Mesoamerican Reef

Clean Water for Clean Reefs in Honduras

Elkhorn colonies

Elkhorn coral colonies provide protection against hurricanes off Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras. Credit: iLCP

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) works with communities across Honduras to protect and manage their coral reef resources. Over the last decade it has joined forces with local communities, government agencies, local and international NGOs, and philanthropic foundations to establish management systems and build local capacity to effectively manage Honduras’ marine resources in the face of global and local threats.

Coastal and island communities with large populations and high tourist visitation are particularly vulnerable to threats to their reefs. CORAL tackles the major issue of water pollution in Honduras. Because corals need clean, clear water to thrive, they are severely impacted by water pollution. Land-based runoff carries sediment, nutrients, and pathogens into coastal waters, and in many locations, wastewater from homes and businesses is discharged directly into the ocean. Excess nutrients from untreated wastewater can cause coral disease and fuel the growth of algae, which compete with corals for space. Untreated wastewater also threatens human health. CORAL works with Healthy Reefs Initiative and other partners at the national and local level on its Clean Water for Reefs Initiative to address water quality threats through policy and capacity building.

The Clean Water for Reefs Initiative has worked toward making water quality a national priority for Honduras. One recommendation of the Initiative that would drastically improve national water quality is the ratification of the Cartagena Convention. This Convention includes a protocol for land-based sources of contamination that regulates water quality in ecologically sensitive areas such as coral reefs. Once adopted, the protocol will provide the policy framework needed to strengthen and enforce water quality regulations for all of Honduras. CORAL and partners have made progress toward this goal by working with the Honduran Embassy at the United Nations, the Ministry of Environment, and the Merchant Marines.

Map of Roatan

West End, Roatán, one of three Bay Islands of Honduras.

CORAL also works to improve water quality on a local scale. The island of Roatán in the Bay Islands is a popular tourism destination and boasts some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs. However, poor water quality threatens the island’s reefs and all local economic activity relying on them. The Clean Water for Reefs Initiative on Roatán addresses the main challenge: several shoreline communities lacked connection to nearby wastewater treatment facilities, thus significantly contributing to poor water quality.

CORAL began by working alongside the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) to build their capacity to monitor coastal water quality along popular beaches and reefs. A natural partner, BICA recognized that the issue affected the well-being of the environment and the people. “Clean water is not only essential for healthy communities but a healthy reef and our goal is to provide both,” said Marissa Giselle Brady Ramos, BICA’s Assistant Director. “By providing clean water we contribute to a healthy reef and help build a healthy and prosperous community.”

Thanks to CORAL’s initial investment and support of BICA, they now regularly monitor 52 sites on Roatán and a neighboring island, Utila, collecting physical, biological, and chemical parameters. After establishing a baseline, CORAL used the monitoring results to generate community interest and government support for improving wastewater management. BICA’s monitoring in Roatán’s West End to date indicates a 30% reduction over two years in enterococcus, a biological pathogen. Over the long term, as more homes are connected to the treatment plant, CORAL expects to see greater improvements in the near-shore marine habitat.

BICA monitors water quality in Utila.

Team monitors water quality in Utila.

A new sewage main was installed through the adjoined communities of West End and Half Moon Bay, but there was no requirement or resources available to connect homes and businesses to the main pipe. People continued to use cesspools and leach fields, or discharge directly into the ground and ocean. These wastewater management techniques pollute the environment. CORAL partnered with the local water boards to build their capacity to connect and manage wastewater treatment in the long term. As part of that effort, CORAL and the Healthy Reefs Initiative leveraged funds to help these communities connect homes and businesses to the wastewater treatment plant.

As CORAL fundraised to pay for the necessary piping, they also worked with the local water boards to turn wastewater management into a sustainable operation. One strategy they developed was tying the potable water fees to sewage treatment, providing ongoing income for managing the treatment facility. CORAL is also working with the local water boards to partner with other organizations to arrange alternative energy sources to power the treatment facility and cut costs over the long term.

Homes and businesses are connected to the sewage treatment facility.

Homes and businesses are connected to the sewage treatment facility.

CORAL has helped West End and Half Moon Bay connect 137 out of 360 homes and businesses, diverting nearly 14 million gallons of raw sewage a year from the oceans. These connections and sewage treatment upgrades, paired with CORAL’s work to support and strengthen local management of marine protected areas, are leading to improved water quality and noticeable changes in marine life.

According to community member Daine Wood, “We’ve already seen the positive effects that wastewater treatment has brought—the periodic water quality testing results show us. I’ve heard reports of more wildlife. Anyone who goes out will tell you they see turtles and so many more fish. The lobster, the conch, the fish—it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced so many.”

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