Hurricane Felix is right now a category 4 storm (expected to become a 5). Weather Underground is currently placing Felix due north of Panama and heading west toward Honduras and Nicaragua. An AP article by reporter MARGARET WEVER quoted a resident from an island I had never heard of before — Roatan — so I hopped onto Google Earth to check it out and in the process discovered the Bay Islands of Honduras (Roatan, Guanaja & Utila).
It is not surprising that I am ignorant of most tourist hot spots in the Caribbean, but when Wikipedia mentions in its Roatan article that the island lies near the second largest reef in the world (Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being the largest), then I have to admit to being a little chagrined. I knew that the reefs off the coast of Central America were significant, but I guess I did not grasp quite how significant they were. Subsequently, I’ve learned that they make up 9% of all the world’s reefs.
The reefs are not much in danger from the hurricane. They have co-existed for thousands of years. Tourism and development in the countries on the Western Caribbean Sea constitute a much more serious threat to them, in part because of general ignorance of their global importance. The internet with sites like Google Earth and Wikipedia serve best when they facilitate linkages like the one I made from a simple quote in a single article to the discovery of a group of islands and the global significants of an entire ecological region.