Bright Spots: Building a Network of Change in Honduras
Spurgeon Miller and other coastal mayors are joining together to conserve the Mesoamerican Reef and safeguard livelihoods
Rare is connecting its Fish Forever approach to the Mesoamerican Reef, where we will support locally-led initiatives to protect the reef system, improve livelihoods for fishers and their communities, and catalyze grassroots efforts from across the region into a movement of community-based, sustainable fisheries management. Rare partnered with the Summit Foundation to identify and share “Bright Spots,” stories of the local leaders and their communities whose inspiring efforts to change community behavior offer real hope for this global biodiversity hotspot and the people that depend on it.
Each Honduran coastal community holds a special piece of the Mesoamerican Reef, says Spurgeon Miller, the mayor of Guanaja, Honduras, a community in the Bay Islands off the country’s Caribbean coast. Trujillo has one of the largest species of sea star, and in Utila, you’ll find the whale sharks. The creatures, the ecosystems, the people, and the fishing livelihoods of each coastal community are linked, to one another and to those of communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, which join with Honduras to form the wider reef system. But their connection inflates their problems, including coastal overfishing: when members of one community move to fish unsustainably somewhere on the reef, another will feel the impact.
That’s why coastal communities need to work together to achieve sustainable fishing, says Miller. “We can do all the efforts we want in Guanaja, but if next door in Roatan, they’re overfishing or exploiting the natural resources, we’ll have very little impact on the whole system, because we’re part of the Mesoamerican Reef,” he says. “It’s important for all of the coastal parts of Honduras to put protected areas in.” As mayor of Guanaja, Spurgeon Miller has always believed in the power of teamwork to drive conservation.
When Miller became mayor of Guanaja, he found the area’s fisheries in bad condition. “There was no fish, no lobster, no conch,” he says. Fishers struggled. “They were going out and not catching enough to cover their expenses,” says Miller. “It was time to put in a plan to actually protect certain areas so they can reproduce.” Mayor Miller and a group of Guanaja fishers came together to create a protected area on their coast.
To Miller, fisheries management solutions like the protected area are only effective with insight and participation from local fishers. “The most important thing is to have a conversation with the local fishermen,” he says. “Don’t enforce a mechanism. Get with them and actually see what works, what doesn’t work, and then work with them together as a team. As a politician or a public figure, we’re not fishing every day, the local fisherman does. He can tell you exactly what areas need protecting, which one’s more vulnerable for overfishing, and which one we need to patrol more.”
The most important thing is to have a conversation with the local fishermen. Don’t enforce a mechanism. Get with them and actually see what works, what doesn’t work, and then work with them together as a team.” Spurgeon Miller, Mayor of Guanaja, Honduras
In March, Mayor Miller joined 15 other Honduran mayors in committing to establish a network of marine reserves on the Honduran coast. Their declaration is the first of its kind in the region. “We come back to the teamwork,” says Miller of the network approach. “All 16 mayors came together, we signed an agreement that we’ll start moving forward and putting in protected areas, working with the fishermen, having sustainable fisheries, and actually taking care of the environment.”
Teamwork can power change for coastal fishing in the Mesoamerican Reef, when solutions engage different local organizations, fisher associations, and governments — as well as the bold individuals driving conservation movements at local and national levels, like Mayor Miller and his fellow mayors in Honduras. Rare plans to work with the full range of stakeholders, sharing Miller’s ambition to catalyze conservation at scale. “It doesn’t work if you keep it just on this island,” he says of recent efforts in Guanaja. “Everything we do here on the island — is to duplicate it everywhere in the world.”