by Suzanne Kent

Faculty member Suzanne Kent, Ph.D. and M.A. candidate Cheri Smarr-Foster assisted with an ethnographic research project on the small island of Utila, Honduras in July of 2016.  They worked in collaboration with a team, including the research lead, Keri Brondo, Ph.D. of the University of Memphis.  Luis Chévez Contreras with the Bay Islands Foundation, Andrea Albergoni with Kanahau Research and Conservation Facility, and Daryl Stephens, also of the University of Memphis, all played important roles in the fieldwork.

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S. Kent & A. Albergoni tagging an endangered & endemic ‘Swamper’ Iguana. (Photo credit: Keri Brondo)
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Cheri Smarr-Foster at the Bay Islands Foundation Iguana Station. (Photo credit: Keri Brondo)

The team is working together to identify ways to strengthen approaches to conservation on the fragile and vulnerable island.  Utila is a popular destination for dive tourism, and population growth and other shifts are putting increasing pressures on the environment.  Key themes in the research project include the interconnections between conservation and local livelihoods, conservation voluntourists arrangements, environmental education, and tourism development.  Funding and support were provided by the Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) at Colorado State University and the Engaged Scholarship Research Grant from the University of Memphis.  The team members were able to meet in person last May at a conservation retreat hosted by the CCC at CSU’s mountain campus.  Once in Honduras, local collaborators provided tremendous support to the U.S.-based team.

The team is pleased with the large and informative data set generated by the fieldwork.  In the coming months they will be drafting action plans for each of the collaborating organizations, a brief report for community leaders and the organizations, as well as a short video about the project.

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Plastic debris on one of Utila’s beaches. The conservation organizations host beach clean-ups to remove the plastic, but the island has very limited options for managing the collected waste. (Photo credit: Cheri Smarr-Foster)
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Bagged plastic from a beach clean-up. (Photo credit: Cheri Smarr-Foster)