By Becky Hines and Teah Garrison
May 15 2019
Contrary to what you may have seen on our Instagrams, we are not spending 10 days laying around on a lush, tropical island in the Caribbean.
Twenty students from USF, all biology-related majors, flew out to Curaçao on May 12 for 10 days to learn about coral reefs, Caribbean fish and marine conservation. This involves learning a bunch of new fish and coral species as well as various types of invertebrates. This trip is giving us all a unique opportunity to learn on a coral reef—we are even taking tests underwater! We are also learning reef surveying techniques which involve taking pictures of the reef, and recording what types of corals and fish are in the reef. Additionally, we are taking coral samples for genetic analyses. Learning coral and fish species is key to being able to identify them on the reef for surveying. All of these techniques are giving researchers a better idea of the what lives on the reef and if conservation efforts are successful. There is a graduate student helping on the trip who is collecting data for his projects as well. The class is going to include talking to groups of high school students in Curaçao about our class, surveying techniques and marine ecology conservation.
Landing in Curaçao was a shock for some people. when you think of a Caribbean island you imagine it kind of like a rain forest, but Curaçao is actually a drier island because of weather patterns. It lies outside of the hurricane belt, which means it is very unlikely to get hit, but more importantly it doesn’t get as much rain because it is a low-lying island which does not generate orographic rain. Many of us are a little surprised to see sparse vegetation, as opposed to green everywhere. The weather is pretty sunny all year around, the wet season doesn’t see as much rain as many other Caribbean islands. It is very windy this week though! Which makes the hot weather not as bad, because we have a constant breeze.
We are staying right by the ocean, at the Carmabi research center. Carmabi is in Piscaderabaai, near the middle of the island, on the southern side. There are fringing reefs right off the coast so a short surface swim brings you right above them pretty much everywhere along the coast, including off Carmabi. As soon as we got to the research center many of us went swimming right away. The water is so clear we couldn’t resist. We went right to business identifying the few species we already knew. There was a small eel, tons of fish (mostly parrotfish and grunts) and a few different species of coral. We came back to the research center to eat at 6. Which if I didn’t mention, is RIGHT ON THE BEACH! A few of local women cooked for us and it was perfect after a day of travel. After dinner we put our snorkels on and grabbed flashlights to see what it looked like underwater at night in the Caribbean sea. We saw 3 more eels and a decent sized lobster along with a sea urchin. Seeing the reef at night, made us all more excited to see what it looked it in day time, since we could only imagine what we’d be able to see with more light.
By Jessica Mailliez
From May 20, 2018
The Soufrière River runs through the busy island town of Soufrière, St. Lucia. Because of the steep terrain on this volcanic island, when heavy rain falls, sediment, fertilizers, and other contaminants are washed seaward down the Soufrière River. As our group spent time walking around the city we noticed that littering was a common practice. We have done some education outreach with the local school children over the past two weeks and informed them of the consequences of those actions. On our walk to a Soufrière primary school, we noticed that plastic bottles, polystyrene containers and food wrappers were littered all over the banks of the river. One short rainstorm could send all of that garbage out to the oceans to settle on coral reefs. The coral reefs surrounding St. Lucia are fringing reefs, separated from the coastline by just a short strip of sand or seagrass. The pollutants that flow from the river can quickly spread to inshore waters and to the reefs, and contribute to coral disease, degradation and mortality.
A reef cleanup had already been planned for several of the student dive groups, but it became very clear that a river cleanup was also in order. A group of four students led a river cleanup on Friday, May 18that the mouth of the Soufrière River. We were able to fill multiple 50-gallon trash bags and many other small bags in less than 30 minutes. We also noticed an oil slick pouring out of the river and straight into the Soufrière Bay. Trash on the reefs can also cause issues for local tourism. Because Soufrière relies heavily on tourism (35% is generated from the activities associated with coral reefs), if the waters and reefs surrounding St. Lucia are littered with garbage, it could have a huge impact on local tourism. Much of the garbage could come from the river outflow or from moored yachts, while other items could have come from the dump that used to be located at the top of Rachette Point. After the Soufrière Marine Management Association was founded in 1995 and marine reserves were established, the dump was moved inland, but large amounts of trash had already made their way into the oceans and settled on the reefs. Our reef clean up consisted of four main sites; Rachette Point (far), coral nursery, bat cave and Jalousie Jetty. At those locations we were able to cleanup glass and plastic bottles, tools, metal and plastic food containers, and nylon mooring ropes. We hope that the small things we have done to help keep St. Lucia beautiful might leave a lasting impression on the local people.
By Lina Zubieta
From May 18, 2018
One of the main purposes of the creation of the Soufrière Marine Management Association (SMMA) was to increase the fish stocks near the Soufrière coasts. A study by Hawkins et al observed no difference in the total fish biomass between the current marine reserves and the fishing grounds in 1995 before the SMMA was established (2006). The same study concluded that in 2002, the total fish biomass has quadrupled in the reserves and has tripled in the fishing grounds (Hawkins et al 2006). Since the creation of the SMMA, an increase in fish stocks seems to be the trend observed over the years, demonstrating the effectiveness of the SMMA on meeting one of their main objectives.
To follow up on previous studies, students have been completing fish surveys along with benthic surveys most days during the past two weeks. Together, we completed a total of four fish surveys per dive with our respective group and have spent a countless number of hours studying to be able to correctly identify fish species and their juvenile stages. While conducting fish surveys may sound easy, it involved fighting the current at multiple sites and making sure we input data every night. As a culmination of our effort, each group presented the preliminary results for their respective topic at the end of the second week.
Group 2 presented the preliminary results on the effects of the marine protected areas (SMMA) on reef fish population focusing on four major fish families: grunts, parrotfish, snappers, and groupers. The preliminary results suggest that overall, there are more fish inside the reserves than outside which is consistent with the data obtained by Hawkins in their 2002 census. The results also suggest that snappers and grunts are particularly more abundant inside the reserves than outside. The SMMA seems to be positively affecting fish populations leading to an overall increase of fish abundance within these marine protected areas. While these are only the preliminary results, it is likely that the final results will support other studies that have concluded that marine protected areas have a positive effect on fish populations.
By Ceiteag Hennis
From 14 May 2018
Sedimentation pollution is known to be a major stressor of coral reefs worldwide. Because St. Lucia is such a steep island, sedimentation is especially significant. One of major parts of the research we are a part of is accurately measuring terrestrial sedimentation on the coral reefs outside of Soufrière. Understanding how much terrigenous sediment ends up on the reef and where it is coming from is important in making proper environmental management decisions in the future. In the past, marine biologists have used sediment traps to measure sedimentation in Soufriere. Sediment traps are simple devices made out of long tubes of PVC with a cap on the bottom, allowing sediments to enter through the opening at the top. The issue with sediment traps is that they actually trap whatever is inside and grossly overestimate the amount of sedimentation on a reef. Once the sediment gets in, it cannot easily come out. But in reality, wave and ciliary action can resuspend sediment on the surface of corals. We now know that they are not a good representative of sedimentation on coral because they do not measure net accumulation.
SedPods, on the other hand, are a relatively new way of measuring sedimentation on coral reefs and are much more accurate. Sedpods are made from PVC pipe with concrete poured inside to create an irregular surface in order to replicate the surface of many coral species. Dr. Begin installed 54 Sedpods along the 18 sights at 15m, making sure to have 3 Sedpods at each site. By allowing them to sit on the reefs for a month, we should be able to determine short-term sedimentation rates on coral. This past week, my group was tasked with processing some of the Sedpods. We first had to rinse the sides and cap of each Sedpod to make sure there was little contamination in our samples. We unsealed the cap and dumped the trapped sediments in a bucket. We then washed off any sediment that was trapped to the surface of the Sedpod and within the cap itself. Once all the sediment was in the bucket, we poured the sediment into a properly labeled measuring cup for each site. The bucket was then rinsed with water into the measuring cup to collect any remaining sediments in the bucket. The contents of each measuring cup was then poured into individual bags for further processing back in the States. With these samples, Dr. Begin will be able to run tests to determine what proportion is terrigenous sediments and what is calcareous sediments.
After two weeks together in Soufriere, Saint Lucia, the TMEC 2018 group will disperse tomorrow. Most are heading back to the US, some are staying in Saint Lucia for a few extra days, some are sailing north from here. We had a really great time and accomplished some great things. Check out the quick video showing some of the highlights of our trip!
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.
By Brittany Domke
From May 17, 2018
Today in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, I conducted four coral reef dive cleanups. One of the dives was located near Rachette Point and contained a coral reef nursery. A coral nursery contains fragments of corals that are collected from local coral reefs, raised in nurseries until large enough to be outplanted, and then installed at the restoration site. Corals are grown in these nurseries for about six to nine months before planting them in local sites. Coral reefs are the "rainforests of the sea" and are some of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Corals can grow and reproduce both sexually, through spawning, and asexually, through fragmentation. The corals are placed in rows on PVC pipes that resemble a tree framework and are hung by monofilament lines which are typically placed near other healthy coral reefs. The PVC tree is tethered to a buoy and can move with wave surge and provide corals with better water circulation. This field-based process has many advantages, particularly aiding in a higher survival rate for corals and providing relatively low costs and simple technology. Factors influencing nursery success include size, location, depth, design, and structure. The two main types of coral nursery deigns are floating nurseries and fixed nurseries. Floating nurseries involve suspending PVC trees using subsurface floats and attaching them to the seafloor with anchors. Fixed nursery structures involve securing corals to cinder blocks or cement slabs that are anchored to the seafloor. The two most common species grown in coral nurseries are elkhorn and staghorn coral. An interesting fact is that, staghorn and elkhorn coral are the fastest growing corals in the world with staghorn growing up to eight inches in a year while elkhorn can grow up to four inches. Scientist are investigating the best new ways to manage and raise some of the slower growing coral species such as boulder star coral and lobed star coral.
Another coral conservation strategy is the implementation of artificial reefs. Artificial reefs are human made structures made of anything ranging from sunken shipwrecks, sculptures, government military tanks, and even concrete blocks. Biorock is another method used for coral restoration and was first introduced in the 1970’s. It is based on an electro-accumulation of mineral accretion technology invented by Professor Wolf Hilbertz and Dr. Tom Goreau. This process mimics the formation of calcium carbonate by the electrodes which corals are made from. Coral reefs have decreased dramatically around the world which can lead to possible extinction thereby leading to decrease in fish populations. The decline in coral populations is caused by coral bleaching, coral mining, pollution, fertilization runoff, coastal development, introduced diseases, and overfishing. This can be detrimental to marine habitats and populations. Most countries, especially Caribbean nations, rely on revenue from tourism and organizations like the SMMA are not government funded. Scientists have found that this type of coral restoration strategy could be the most efficient way to restore coral reefs and aid in increasing populations. The coral reef nurseries are used to revive and protect vulnerable coral reefs that are at risk. This specific coral nursery I observed is protected by the SMMA (Soufriere Marine Management Association) which is a non-profit organization whose goal is to conserve the natural marine environment and ensure the development of five zones, including Marine Reserves, Fishing Priority Areas, Multiple Use Areas, Yatch Mooring Areas, and Recreation Areas particularly with in the fishing and tourism district.
By Ashley Taepakdee
May 18, 2018
As our class comes to an end, we acknowledge the amazing staff and rangers from the SMMA who have helped us throughout our stay in Soufriere. They have provided us with the many tools we need to conduct our scientific diving and have accompanied us on almost all of our dives. The SMMA has come a long way since its inception in 1995. Soufriere’s economy and residents rely heavily on agriculture, fishing, and tourism, which depends on the environment which has suffered from over-exploitation, human development, and climate changes. Various conflicts arose in the past that were caused by multiple stakeholders fighting over areas in the marine environment. Therefore, after a few failed interventions by the Department of Fisheries, the SMMA was created after 18 months of collaboration and discussions with stakeholders.
The SMMA divides the coastline into several zones. These zones are marine reserves, fishing priority areas, yacht mooring areas, multipurpose areas, and recreational areas. These zones served to please all stakeholders reliant on the marine environment and the SMMA strives to reduce stakeholder conflicts. However, the division of the coastlines has not always been received well by all stakeholders and the SMMA’s history is riddled with conflict and political unrest. From this conflict, the SMMA has developed programs to address issues and adapt to changing times. Some programs the SMMA has helped to develop are a net buy back campaign for fishermen, community outreach, and they hold forums to discuss decisions and work out conflicts with stakeholders. Currently, SMMA rangers patrol the coastline daily, and receive most of their funding from user fees such, as mooring and diving fees. The SMMA continues to advocate for the health of the reefs they protect not only for its stakeholders, but for the wellbeing of all those who live in Soufriere.
For more information,check out their website: http://www.smma.org.lc/
By Troy Kinder
May 18, 2018
Today our Professor, Dr. Chantale Bégin, presented the preliminary findings of our research to various stakeholders at the Soufriere/Fond St. Jacques Constituency Council. St. Lucia requires that anyone who comes to the island to collect data and perform research must hold a stakeholder meeting to discuss and present findings. The stakeholders represent a variety of organizations that have a vested interest in the preservation and conservation of the fringing coral reefs and their biological inhabitants. Many of these organizations depend on tourism associated with the coral reefs as a primary source of revenue.
The presentation began with a brief overview of the past work Dr. Bégin and other field experts had performed back in 2011. Her 2011 research had been compared to the data collected when the Soufriere Marine Management Association was established in 1995. After reviewing the background data, the presentation pushed towards the preliminary results of our field work and data collection. The data showed that there could potentially be a slight increase in coral throughout the 16 sites we surveyed. Better data will be available once the transect photos are processed and analyzed in Fall 2018. Furthermore, once the sediment collected from the sedPods is dried and analyzed, we can determine if there is a correlation between the amount and type of sediment and the percentage of coral cover.
By Tatum Updegraff
From May 17, 2018
During the span of the USF course, Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, students participating in the program have had to show adequate diving skills tailored for scientific research. Underwater surveying has been the largest skill set that’s been taught, and includes benthic point intercept surveys, fish surveys, and photo transects.
Benthic point intercept surveys are performed over three 30m transects that are laid end-to-end at a depth of 15m and require one buddy team to start at transect one. One partner documents the distance from 0m-5m and the other does 5m-10m. At 10cm intervals, whatever is under the transect tape is recorded. The point intercept aspect of the survey helps discourage bias from impinging on the collected data. The procedure is then repeated for the remaining two transects. Post-dive, data analysis is performed, which requires the data to be input to an excel file where the percent coverages are calculated for coral, macroalgae, filamentous cyanobacteria, substrates, dead coral covered in algae, sponges, and crustose coralline algae. This data is later compiled into a pooled average of all the benthic surveys taken throughout the duration of the course and is used to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of marine protected areas and how sedimentation affects reef organisms.
Fish surveys are conducted simultaneously with the point intercept surveys along the same three 30m transects. Two buddy pairs are required to cover the length of the transects. One pair of divers starts at transect one and the other at transect three. Each diver is then responsible for surveying a cylinder with a 5m radius in which the diver records on a slate any fish species that swim through that designated area along with their approximate size. The data is then analyzed to give an idea of which species are more prevalent at certain sites.
As fish surveys and benthic point intercept surveys are being completed, photos are also being taken every other meter as part of a photo transect. Four photos are taken 75cm above the bottom to make up a full meter squared. These photos are later input to a program called Coral Point Count with excel (CPCe) that overlays twenty random points on each picture. The points are then identified as species of coral, organism, macroalgae, or substrate, which then gives an idea of an unbiased percentage of benthic coverage.
Being able to participate in such an enriching program has been an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone that is even remotely interested in marine science or field work. The skills that I’ve been taught on this trip are invaluable and have helped to prepare me for many future projects that pertain to my career path and overall has been a fun time. So, thanks to those of you who read the blog and have kept up with our journey. Until next time, go Bulls.
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. In 2019, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.