Tela Marine Research Center (TMRC) is a locally owned and run research organisation located in Tela Bay on the north coast of Honduras. Tela Bay is home to some of, if not the, healthiest coral reefs and mangrove forests in the Caribbean, but significant human activity is causing rapid degradation of ecosystem health. In 2018, TMRC was instrumental in gaining protected status for the bay and we are now working with a large number of local organisations to design policy strategies to prevent further biodiversity loss across both its marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
TMRC is undergoing a period of rapid and exciting expansion and there are a number of ongoing projects that volunteers will get involved with. We believe that the key to protecting Tela Bay is through education of local communities, and our flagship project is the establishment of the first marine aquarium in Honduras; possibly only the second of its kind in Central America. Tela is located in a rural community where most locals will never have the opportunity to explore the incredible reefs of the bay despite the fact they are right on their doorstep. Ultimately, it is the locals that will determine the success of the protected area, but how can they be expected to care if they don’t know what they are caring about? The aquarium will be free to access and will provide visitors with an attitude altering experience by exposing them to many of the weird and wonderful creatures that reside just under the surface of the bay. After seeing the exhibits, visitors will be encouraged to attend a series of educational presentations that will discuss how individuals can help to reduce the human pressure that is being placed on the bay.
In addition to the aquarium, TMRC has a monthly cycle of activities designed to monitor the health of the reef systems in the bay, and data from the monitoring project are used to influence conservation strategies in the region. Every month we assess three major reef systems within Tela Bay, each of which is geographically and ecologically distinct from the other:
- Banco Capiro sits 8km offshore and, with an average hard coral cover >65%, it may be the healthiest reef system in the entire Caribbean. There are many human and climate-induced pressures on Banco Capiro, and it is therefore in need of urgent protection to ensure that it does not suffer the same fate as most other coral reefs in the region.
- Punta Sal is a shallow fringing reef that sits in the west of Tela Bay, and it is home to the largest colony of Acropora palmata left in the Caribbean after the spread of white-band disease in the 1980s reduced its abundance by >99%. palmata is a critically endangered coral species and monitoring of the ecological conditions at Punta Sal is essential for enabling dynamic protection of this refuge.
- La Ensenada is a patch reef system that sits in the east of Tela Bay, very near to the mouth of several major rivers and the town of Tela. High riverine input means that coral cover at La Ensenada is very low. However, the abundance of juvenile fish and invertebrates is very high and it is therefore in need of conservation attention because it operates as a nursery ground for the other reef systems of the bay.
Volunteers at TMRC will survey fish populations using Underwater Visual Census (UVC) and Stereo Video Surveying (SVS) techniques. They will also quantify the relative abundance of hard coral and macroalgae, which is used as a key indicator of reef health, and conduct macroinvertebrate surveys. In addition, a number of abiotic techniques are used to quantify numerous environmental variables known to affect reef health such as temperature, light intensity and sedimentation rate.
Understanding the ecological dynamics of the bay is important, but for protection to be effective more information about patterns of human activity are needed. Last year, TMRC built a watchtower on the beach (complete with a high power telescope) and established a protocol for monitoring fishing activity. Volunteers will be responsible for gathering data about the most popular fishing areas, times of day, and gear types, and these data will be passed to the co-managers of the protected area to inform regulation and policing strategies.
Alongside these reef-based activities, volunteers will be involved with TMRC’s mangrove reforestation project. Mangroves are ecologically important in their own right because they are home to large numbers of terrestrial and marine organisms, but they are also important for maintaining the health of neighbouring coral reefs by acting as nursery grounds for juvenile fish and invertebrates. However, perhaps their most important feature is their ability to draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide in large quantities and store it as ‘blue carbon’, which can help offset global CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, mangrove forests are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, and deforestation in Honduras has been especially high as trees are removed to create shrimp farms. Tela Bay is surrounded by large mangrove forests that have been impacted by human activity over recent decades and TMRC is trying to combat this problem by establishing a mangrove nursery and replanting programme.
TMRC runs four-month expeditions, with the possibility of extending for a further four months when in-country. We are a small operation, therefore, can only have four volunteers at a time. As a member of the TMRC team, you will be working with two permanent staff members who will provide all of the training necessary to undertake our programme of activities. There are no expedition fees but you are expected to cover your travel costs to Honduras. When in-country, you will be provided with food, accommodation, training, and airport transfers.
We are keen to recruit highly motivated volunteers with a passion for the marine environment and conservation. There are a limited number of places available on each expedition, therefore there is a competitive application process. Ideally, volunteers will have a SCUBA diving qualification (PADI Open Water or equivalent), and experience with ecological survey techniques is beneficial but not essential. If you are interested in applying for a volunteer position please send a CV and covering letter to email@example.com, and we will contact you to arrange a time for an informal interview.
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