Cordelia Bank, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Suitably christened by scientists and experts as The Jewel of the Caribbean, Cordelia Banks, has been officially declared as the first Site of Wildlife Importance by the Honduran government. The following are some of its most significant qualities:
1. It has the highest live coral cover in the Caribbean dominated by Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis), a species of coral that is critically endangered!
2. It has an amazing shark presence!
3. It holds a spawning aggregation site for groupers and snappers!
Cordelia Banks is a group of three coralline banks found in the south side of Roatan, located between two large urban centers (Coxen Hole and French Harbour) and in the vicinity of two busy cruise ship docks. Not the typical conditions you would usually associate with a thriving and abundant ecosystem, yet, amazing biodiversity has somehow managed to flourish in Cordelia which proudly displays a modest 70% live coral cover, very impressive if you compare it with the 18% average found in the entire Mesoamerican Reef (MAR).
Cordelia is host to a healthy population of coral species commonly called staghorn coral, or Acropora Cervicornis if you want to be more scientific. This once dominant coral species suffered from a high mortality rate due to disease which killed almost 98% of its population in the Caribbean during the 1980s earning it a spot on the endangered species list.
For reasons unknown to the scientific community, this species is currently thriving in Cordelia and due to the prevailing marine currents it may prove to be key in repopulating this type of coral in the entire region.
Actions taken to promote environmental or social sustainability
After its declaration by the national government as a Site of Wildlife Importance in May of 2012, a management plan was developed to fit within the framework of the Bay Islands National Marine Park, and was approved in September 2013.
The Roatan Marine Park has been patrolling this area for several years now. This bank has also been studied by the Shark Legacy Project, the Roatan institute of Marine Sciences, Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), Healthy Reefs Initiative, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund. It was also featured in a National Geographic Magazine article.
Recreational Opportunities Available
Not very many tour providers visit the shallows where snorkeling is the best (that is my favorite way to enjoy this banks' beauty), but you can usually convince/hire operators like Barefoot Cay to take you out there for a surface interval snorkel.
Waihuka Dive Center takes you to the shark dive (called Cara a Cara, or Face to Face) is also an excellent way to dive Cordelia and see sharks up close and personal.
Usually the south shore of Roatan is rougher than the north shore, due to the prevailing east winds. Caution must be taken, especially if you want to visit the shallows. You do not want to be in a situation where you can damage the coral or hurt yourself in any way.