? If so, what happened to the sardines? Aside from that I always thought pelicans would eat almost anything.

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#414593 - 08/24/11 04:09 AM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: Marty]
SimonB Offline
There's a big problem with overfishing of Sardines which, for Pelicans, is an easy and big meal. Sardines are a base food for many species and when they are overfished it affects everything above. Butterfly effect...

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#414596 - 08/24/11 04:51 AM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: SimonB]
Bear Offline
Originally Posted By: SimonB
There's a big problem with overfishing of Sardines which, for Pelicans, is an easy and big meal. Sardines are a base food for many species and when they are overfished it affects everything above. Butterfly effect...


Disgesting the article. What a history. About the sardines Simon, Who or what is responsible for the overfishing?

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#414599 - 08/24/11 12:32 PM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: Bear]
bywarren Offline
Almost every fishing guide who takes tourist to fish will fill up a live well with sardines for bait. I have noticed over the years how it takes longer to get them as they are becoming harder to find. It is my opinion this is due primarily to the destruction of their habitat along with the increase in demand. When we used to head to Rocky Point to fish, we could stop at numerous places to get sardines. Now most of those places have been replaced by development, the building of condos and homes and the destruction of the shore line in doing so. The guides association has promoted a rule on the amount of sardines any one guide is suppose to take. Unfortunately, some Belizeans are not very concerned about protecting their resources. Another prime example is the taking of undersized conch and lobster to meet the demand.
This is just another example of the unintended consequenses of over development. Belize has a limit on the amount of people its resources can sustain, be its fishery, land, available infrastucture, etc. There are downsides to attracting as many tourists as possible.


Edited by bywarren (08/24/11 01:19 PM)

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#414601 - 08/24/11 01:37 PM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: Marty]
SimonB Offline
bywarren has a very good point; the habitat destruction plays a major part as well.

Take an early morning walk and you'll find plenty of people casting from docks and taking bucket loads of sardines. People are out all day long as well.

Security on our dock has been physically threatened for asking people not to cast net from our dock. We had to put a stop to it when people started walking all over the boats and leaving scales on the boats and all over the dock.

There may be limits on what should be taken but there are some that ignore those limits. These are also the people that will overfish and take species like bonefish for food.

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#414658 - 08/25/11 02:50 AM Re: The British Honduras Barrier Reef in the 1960īs [Re: SimonB]
Bear Offline
I am intrigued by the thought that habitat destruction is the first thing considered, and its logical that it would be since so often that is exactly the reason. Consider also there may also be other factors involved as well. Its possible that disease from bacteria or viruses now present in the inshore waters from the leachate of septic systems or even runnoff from the developed portions of the island may have an impact. The adults may not be affected but perhaps a more suceptible part of their life cycle such as the fry or even the eggs.

I'm not well versed in the sardinas life cycles, at least not the sardinas species around the inner reef areas of the cayes. Many of these seem to like the cover of mangroves and of course even docks. They are primarilly zooplankton filter feeders and roam over large areas of open water to feed. As such sardines , in general, dont seem to have a set habitat per se but if you consider that water quality is that habitat then I would whole heartedly suggest that as a part of the equation as well. Is there any indication that the plankton inshore have suffered? Fascintating. Thanks Simon and ByW

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