Could Tela hold one of the Caribbean’s best coral reefs?

Tela Bay

Tela Bay in Honduras may hold one of the Caribbean’s best coral reefs

A newly discovered reef in Honduras could turn out to be one of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean.

Truly healthy coral communities are now few and far between and in the Caribbean they are a rare commodity indeed. The dual threats of overfishing and organic pollution in particular have led to widespread overgrowth of algae resulting in phase shifts away from traditional coral dominated systems.

For many years now scientists have been discussing the importance of so called refuge habitats for the continued survival of reefs around the world. These are typically environments which go against everything people associate with coral reefs – the crystal clear waters replaced by increased turbidity. These conditions have long been argued to buffer benthic communities from environmental factors such as high light, which plays such a crucial role in many global threats such as coral bleaching.

It is with these ideas in mind that, whilst descending below the surface in the murky waters several kilometres offshore in the mainland Honduran bay of Tela, a quite astonishing sight was revealed. Complex communities dominated almost entirely by Scleractinian corals covered the area known as the Banco Capiro, giving the reef the impression of a healthy Indo-Pacific site, let alone one in the highly impacted Caribbean.

Preliminary data collected by local conservation organisations indicates the Banco Capiro has an average cover of hard coral of 69% (compared to a Caribbean average of below 25%), and only 2.5% macroalgal cover. In addition, populations of the sea urchin Diadema sp., a vital herbivore on Caribbean reefs which was almost entirely wiped out throughout the region by disease several decades ago, was found to be 16 times the local average and approaching pre-disease densities.

coralTo put into context, reefs around the nearby tourist hotspot of Utila and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Protected Area exhibit coral cover of 25 and 18% respectively, algal cover of 23 and 47% respectively, and an urchin population which is absent but for a few isolated individuals.

Initial observations by Operation Wallacea scientists, who will be establishing an annual research base in the area from 2013 onwards, also noted a high level of coral recruits and the clear recovery of more complex coral structures (eg Acropora sp.) which were regionally reduced by recent hurricane activity. These factors further point towards an extremely healthy benthic community which shows signs of high resilience. This is no isolated good news story either, for the Banco Capiro reef stretches for many kilometres across the mouth of the bay, with exploratory dives suggesting the quality of the benthic community does not diminish throughout.

Work to be done

But a healthy coral community does not necessarily equate to a healthy reef ecosystem, and it is not all good news on Banco Capiro. Apart from the impressive hard coral community, the most striking feature of the reef is the almost complete absence of fish, making diving eerily quiet. We know from anecdotal evidence that fishing pressure in the area has been high in the past, but also that the total collapse of fisheries has led to a high degree of livelihood diversification and a move away from heavy fishing reliance.

The most striking feature of the reef is the almost complete absence of fish, making diving eerily quiet

Fish and invertebrates are an integral component of a coral reef ecosystem, and their recovery on Banco Capiro will be crucial to the long term health of the system, but efforts are being made to ensure this happens. There are extensive mangroves and seagrass beds nearby, which provide important nursery grounds for reef fish, whilst Operation Wallacea will be working alongside local conservation organisations to lobby for the inclusion of Banco Capiro in nearby protected areas which currently ignore the marine environment.

There is certainly a feel good factor around Tela and its hidden treasures, with the potential both for conservation and research an exciting prospect for local stakeholders and the scientific community alike. With this momentum and continued efforts to gain its protection, Banco Capiro could soon be truly considered as one of the most important reefs in the Caribbean.

Written by

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

9 Responses to “Could Tela hold one of the Caribbean’s best coral reefs?”

  1. I.m from tela and hapy that people like you have this
    Areas safe..?

  2. Wow that is great news.. My husband is from Tela, my family and I love to go there for our vacations… Good luck with all u all do…. 😉

  3. Wonderful news. Make sure what needs to be done is done.

  4. Great news and great report. Banco Capiro an exciting prospect for the future! Glad to see Operation Wallacea is involved.

  5. Daniel: Do you have copies of the reports done for Prolansate by the Wildlife Conservation Society in about 1995 when we first surveyed the seamounts off of Tela Bay? This was part of the initial management planning work done for Jeannette Kawas and Punta Izopo protected areas.

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for your message, and this is something I am very keen to chase up. I got involved in Tela last summer but had responsibilities elsewhere that prevented me doing much more than a few exploratory dives and some meetings. However I am going back out in January to develop our project there in more detail and chasing up existing reports will be high on my agenda.

      If you have a copy of this report I would be very interested to read it if you wouldn’t mind emailing it to me (


  6. Dan: I will try to find a copy of the reports; if not, the diver from Roatan who procured the boat and led the effort is named Doc Radawski.

    • That’s great, thank you Jim. I will be meeting with some of those who have been involved in conservation around Tela on my visit in January so I could also see if any of them have copies if you don’t have one to hand.


  1. Could Tela hold one of the Caribbean’s best coral reefs? | Healthy Reefs - December 2012

    […] Could Tela hold one the Caribbean’s best coral reefs? […]

Leave a Reply