On 24th August the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) welcomed through its doors the island of Utila in celebration of the grand re-opening of its brand new visitor center, and of course the whole team at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) was there in full regalia to support the celebrations.
The grand re-opening, so aptly named “BICAJAM”, was attended by volunteers from both the Iguana Research and Breeding Station (IRBS) and from the WSORC. A whole host of community members from the island, as well as dive center representatives, school children and parents, and local news station HQ TV’s reporter Shelby Mcnab were also there to participate in BICA’s festivities. It was a truly united and enjoyable afternoon of fun and learning for all, in which each organization was able to display their respective projects to visitors, and promote the importance of conservation of the natural environment and wealth of wildlife that characterizes the Bay Islands.
In the central courtyard, recently remodelled by BICA staff and volunteers, the IRBS and WSORC presented their exhibits, providing information about the species and programs they are currently working with. The IRBS had on offer handcrafted wine made from Jamaica flowers, and screened a most entertaining and expertly produced video about the work of their volunteers with the endemic iguana; Utila’s swamper (Ctenosaura Bakeri). They also displayed information about their own environmentally informative visitor center, as well as the achievements they have accomplished to date.
WSORC’s exhibit stand shared information and interesting facts about this majestic and gentle giant of our seas. Proudly on show was the center’s new model whale shark, handcrafted by WSORC volunteer Simon Hilbourne. As well as creatively illustrating the anatomy of a whale shark, it now serves the center as an exquisitely unique and much needed donations box!
Amongst the information WSORC volunteers prepared for the day was a map depicting the island of Utila and whale shark sightings, including all recent encounters up to August 2013. Graphs were displayed describing the average size of the whale sharks that have been observed in the coastal waters of Utila, as well as interesting information about the world’s largest fish and its behaviour. Encounter guidelines and regulations were also on display, providing our audience with an up to date guide on how to behave appropriately should they be fortunate enough to encounter a whale shark. WSORC’s most recent eco-products; bar coasters made from recycled wetsuit material and decorated with our logo were also sold during the afternoon in order to collect funds for the center. Information promoting our free weekly whale shark presentation, given every Sunday evening at 7:30pm at the Utila Lodge bar was also on display.
Inside the visitor center, BICA’s displays of the work they have been doing and the projects they are involved with were excellently designed and very informative. Details of their sea turtle conservation program, as well as their lionfish management efforts, monitoring of mangroves, and beach clean ups were displayed for all to see and enjoy.
The center was full of children throughout the day, who took full advantage of the kids activity room recently remodelled by Ella Sayer, and it was clear to see they were thoroughly enjoying the educational material. Throughout the afternoon there was food on offer and a Raffle with fun prizes. The afternoon was played to a great end with notes of guitar and live music in Spanish from Dani Vargas. Well done BICA what a great success!