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Roatan Overview


Barbareta   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 Roatan Diving, Honduras - Cay off BarbaretaSanta 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.

Diving Barbareta

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

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.

Shallow Shelf
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 sponges.

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 fascinating history.

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Many thanks to Laura Radford for her articles and photos on Roatan diving and Honduras.

Laura would be glad to answer any of your Roatan diving and Honduras diving questions.  She may be reached