Coral Reef Research

Submitted by Dr. Caroline Rogers

Ann Marie Estes of Low Key Watersports is generously providing funds to the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park to support Elkhorn Coral in Haulover Bayresearch by US Geological Survey scientists Caroline Rogers and James Herlan. The funds, which come from a $1 donation that is included in the price that everyone who dives with Low Key pays, provide a small stipend for biologist Laurie Allen-Requa to assist with field work and data entry. Laurie has lived and worked in the USVI on and off for 11 years. She started her career as part of the team at the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, and ended up loving the Caribbean so much that she worked on a masters degree centered on research in Lameshur Bay. Now, as a part of the USGS team, Laurie is assisting with the monitoring of elkhorn coral reefs in Hawksnest, Haulover and Scott bays (off Caneel Resort’s Turtle Point). Each month, James and Laurie photograph selected elkhorn colonies and survey them for bleaching, disease, predation by fish or snails, and wave damage. Elkhorn coral, one of the most significant reef-building corals in shallow water throughout the Caribbean, is listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It creates a complex architecture that provides shelter for many other animals, including fish, octopuses and hawksbill turtles.

Hurricane Hole Corals and MangrovesThe team is also doing research in Hurricane Hole, within Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, to learn more about the remarkable diversity and abundance of the corals that grow directly on and near the prop roots of red mangrove trees that fringe the shorelines. No other Caribbean angroves appear to have such high coral diversity.

The scientists are also collecting data on seawater temperature at the elkhorn reefs and within Hurricane Hole to study the relationship among temperature, bleaching and coral disease. With climate change, more bleaching episodes are expected. The disease outbreak that followed widespread bleaching in 2005 in the USVI, BVI and Puerto Rico caused a loss of about 60 percent of the live coral on reefs in these islands.

Coral reefs within Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument have deteriorated from bleaching, diseases, sedimentation, overfishing, and damage from boats. However, there are some positive signs, including limited recovery of corals on some of the reefs studied by the National Park Service Inventory & Monitoring biologists, active growth of some elkhorn colonies, and high “recruitment” of new corals in some sites.

   

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