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Blog Posts by: Maribel López

Today we documented a zone of mud and fine sediment situated between the protected area of the Cayos Cochinos archipelago and the Honduran continental coast. This is the site of a good deal of illegal trawling, for many of the shrimping boats do not respect the legal fishing distance from the coast.

These areas are rich in green algae, like those of the genus Caulerpa as well as "chupachups" (Rhipocephalus phoenix) and a few spots of marine sea grass. Afterwards, we returned to Mariposales.

Crab

This time we did find crinoids, or feather stars, something which we have been wanting to document since we began the expedition. These echinoderms are spectacular and, inevitably, pull our imagination toward Jurassic times, the era in which they dominated a many marine ecosystems. On this occasion it is a black and white crinoid (Nemaster grandis). A little further, another echinoderm, in this case a cushion sea star (Oreaster reticulatus).

Today seems to be the day of the invertebrates; we've also seen bearded fireworms (Hermodice carunculata), a few anemones that we haven't yet identified, and we paused to film in greater detail a few corals and a giant barrel sponge (Xestospongia muta) -  but a small one.

We never know what the weather will be like. Yesterday afternoon was clear but windy; the night was more calm. Most of the activities we have planned at Cayos Cochinos depend on the weather we have.

Today we are diving at Mariposales and looking for an airplane that crashed here - fortunately no one was hurt. Now the plane may serve as a refuge for various marine species.

Everyone aboard, the Oceana Ranger heads for the dock at Cayo Cochino Menor. We have barely been docked five minutes when  the launch "Tiburon" arrives with the journalists from Channel 7, of the Honduran television show TeleCeiba. During the presentation of all the equipment we tell them all about the Ranger expedition.

Cochino Pequeño

This morning we'll go out with the Ranger to do a study of hydraulic parameters of salinity, oxygenation, temperature and turbidity. We will use a Secchi disc to measure the transparency of the water; the rest of the data will be taken with a multi-parameter probe. We will also undertake a study of the currents using a drifting buoy, or currentmeter, which consists of two buoys that support a panel of canvas that hangs downward because it is weighted on one end. We will be accompanied by park scientists.

After we've eaten, part of the team goes diving in the small paradise we have here just in front of the area designated for the science station, the marine prairies in which, our first day here, we were so delighted by the richness and variety of life.

Yesterday we decided that four of us would go visit the indigenous Garifuna communities in various parts of the small keys, with the object of documenting their traditional way of life and sustainable exploitation of the waters that surround their villages.

To document the daily life of the community we wake at five in the morning, prepare the filming equipment and go to the dock just as dawn is breaking. The gray of the sky gives way to blue, then orange and finally to the yellow of day, despite the clouds.

08587 Strombus gigas

We wait for Elías Aguilar to bring us to Cayo Chachahuate. Children from this key and others are sent off each day in tiny boats to the community's school, which sits on the eastern end of Cayo Mayor. The boats are like inter-island school busses. Finally we hear from Elias that, because the night before had been windy and the water today is rough, the kids don't have school. So there is a change of plans.  

The wind picks up; even from shore we can see the currents it is creating. A brown pelican takes advantage of the opportunity to show off his first catch of the morning. In a razor-sharp flight, almost touching the waves, he locates his breakfast and, seconds later, with an unorthodox landing, plunges his head into the water and captures his prey. He's so close to us that we can see the last thrashes of the fish in the pocket of his beak. This show alone is worth the painful early morning.

Amazona autumnalis

We eat breakfast at 7 in the morning on Cayo Cochino Menor, prepare picnic lunches for the divers, and the Ranger expedition divides into two groups for the activities of the day.

The research team and divers climb aboard the Honduran Coral Reef Fund's launch "Tiburón,"  which is waiting for us at the dock. The first group is transported to the Oceana Ranger, which has been moored at a buoy in the inlet for greater security during the night.

On the Ranger, we finalize the last details to conduct a bathymetric study in the northern zone of the marine park...

The operation will consist of taking depth measurements at different selected points. Once the points have been selected and their depth determined, buoys can be installed to delimit the protected areas of the marine park in what is called the Northern Macrozone, an area approximately 10 miles in diameter. Elias Aguilar, one of the park's resource guards ("guarda recursos"), accompanies Oceana's Xavier Pastor and Ricardo Aguilar and helps us to coordinate the project. The Fund has decided to call its staff in Cayos Cochinos "resource guards" rather than the classic "park guards" ("guarda parques") to emphasize the fact that their work, in protecting the natural environment, is intended principally to safeguard the responsible use of the marine resources, and thereby guarantee their sustainability for the local Garifuna communities that fish these waters in a controlled way.

We arrive at night at La Ceiba - at Lagoon Marina, specifically - and happily we are met at the mouth of the port and shown to our mooring. Suddenly the vastness of the ocean is replaced by a narrow corridor of green water lined by lush, extravagant vegetation, mangroves, herons that wake in the darkness at our approach and flap their wings before returning to their chosen branch to pass the night.  

Early in the morning we had the chance to meet with Adrian Oviedo, the Director of the Foundation for the Protection of the Reefs of Honduras (Fundación para la Protección de los Arrecifes de Honduras), who is leading the conservation Project at Cayos Cochinos.

We coordinated our work plans for the upcoming days. We hope that we will not only succeed in documenting the ecosystem of these keys, but also that our work will be useful to those who are working so hard and so effectively here.

During the night of the 13th of March we had very good wind and were able to sail for several hours. With a wind speed of 25-30 knots and only the jib up we went at 9-10 knots. It was a wonderful feeling after so many hours traveling by motor - since until now we have had only headwinds or no wind at all.  

First thing in the morning, we saw a flying fish (Hirundichthys speculiger) of almost 25 centimeters that had landed on the deck.

After having left the Panama Canal and the dozens of anchored boats waiting at Colón to pass through to the Pacific, we set our course northward through the waters of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We have traveled almost 400 miles since then and, except for yesterday, when we had, at some moments, waves higher than two meters, the sailing has been fairly calm. We've kept a good distance from the coast; perhaps it is for that reason that we have seen practically nothing - neither boats nor dolphins, and hardly any seabirds.

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