SPECIAL THANKS TO

OUR PARTNERS

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MEET THE TEAM

THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT POSSIBLE

GABY BERTRAND

PROGRAM MANAGER

After finishing her degree in Art History, Gaby was planning to come to Utila for only a few months in 2017 to become a PADI scuba instructor, but she never left. After working as a full-time instructor for over 5 years in Utila, she decided to orient her career toward marine conservation and has been the Program Manager at WSORC since June 2022. Gaby knows the reef surrounding Utila like the back of her hands and has witnessed all the changes happening to our ecosystem over the years, making it one of the reasons why she decided to get more involved in educating the next generation of conservationists. She is a PADI Master Instructor as well as an Operator for the Utila Hyperbaric Chamber. For her, the best thing about working at WSORC, other than swimming with Whalesharks!, is that she loves to spend a whole month teaching and showing every single intern why the ocean is so important to protect and making them aware of how lucky we are to live on the blue planet.

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SAMANTHA BURGESS

RESEARCH COORDINATOR & MARINE BIOLOGIST

Samantha grew up on a small coastal island in Florida. Surrounded by the sea, her love for the ocean started at a young age and she began her formal career in marine biology very early, graduating from the SSES Ocean Academy while still in high school. She advanced her education at Nova Southeastern University and during her studies there, Samantha was able to to travel to Utila for the first time as a 2017 WSORC intern. She graduated in 2020 from Nova Southeastern University with a dual Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology and Environmental Science. After graduating, Samantha worked with a commercial diving company and the Department of Conservation and Recreation in Massachusetts as a project assistant manager for the removal of aquatic invasive species. She then moved to Alaska and continued her career working with the National Marine Fisheries Service as a Fisheries Observer. She returned to Utila in 2022 and completed her Divemaster training at BICD. When offered the position at WSORC, she leapt at the opportunity to protect and conserve the islands ecosystem.

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MICHELLE CERRATO

COMMUNITY OUTREACH COORDINATOR & BIOLOGIST

Michelle has a degree in Biology from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, she spent her last year as a student taking Marine Biology-related classes. Her interest for Coastal-Marine ecosystems led her to work in Utila researching and advocating for the conservation of endemic reptile species of the island with Kanahau Wildlife Conservation Facility. She quickly fell in love with Utila's biodiversity and culture. Michelle then received the JEOS scholarship offered by WSORC, where she interned and completed BICD's Divemaster Program. After not only being mesmerized by Utila's terrestrial but also its unique underwater ecosystem, she accepted the Community Outreach Coordinator position at WSORC, where she represents a link to the community to strengthen the conservation culture that we proudly cultivate in Utila.

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OUR STORY

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS, THIS IS WHO WE ARE.

WSORC have been gathering data on the whale shark population since 1997, and have a comprehensive sightings database. We have been granted the only research permit to study whale sharks in the country by the Honduran Environmental Department. Our team established whale shark encounter guidelines to promote responsible whale shark encounters, and in 2008 these guidelines were passed through the Honduran parliament to protect whale sharks by law.

BACKGROUND

Utila is one of the few places in the world that experiences whale shark sightings year-round, and is commonly known as a ‘hotspot’ for whale shark tourism. Although many stakeholders benefit from the presence of whale sharks on the island, little is known about the life cycle of this species, or the reasons why they frequent Utila in such numbers. In addition, whale sharks on Utila are threatened by the combined impacts of pollution, boat collisions and irresponsible whale shark tourism, which might affect their long term population dynamics.

OUR MISSION

WSORC was established to increase the presence and availability of researchers in Honduras to work with whale sharks. Our aim is to gather data on whale sharks and their environmental conditions to answer some of the fundamental questions about this species such as:

  • What attracts whale sharks to Utila and when are they most abundant?

  • Is the number of whale sharks visiting Utila increasing or decreasing?

  • How can our community reduce its impacts on whale sharks while continuing to benefit from their presence?

 

OUR PROGRAMS

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RESEARCH

Collecting data on whale shark individuals, oceanic conditions and the surrounding coral reefs to better understand their dynamics

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OUTREACH

Promoting responsible whale shark tourism, raising of awareness of conservation issues, and educating local school children about the sea

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Training volunteers with the skills necessary to pursue marine conservation careers in the Caribbean

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Expeditions that educate participants about the marine environment while actively contributing to conservation efforts on Utila.

HOW TO HELP

BE PART OF THE GLOBAL SOLUTION

WSORC is an NGO – registered Honduran Non Profit Organization.

We have the knowledge, the location and the desire to make a real difference for the oceans, the people of Utila, and the world… Please help us achieve our and your goals. Would you like to help sponsor whale shark research and/or education on Utila? WSORC welcomes all contributions/donations towards our programs. Sponsors will be included in the next WSORC newsletter and their names/photos will be placed on our website.

It is simple and easy to make a contribution through PayPal. The contribution will be processed through the Bay Islands Dive Centre paypal account, our sister organisation, which will then be transferred to WSORC.

DONATE

Make a donation to the Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Centre using the box below. Donations are processed through the Pay Pal account of our sister organisation, the Bay Islands College of Diving. Proceeds of all donations are directed towards our research and community outreach efforts on Utila.