by Laura Radford
Roatan’s east end is comprised of miles of mangrove forest called the Santa
Helena Biological Reserve and the tiny island of Santa Helena (also called
Helene and Elena). From a distance, Santa Helena looks like a land extension of
Roatan, but the mangroves connecting Roatan to
Santa Helena are situated
primarily in the sea. In fact, canals connecting the north and south sides of
Roatan pass through the mangroves. Offshore further east from Santa Helena is
the small island of Morat and a few miles beyond that is the island of
Barbareta. Barbareta, while only about three and half miles long, is the fourth
largest Bay Island. Barbareta is privately owned and has only one settlement,
the Barbareta Beach Club. The island and reef around it are protected as
Barbareta Marine National Park. Just off Barbareta lie the very small, very
picturesque Pigeon Cays.
The diving at Barbareta is some of the best diving I have ever done. The most
impressive dive site is called Morat Wall, sometimes called Barbareta Wall. As
there are no moorings in the area and the current can be strong, this is always
done as a drift dive.
Usually the dive begins and ends on the shelf of the reef which averages 15-25
feet but tapers to 50-70 feet. The wall at the edge of the reef extends for
about three miles and goes to depth of about 130+ feet. The longshore current
acts as a superhighway for pelagics such as tuna, turtles, sharks, whale sharks
(mostly seen in January and February), eagle rays, and barracuda.
The wall consists of several overhangs, crevices, and small caves- some of which
are used as resting spots for nurse sharks. Spotted spiny lobster grow to nearly
monstrous size as do sheep crab and just about everything else. The deeper
portion of the wall hosts masses of black coral, gorgonians, and sponges.
The shallower portions including the top of the shelf have a profusion of coral
and sponges including both elkhorn and staghorn coral and barrel sponges that I
am sure I could have played hide-and-go-seek in. I saw several spotted eels
hiding below the sponges and peeking out of coral heads. There are boulders of
brain coral, the vibrant blue Pederson’s shrimp are abundant, small jack knife
fish and behemoth grouper greet divers without reservation.
The schools of sergeant majors, school masters, blue tang, barracuda, to the
pairs of yellow butterfly fish, in short just about everything swimming and
fixed that the Caribbean has to offer, is found here. Sensory overload is
serious risk. But you can always close your eyes for a moment and start over.
If you only do one dive, dive at Barbareta.
There are other wonderful dives at Barbareta, most are shallower and offer good
snorkeling. The Pigeon Cays are surrounded by sand where you are likely to find
rays, starfish, sea biscuits, and conchs. There are also smaller coral heads and
Barbareta Beach and Jade Beach
The other sites such as Barbareta Beach and Jade Beach are accessed from the
shore of Barbareta. The boats from Roatan usually go to Morat Wall and then
picnic at Pigeon Cay. We asked to dive Morat wall a second time and were
permitted. As the reef is miles long, it really is many different dive sites.
The current at Pigeon Cay can be strong, but is navigable. The beautiful white
sand beach and tropical interior of Pigeon Cay give it the appearance of a
Hollywood set as such an idyllic scene is the material of fantasies.
Full of Life
Barbareta is virtually undamaged. Its health contrasted the dead and
dying sections visible at many of the other Roatan sites. While Roatan’s reef is
in very good shape, it suffers from bad divers. I would like to see a more
aggressive stance taken on divers who “bounce” on the reef.
If your diving skills are rusty or never were refined, or if you are diving with
unfamiliar gear, take a refresher course or a buoyancy workshop. Take two. If
you do not have absolute mastery underwater, stay at least three feet from the
reef. You won’t miss much and you will be preserving one of nature’s jewels.
Laura Radford is a writer and a PADI
certified SCUBA Instructor. In 1995 after completing an MFA in Creative
Writing she moved from Alaska to Costa Rica where she taught diving and lead
SCUBA tours. She later returned to her home state of California where she
worked as a high school English teacher.
Currently Laura is working as a
freelance writer and is traveling and diving in her free time, which is most
of time. She was drawn to Honduras by the extraordinary diving off the Bay
Islands but was lured to mainland by Honduras’s natural beauty and
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