By: Maddie Emms,
As part of their unique, hands-on course, Marine Ecology and Field Research Methods, students were introduced to the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program. AGRRA offers a standardized method to conduct comparable surveys of coral reef health across the tropical Western Atlantic, covering benthic, coral, and fish communities. Armed with transects, quadrats, and T-bars, and ready to tackle new underwater techniques, students set out to our house reef, Playa Lechi. They worked as a team to collect all the data and then repeated the process following a fun boat trip over to Klein Bonaire one morning, to collect data from another site known as Rock Pile. After some number crunching, they compared all of this to an older data set from back in 2014, highlighting changes on these reefs over the last 3 years, and differences between sites.
Practicing for their promising futures as marine scientists and coral reef conservationists, the students used the knowledge they have gained during their semester here at CIEE Bonaire to host an informative panel presenting and discussing the coral reef monitoring data. They presented data from the two different sites, and responded to comments and queries from various stakeholders, including Kenneth Scherptong who works for the local government. We are very grateful that he could join us for the afternoon! Other roles acted out by CIEE staff included dive operators, recreational users and a manager of a cruise company.
There seemed to be an overall decline in coral cover since 2014, with changes at Playa Lechi being more evident than at Rock Pile. Bleaching (when stressed corals expel their symbiotic algae) has also become more prevalent. However, fish-eater biomass increased at Playa Lechi in the last 3 years, which is a promising sign for populations of predatory fishes. The students came up with ideas that may explain these patterns and worked with the stakeholders to come up with potential management decisions related to all users that could help prevent the negative benthic trends from continuing. They did a fantastic job!
Dr. Robert Steneck presented some more positive findings in Bonaire earlier this semester. He has been conducting a larger scale and longer term monitoring program on Bonaire’s reefs since 2003. In the last few years it has become apparent that they are showing signs of recovery and a higher resilience to various disturbances than the rest of the Caribbean, as can be seen from his 2015 status report and the brand new data his students just collected here a couple of months ago. Fingers crossed it continues!