||The Bay Islands are a group of small islands off the coast of Honduras, comprised
of three larger islands - Roatan, Utila and Guanaja - and several dozen cays. Due
to the Islands’ Caribbean feel and inexpensive cost they have become a popular tourist
destination for thrifty travelers and are a frequent stop for SCUBA diving enthusiasts.
Major threats in the region are the destruction of natural coastal habitats by increasing
coastal population and tourism developments and increased sedimentation due to extensive
use of watersheds and inland deforestation. In particular, Utila has become known
as one of the best diving sites in the world, placing further pressure on the island’s
fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Declines in island species such as the
endemic iguana Ctenosaura bakeri have been documented, along with damaged coral reefs
from various activities, mangrove deforestation, decreasing coral cover and noted
fish declines for several fish species. This last fact may be particularly important
given the large fishing community that has existed on the island for decades.
Despite Utila’s small size, its roughly 8000 residents are a mix of generational
Utilians, mainland Hondurans, and Ex-patriates who come from extremely diverse backgrounds,
thus often making attempts to engage the community in environmental conservation difficult.
In an effort to understand the environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of
Utila’s three main populations, an environmental survey was conducted in the summer
of 2010. Results from the survey indicate that the majority of islanders recognize
and are concerned with the decreasing health of the island’s ecosystems and resources.
It was also found that though most individuals were aware of the island’s various
environmental regulations, they recognize that the majority of people do not follow
them, and that this is particularly true for fishing regulations. This finding and
firsthand experiences led to an in depth look at the Honduran Fisheries Law and subsequent
regulations related to the law. This paper presents the findings from the survey and
also explores the possibility of using a community based environmental management
approach to protect the island’s resources and monitor local fishing practices.