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Guanaja: The Green Island of the Caribbean

Through connections I have at Centro de Estudios Marinos (CEM), the Honduran organisation I’d worked with a few years before, I was asked if I’d be interested in making a short promo film about Guanaja, in the Bay Islands of Honduras (in fact the only Bay Island I’d not visited).

The film had a dual purpose, firstly to help increase tourism by focusing on the island’s natural beauty both above and below the waves, along with some of its understated resorts – the idea was to appeal to the slightly more adventurous tourist but one that still wants a bit of comfort, but nothing too flashy. Secondly, and most importantly to me, CEM had been in discussions with the Mayor of Guanaja about the potential for setting up a number of No-Take Zones (NTZs) around the island. Although the Mayor was generally enthusiastic about the idea, the promo film was suggested as kind of a sweetener…CEM would help to increase tourism (albeit low-key) and in return, the Mayor would offer his full support in setting up the NTZs.

Obviously I jumped at the opportunity so together, with my friend/colleague Richard Shucksmith, made what turned out to be a fairly arduous journey to the island. Once we arrived we hit the ground running. Due to various time restraints we only had 5 days and we had a lot to cover.

Two days were spent diving on some of Guanaja’s best reefs. This was interesting for me as I’d dived fairly extensively around Utila and Roatan so I wanted to see how Guanaja compared from an ecological point of view. Caribbean reefs, in general, are in very poor shape essentially due to overfishing and climate change. The reefs around Guanaja would no doubt be suffering in the same way although they do have considerably less divers than the other islands, although I think diver damage to coral reefs is over-exaggerated…Caribbean reefs have far bigger problems but that’s a story for another post.

The reefs in general weren’t actually too bad. Lots of algae but that’s par for the course in the Caribbean these days. The underwater topography was fascinating with lots of steep walls, deep gullies and caves. Fish numbers weren’t too bad, although as usual there was a distinct lack of large-bodied herbivores and predators, a clear sign of overfishing and one that is repeated throughout the entire region. Thankfully this project was going in some way to help reverse this with the designation of a series of NTZs – how effective they will be in the long-term remains to be seen but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

The next few days on the island were a combination of frenzied filming and frustrated waiting about. A fairly standard practice in most parts of the Caribbean is to be late for everything and quite often just not turn up at all…not ideal when you have a very tight schedule. Nevertheless we did manage to cover the majority of the island shooting everything we could at every possible angle. We also had a drone which was good to have. We figured having a specific plan/storyboard wouldn’t work for this project so we just shoot as much as possible in the time we had and then worried about that in post-production.

I also shot a load of stills whenever possible which will also be used for the island’s tourism marketing campaigns.

All in all it was a fun, if slightly frustrating project. We just didn’t have enough time to really do the island justice – I guess time restraints are often an issue with these things and the final result wasn’t too bad. Guanaja is certainly the most beautiful of the Bay Islands – I hope I get the opporuntity to go back at some point.