Jamaican coral reefs

Monday afternoon we arrived in Jamaica to continue our study investigating the impact of coastal development on neighboring coral reefs. (The project is lead by Amber Stubler, a PhD student from Stony Brook University, with me and her parents helping out with the field work). The study is important because much of the Jamaican coastline, similar to many Caribbean countries, is dotted with resorts and hotels. This often requires clearing the land and surrounding coast of trees and shrubs; vegetation helps reduce the amount of sediment or soil washed into the ocean during the frequent tropical storms. This soil can smother coral reef animals like sponges and corals, eventually killing them.

Coral reef at 100 ft

This study has several experiments, with one comparing the recruitment of coral reef animals between a site with much coastal development to sites with no development. To measure and compare recruitment, we use 10×10 cm terracotta tiles, which are a good substitute for coral reef rock.

Terracotta tile, new and not yet covered by animals and plants

These are attached to the reef for 6 months, then photographed underwater and replaced with new tiles. These photographs are later analyzed back in the lab to determine the abundance of each species recruiting to the tiles. Also samples of unidentified animals are collected from tiles for latter taxonomic work.

Amber collecting samples

Juvenile corals attached to the underside of the tile; each coral is about 5 mm in length

After 3 days we have successfully replaced and photographed 180 tiles. It may sound easy, but working underwater has its many challenges like animals that sting and bite, strong surge that often pushes you into animals that sting and bite, time limitations that prevent one getting the bends, and the frustrating ability of experimental equipment to float away when you are looking at and doing something else. Plus, the frequent thunder storms during the past few days have made standing in a metal boat somewhat hazardous to one’s health. All in all, great fun.

An approaching storm; not a good time to go diving

2 Comments on “Jamaican coral reefs

  1. the skeletons on the bottom plate surfaces look like Bryozoan to me.

  2. They are bryozoans, not coral recruits. Coral recruits are usual less that 1. Those bryozoans in your pic are about 1-3mm.

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