Our research group stayed in Half Moon Bay at the west end of Roatan. The atmosphere is laid back, with uncrowded beaches, and unpaved roads underfoot. The scenery is beautiful too, with near and easy access to healthy coral reefs. Scuba dives are cheap and quick with spectacular underwater views.
Things get even better once you're below sea level. Elkhorn coral colonies were frequently observed, a sign of good reef health. Young colonies were present. Coral cover is high. Most of the reefs are protected by Marine Parks. This is a good thing because fish abundance was not particularly high in the shallows. The consensus was that Roatan's shallow coral reefs are 'on the rebound'.
|Idabel submarine dives regularly to 2100' depth off Roatan, Honduras|
|Dr. Tom Shirley, Idabel submarine, and Karl Stanley|
|Aquanautix and Dr. Fred Boltz (r) get ready to dive|
RIDE's operation is shore-based. Therein lies the beauty. There is no long transit out to sea, no big ship costing tens of thousands of dollars a day, no hardhats, and no "stand behind the yellow line." Idabel operates at a fraction of the cost of a federal research vessel with few constraints or distractions. Plus, she's got style. You won't find many submarines with leather cushion seats and parts lifted from a '57 Chevy.
Pretty as she is, Idabel does lack some scientific amenities. There's no sonar, manipulators, or surface communications. 'Coms' are a cell phone with a spare calling card. The ride is terrific though, even better than Alvin, in my opinion. You sit upright. Visibility is excellent, thanks to the 4" thick, 30" diameter plexiglass hemisphere and Roatan's crystal clear water. We could see 300' through the water at 300' depth. It all adds up to an unforgettable experience.
|Yellow Paramuricea sea fan 2m across at 500 m depth|
In the next few days I'll try to post a few more details, notes, photos, and videos of the incredible habitat we observed. For now, here's a photo gallery so you can share our fascination, and treat yourself to a close-up glimpse of that smalltooth tiger shark. Please enjoy! Thanks for following along.