What do you get when you mix one policy wonk,  a house full of scientists, and an island full of endemic iguanas and beaches covered in plastic? A FRANKEN-GUANA!

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Utila Carnival happens once a year, and the entire island gets together to celebrate the glory that is life on Utila. My friends at the Kanahau Wildlife Research Facility and I got together to build a float for the parade. But not just any float; a float to end all floats. A float that would get people talking! A float that would make your abuela say “que belleza.”  We wanted to be the belle of the ball and, let me tell you, the monstrosity that is our float has a beauty all its own.

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We wanted to combine our organizations two passions: the conservation of the endemic iguana species (the Swamper) and a plastic-free future. What resulted is this: an oversized Swamper named Iggy constructed of plastics found on the beaches. It serves as both a fun mascot and a fully functioning trash receptacle. Hear that sound? That’s children and grown men screaming in delight as we march Iggy through the parade, collecting and sorting trash as we go, dancing our way to conservation and sustainability to the beat of a high school band playing an insane rendition of Despacito on xylophones and drums.

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Iggy will be used again, going to events and schools to munch on trash and sort it out in her three-part stomach. It felt great do a project that had a physical aspect, outside of the grind of policy development.

Iggy, je t’aime

Last blog I promised you pictures of Lion Fish guts, so here you go!

Lion fish are natives of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, but here in the Caribbean they are a devastating invasive species. An unidentified aquarium owner in Florida introduced them to the region when s/he managed to lose their precious lion fish. Free to roam, eat, and conquer, the lion fish has spread and disrupted food webs across the region.

To combat this, Utila holds an annual “Lion Fish Derby,” where divers hunt the poor buggers for all their worth. This year they sent over 500 unfortunate pez leon to fishy heaven. The fish are weighed, sexed, and measured for research purposes. Afterward, the local restaurants take the seafood and compete to make the best lion fish dish. I learned how to locate lion fish gonads and that lion fish can fit quite a few smaller fish in the stomachs.

I’m at the end of my fellowship; I leave hot and humid Honduras for hot and dry New Mexico on Thursday.

As my last contribution to Think Beyond Plastic and the Bay Islands, I’ve been working with local government partners and organizations to assist in the creation of a new Solid Waste Management plan for Utila. It’s a long and arduous process, but it’s worth it to ensure that plastic reduction is given high priority in future plans.

What’s next for me? No idea; I’m heading back to my land-locked state to catch up with family and share what I’ve learned about plastic and my struggles to find a way to shift an entire island away from it.

I’m not gonna lie, working out here on a problem as difficult as the plastic pollution crisis has not been easy; hot days, missed opportunities, and the constant doubt about the efficacy of my work (rightfully so, we should always question our work) take their toll. I’ve been lucky to make friends here who have supported me and kept me afloat in the ocean of plastic. I’ll take this space to give special thanks to those who have made my summer great, you’re all rock stars: Professor Jason Scorse and Rachel Christopherson at the CBE, my co-fellows Kaz and Eliana, Emma, Landito, Flavia, Tom, Daisy, Christina, Maya, Isabella, Andy, Pansy, Watson, and Salem and the whole Kanahau crew, Daniela from GoBlue (and Utila Straw Exchange 😉), Mayor Spurgeon Miller and the whole Miller family, Junior Williams, Lori Munoz, Eldi, Checha, and the whole Milan Equipo, Suriel, Kjerstan who lives in the woods and taught me Dominion, Wilmer the best taxi driver this side of the equator, Dona Janet, Eva and Naomi and the whole crew at Hot Spot Cafe, Hannah mi maestra, the La Cueva crew, Camaron Pirata homies, and everyone else!!!!!

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