Supporting and Managing Resilient Systems in the Bay Islands, Honduras


Cordelia Banks, Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras

The challenge

Cordelia Banks is located on the southwest coast of Roatán in the Honduran Bay Islands. It sits between two cruise docks, as well as the two largest towns in the Islands, Coxen Hole and French Harbour. Cordelia Banks is made up of three large coralline banks covered extensively by staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) colonies. The abundance of this species has been reduced by 98% within the Caribbean, becoming critically endangered as defined by CITES. Smith Bank, the most studied of the 3 banks, has an approximate area of 52 acres, and could possibly be the largest patch of A. cervicornis within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is an important source of coral spawn, critical because it can help to repopulate reefs of the Caribbean where Staghorn has already disappeared. The area has been identified as a spawning aggregation site for groupers and snappers, and hosts a healthy community of Caribbean gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii).

Staghorn coral and diver. Photo © Dano Pendygrasse

Staghorn coral and diver. © Dano Pendygrasse

An Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment has been carried out (almost) every two years since 2006. The findings have shown that Cordelia Banks boasts a staggering 70% live coral cover (in certain study sites). This is the largest coral cover ever recorded by this methodology in over 800 sites Mesoamerican wide. The methodology was reviewed and adjusted by the authors in order to effectively measure and quantify the coral colonies as dense as those found in Cordelia Bank. Cordelia’s biological importance, as well as the threats it faces, makes its complete protection an urgent matter. The effects of coastal development have increased due to the natural attractions of Roatán and the increase in tourism-related investment. Several populated towns also have an indirect influence over Cordelia Banks. It is also located within maritime transport and cruise ship routes, which could easily increase pressure on this fragile ecosystem.

Actions taken

In 2009, WWF worked with the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) and Luna Environmental Consulting to develop a technical paper describing the ecological significance of the area proposed for protection, which provided the foundation for the next phase of work funded by the Ocean Fund. This document included a Technical Data Sheet about the importance of Cordelia Bank, Rationale for the Request to Declare Cordelia Banks a Site of Wildlife Importance, and the management objectives to promote it as marine protected area (MPA).

The government issued the official declaration for the Honduran Bay Islands National Marine Park in June 2010. This declaration created a marine park encompassing the coasts and marine waters surrounding all three of the Bay Islands (Roatán, Utila, and Guanaja). The Bay Islands National Marine Park area covers 6,471.5 km2.

Cordelia was declared as a Site of Wildlife Importance by the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute on May 2012, and covers an area of 17 km2. The management plan was developed to fit within the framework of the Bay Islands National Marine Park, and was approved in September 2013.

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Three main strategies are underway to build effective conservation for the Park:

  1. Support organizing and strengthening departmental, municipal and local advisory councils, specifically those concerning Cordelia Banks, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  2. Raise public awareness of the Forestry Law, Protected Areas Act, General Regulations and Special Law of the Bay Islands among Cordelia Banks stakeholders, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  3. Share the regulations contained in the management plan, with local stakeholders, in order to reduce illegal activities and foster community involvement in the management.

Community Advisory Councils
The community advisory councils are a community-based participation, consultation and support platform to the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) and municipalities to manage the natural resources, protected areas (PAs), forest areas and wildlife as stated in the Forestry Law. The councils are key participants in the design and support to the development of the Management Plan for the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Each Community Advisory Council includes representatives of the organizations such as: Patronatos (community councils), water boards, community tourism groups, school boards, fishers organizations or representatives, and other social and productive organizations in the communities that border and/or are within the protected areas.

These councils were created to support all protected areas in the country. PAs and MPAs in Honduras are created by the central government, but the entities in charge of managing them are NGOs, who sign a co-management agreement with ICF and these should have municipal oversight. In reality, ICF is minimally involved, and relations with the local municipal governments are mostly non-existent. There is also no source of federal funding to manage these areas, and NGOs have to turn to imaginative ways of raising operative funds. Councils were thought of as a way to foster more local involvement in the management of PAs, thereby creating more buy-in from this important stakeholder. There have been several cases where protected areas have been declared without ever consulting the local populations, and as such, these have never been respected.

Additionally, training has been conducted, along with capacity building for the Community Advisory Councils on aspects related to the socialization of the Protected Areas Law in the preparation of the Management Plan for Bay Islands National Marine Park. A trip was held for government representatives (Minister and Congress) to Cordelia Banks to celebrate the declaration of the site as one of Wildlife Importance. Cordelia Banks is also managed as a Marine Sanctuary for Sharks (Honduras and Palau Islands are the only two countries in the world where it illegal to fish sharks and sell any of their by-products). Finally, Community Marine Reserves or no-take zones have been established in coordination with the fishermen’s associations and the Community Advisory Councils. The no-take zone has been established within Cordelia Banks in the zoning chapter of the Management Plan.

How successful has it been?

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) applied for a grant to Ocean Fund to acquire a patrol boat for the area. This boat was launched on June of 2012. Roatán Marine Park, with a park Ranger and a National Policeman onboard, coordinates patrolling activities.

Healthy Honduran reef © Ian Drysdale

Healthy Honduran reef. © Ian Drysdale

CORAL funded a fisheries survey/assessment, carried out by Centro de Estudios Marinos’ Steve Canty. This information was very helpful in the creation of the management plan, as it allowed identifying key players within the fishing community. These stakeholders were invited to help create the no-take zone, during the meetings to write up the management plan. TNC, with USAID funding, organized these fishermen into a legal organization.

The zoning will soon be a reality with the installation of buoys. These are being installed by a joint effort carried out by CORAL, RMP and Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), with funding from Port of Roatán.

The biological monitoring of the area is being done in several different ways. Reef health is defined using the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol and HRI’s Simplified Integrated Reef Health Index (SIRHI), alongside many other local organizations. Coral spawning and a grouper/snapper spawning/aggregation site are also monitored on the right phases of the moon.

Lessons learned and recommendations

  • With the Ocean Fund Grant, WWF was able to engage the local communities to move forward, after the legal declaration of the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Without WWF’s involvement, as well as ICF, Honduras Directorate General of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and CORAL, the Cordelia Banks advisory council would not have become active and would have remained another amazing idea on paper.
  • Consolidating the advisory councils was a necessary step prior to designing the management plans, as these are usually the users of the resources contained in these protected areas.
  • The Ocean Fund was catalytic to assuring the long-term legal status and conservation of Cordelia Banks by setting the stage for successfully designing the management plan.
  • Involving the local fishermen in the creation of the management plan was a key element in defining the no-take zone, as well as identifying the sites to install fishing moorings.
  • AGRRA and HRI’s SIHRI was a valuable tool that helped identify the biological importance of the site, based on the outstanding coral cover found.
  • ‪CORAL has been leading the discussion about the development of a Bay Islands Conservation Fund. Working with government officials, CORAL has facilitated several meetings to determine the use of mitigation funds that otherwise would not be accessible for the ongoing management of marine protected areas in the Bay Islands (mitigation monies would simply roll over into a general fund). This new conservation fund would shore up long-term sustainable financing for Cordelia Banks and the Bay Islands (a minimum of $75,000 per year for 30 years is identified as mitigation for maintenance activities of the cruise ship docks).
  • Engaging the private sector created a win-win situation that fostered collaboration between all stakeholders: the private sector needed to comply with requisites contained in their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); the local organizations needed funding to create an applicable and consulted management plan.

Funding summary

World Wildlife Fund
Oak Foundation
Summit Foundation
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Ocean Fund
MAR Fund
Roatán Marine Park
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Port of Roatán

Lead organizations

Healthy Reefs Initiative
Coral Reef Alliance


Healthy Reefs Initiative
WWF-Mesoamerican Reef
Roatán Marine Park
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Port of Roatán


Cordelia Banks – Jewel of the Meso-American Reef (video)

Treasures of Roatan: Cordelia Banks (video)

WWF Report: Coral Reef Protection in Cordelia Banks (pdf)

Cordelia Banks Info Sheet (pdf)

Technical Paper (pdf, Spanish)

Information on Honduran Protected Areas (pdf, Spanish)

Cordelia Banks Management Plan (pdf, Spanish)