Most of you undoubtedly grew up with your shelves covered in bottles of sand from different parts of the world, elaborate seashells and decorative sea stars and coral displays. I know I did.
The concept of marine conservation did not exist until more recently, and even now, the understanding that shells, sea stars and coral were all living things before they became ornaments is not very well understood by the general public.
So we are going to say this in very plain terms: taking things out of the ocean so you can decorate your hair or your home with it is wrong. If you are visiting a beach and you think it's gorgeous, then let the beach stay gorgeous and leave everything where it is. That sea star? It needs to be underwater to breathe, so holding it up for the camera is slowly killing it. That empty shell? It could be used as a future home for a hermit crab, so please don't leave them homeless.
One time, one of our guests purchased a conch shell from a beach vendor and donated it back to the dive shop after learning about the detrimental effects of removing marine wildlife from the reef. We were then left with a choice: do we return the shell to the ocean in its broken state, where it's no longer a viable home to an animal, or use this as an opportunity to educate? We spoke with one of the coordinators of the Roatan Marine Park, and with their support, determined that education was the way to go.
So, to encourage our guests to think more about the consequences of purchasing marine souvenirs, we set up a "poached display", to which the Roatan Marine Park also kindly donated to from their inventory of confiscated items. To be responsible tourists, we must make the active effort to think about the local laws and regulations, and expand on that by refraining from supporting the illegal wildlife trade. Think before you buy.
Please note that taking any protected marine species off the island is illegal, and customs will confiscate it if they catch you carrying it on the plane. Taking these species out of the water is illegal in and of itself, so taking that conch shell or breaking off that piece of coral off the reef to decorate your hotel room also constitutes an illegal act.
So wherever you go and wherever you live, make sure to respect the culture and the people, but please try to think on an environmental and marine conservation scale as well. If everyone says "no" to the illegal wildlife trade, the illegal trade will disappear, and the environment will thrive.
If you're unsure about what animals are unethically traded or bred (like pangolins, aquarium fish and red coral), make sure to check online. There is a whole wealth of information out there, so ignorance can never be claimed as innocence. The Roatan Marine Park has some great guidelines for responsible tourism, so that's a good place to start before you visit our beautiful island.
We love our planet and want to do right by it, and all it takes is a little bit of mindfulness to make a difference. Join us in taking small steps to make a big impact, and let's make tomorrow better than yesterday was.