By Elizabeth Walsh
From May 17, 2018
The Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation students worked together throughout these past two weeks and completed benthic surveys almost every day. We dove to depths of 15m and laid out three 30m transects at every dive site we went to. On these transects, we surveyed the reefs that fell along the tape and took note of what was directly underneath the transects every 10cm for the first 10m. We spent a lot of time vigorously studying and learning coral species after coral species, such as Montastaea cavernosa to Porites asteroides; if it was a coral in the Caribbean, we learned it. We proceeded to complete these benthic surveys for 16 different dive sites that hugged the coast of Soufrière. These sites were surveyed previously by our professor Dr. Bégin in 2011, and we used the data collected on this trip and compared them to her previous findings. Our preliminary results showed that there may be up to a 3% increase in overall hard coral cover compared to the data collected in 2011, which is outstanding news! Over the years in St. Lucia, coral coverage has decreased more and more rapidly, even after the establishment of the SMMA and the marine protected areas in which it covers. However, a quick look at our data shows that recovery is in process for hard corals in Soufrière, St. Lucia. Three percent may not sound like a lot, but every recovery must begin somewhere. Hopefully with our collected data and the SMMA’s hard work, we can continue to see an increase in coral cover.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. During these courses, students learn scientific diving techniques over a 10-14 day period and carry out research and monitoring of coral reefs at various sites. Many of these courses are done in partnership with local environmental organizations, like the Union Island Environmental Alliance and the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.