Mesoamerican Reef - Swan Islands Expedition - More Info
The Mesoamerican Reef
The Mesoamerican Reef was formed over the last 225 million years and extends from Isla Contoy on the north of the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands of Honduras. It is second longest barrier reef in the world and unique in the Western hemisphere due to its length, composition of reef types, and diverse assemblage of corals and related species. It hosts more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk and more than 500 species of fish, including the mammoth whale shark—the largest fish in the world.
Compared to many parts of the Caribbean, the Mesoamerican Reef remains relatively intact. It is closely linked to coastal wetlands, lagoons, sea grass beds, and mangrove islands. This massive structure provides an important defense against storms and coastal erosion, while providing a wide range of marine ecosystems and habitats, from oceanic atolls outside the Barrier Reef, to extensive bays, lagoons and estuaries near shore.
Within the coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves of the Mesoamerican Reef are many threatened species including the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus), the American Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) and Queen Conch (Strombus gigas).
The Swan Islands
The Swan Islands or Santanilla Islands are located 250 kms north of the Honduran mainland, at 17°4’ North latitude and 83°93’ West longitude. This small archipelago is made up of 3 islands: Booby Cay with 92 meters of length; Great Swan with 3 kms of length and its highest elevation being 21 m.a.s.l.; and Little Swan with 2 kms of length and its highest elevation being 23 m.a.s.l. Adding all three, land area is 410 hectares.
The Swan Island chain consists of Great Swan, Little Swan, and Booby Cay. Fringing reefs are developed around the perimeter of the islands with the most extensive reef growth occurring along the northern shores. Great Swan is nearly two miles in length with a maximum elevation of 68 feet. Little Swan is about 1.5 miles in length by 0.3 miles wide with a maximum elevation of 78 feet. Booby Cay is a small cay off the southwestern tip of Great Swan only about 100 yards long. One can easily walk to the cay from Great Swan at low tide. The islands were named after Captain Swan, sent to the Caribbean by London merchants with a cargo to sell. His ship was reportedly attacked by Pirates in 1680 and he reportedly joined forces with these buccaneers who controlled much of this area of Central America.
Although the US at one time (1800s) held a claim to the islands, the US and Honduras signed a treaty in 1971 recognizing Honduras' sovereignty over the Swan Islands. The US and Honduran militaries have occupied the island over the years, with An executive order was signed in 1991 creating a marine national park, but this was never followed up with the formal decree. We envision that the media attention generated by this expedition will help expedite the completion of this formal decree.