This weekend, I took a little field trip with the #GoECOfamily. Suzy, our instructor, and Anissa and Federico, two graduates of the program I am currently in. We drove over to the other side of the island to take a look at the Kanahau facility, a volunteer-run rehabilitation and preservation center for the Utila Iguanas. That same day, the IUCN, featured the Utila Spiny-Tailed Iguana on it’s red list (this is a great resource that I learned about in this program. It has the endangered standing and lots of information of nearly every species). The Utila Spiny-Tailed Iguana is classified as critically endangered. We spoke to Tom, a volunteer at Kanauah about why this is. This species is only found on the island, but as resort and Realestate development progresses, mangroves are being ripped out faster and faster (to make beaches and level the ground). This is their habitat, and without a home, they can’t survive. It is kind of alarming to hear about the mangroves. Not only ate they a home for a diverse species, but their roots serve as a huge filtration system for water; filtering and diluting pollutants and chemicals from water as it moves from the land into the sea, without witch the sewage, agricultural, and trash runoff from land, has no filter. Chepes beach, one of the main public beaches on Utila Island, serves as a cultural mecca for the island; it is a place where families go for activities on weekends, where festivals and holidays are celebrated, where locals host family events. But this beach wasn’t always clear and sandy, it had mangroves around it. Now without their roots, the beach is being eroded at a rapid rate. To make their beach prettier, they are inevitably destroying it, cutting how long they will be able to enjoy it. Locals are of course calling for action and pushes governmental funding to solve this problem, but this is a common occurrence around the world; beautifying nature by editing it, leads to greater problems for the environments we are trying to enjoy.
Tom, the Kanahau volunteer then took us on a little adventure tour of the bat caves. There are about 3 or 4 different species of bats that live in these caves. The caves themselves wind for about 80 meters, opening to a main cavern with a small freshwater lake, inhabited with shrimps and strange creatures. We din’t quote make it that far as it required us to drop down through a very, very narrow hole. Bat we sat in complete darkness, listening to their clicks (the sounds they make to echolocate as they fly), feeling their winds kick up air around us. I know some people may be creeped out by bats, or the idea of them, but seriously take a moment to look at a photo of a baby bat’s face. They are actually puppies with wings- so cute!
After the caves, we took a hike to they highest point on the island (about 75 meters above sea water - which is an alarming number as sea levels start to rise). Along our hike, we passed by a group on younger men burning sections of the forest. This is something they often see around the island; not just to build up properties, but they will burn down the plant life before selling land, so that customers can envision a home in these areas better. That is pretty sad. If someone comes here and wants to build a home, but in an environmentally aware way, the ecosystem their land hosts will have already been destroyed before they even purchase it; they don’t even have a chance to. Even more, these are fairly young adults working in the constant smoke of the fires, I know that has an effect on their brain development, respiratory system, body. They are killing themselves too. For what? For who? For a wealthy white real estate agent trying to make more money selling land, building resorts, dwindling the natural beauty that bolsters the tourist of Utila in the first place (the very thing that fuels Utila’s economy). What industry will the locals have when the tourists leave? When the land is gone, the corals die, and the seas are polluted?
We continued our hike, making our way to Pumpkin Hill and to the beaches on the North side. We collected as much trash as we could but there was so much plastic and in such small pieces. The sand is essentially made up in part of plastic. Going to go back as much as I an, but cleaning it up doesn’t solve anything if it does not address how it got here in the first place. Plastic can’t make its way to the oceans, into the nose of a turtle, into the stomachs of birds and fish, if it never exists in the first place. We can’t destroy the plastic that already exists but you can stop producing more. It is not that hard to find alternatives to plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic bottles. Utila is a third world country and the standard is to not use straws. If it can be done here with little money or resources, it can for sure be done in the States, in your home. Ease and convenience isn’t an excuse anymore. Try not tossing plastic in the trash. Try storing it. If your house can’t hold it, what makes you thing the land or sea can?