There are a few of us who are fortunate enough to regularly dive what I consider to be Roatan’s best dive site; the area southwest of the western tip of the island vaguely called “Texas”. The site is between the barrier reef walls paralleling Roatan’s north and south shores which converge in the deep a couple of miles off of the western tip of the island, leaving a huge underwater plateau between them that starts at the shore, and gradually slopes to the abyss.
The Atlantic Equatorial Current flows westward through the southern Caribbean before veering north very near Roatan. This powerful current is partially split by the island with currents flowing down both the north and south shores coming together again at this amazing dive site.
These nutrient rich currents upwelling from the deep and crossing the plateau afford nourishment to an amazing array of coral reef flora including a virtual forest of ancient barrel sponges. The rich waters also attract a plethora of fishes, a brief list would include; schools of Jacks, Permits, and wrasses, with barracudas, huge snappers, Oceanic Triggerfish, and the occasional Hammerhead Shark. There has to be a representative of every species of Grouper in the Caribbean here, with this actually being the breeding ground, or nursery of the endangered Nassau Grouper.
Where there are fish, there are fishermen. Roatan has been inhabited by fishermen since the dawn of time, and no doubt some dude in a hollowed out log hundreds and hundreds of years ago caught a big fish in this area, and told his brother-in-law about it, and soon everybody was fishing there. This is all well and good, for a man has to feed his family. In the early days I guess you had to braid your own line, and fashion some sort of hook outta whatever was around to get the job done, and I would have to think that most of the fishing was in the shallows as you would be limited by your gear.
About 1938 those kids at DuPont came with the product; Nylon. After lobbying to have their nearest competitor in the rope business, hemp outlawed, nylon became the go-to material for rope and cordage. The very next year monofilament fish line was introduced, and the bamboo poled bobber watchers rejoiced.
To fish the plateau where we dive, you jig for the fish. Using something you think a big fish might find appetizing, you put it on a big hook and drop it to the bottom 80 to 150 feet below and jig. Because of the currents mentioned above, it is a lot easier to drop an anchor to hold your position.
In my personal fishing experience, I hook mostly bottom, and there are literally tons of proof covering the ocean’s floor showing that I am not alone. Horrified observation proves that there is the same problem with anchors. Fishermen in this area started using concrete blocks for anchors and the cheaply available half inch black nylon shrimping line. Like all fishermen if you snag the bottom with your hook or anchor, you’re gonna have to cut it to go home. Unfortunately these lines do not drop to the oceans floor in a nice little coil, the current immediately grabs them and lays them across the plateau in hundred foot lengths. With the amount of fishing this site has seen over years, there are some areas with a lot of line on them.
Since the formation of the Roatan Marine Park in 2005 and the designation of the Bay Islands National Marine Park, anchoring on the coral reefs is prohibited, and enforced. Line fishing is allowed (a guy’s gotta eat) but tossing a cement block overboard possibly landing on a sponge that is hundreds of years old, and literally a national treasure, is a serious no-no.
We, the few, continually astonished by the beauty and abundance of this area are also witnesses to the harm the ropes and line do to the reef. They are abrasive and cut into sponges and soft corals like cheese cutters. The changing currents of the area tangle these hundred foot strands of 70 lb. test monofilament into invisible snares for the bottom creatures. Given that nylon will last for hundreds of years, this is not a problem with short-term biodegradable solution.
We, the few (actually seven), decided to do something about this, and got together for a “Get the Mess Off Texas” dive! Bringing an array of cutting instruments, mesh bags, and lift bags we tanked up with 36% Nitrox for extended bottom time and working minutes, and jumped on the Sunday morning boat to our objective.
Success! We ended the dive with bags full of monofilament, ropes, reef hooks, weights, and fishing lures. We even came across a hundred feet of new white nylon rope lost by some poor poaching criminal the night before! It was a bit of a learning experience, figuring out the best ways to deal with floating transparent strands, and what works best to cut them, but we have it figured out now, and are ready for next time. (Note to self; Gloves).
There will be a next time. We, the few, have committed to making this a monthly event casually referred to as the 4th Sunday. On these Sundays we will have eight tanks of 36% nitrox ready, with mesh bags and gloves available to go out and clean up that little bit of a square mile of ocean plateau we missed. Local dive professionals are welcome to join in this dive, and help. Just contact Manon at the shop to see if there is a spot available.