SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
December 02, 2018
Coral Reefs and Shifting Baselines
12°38’ N x W 61°21’ W
Passing squalls of the previous night held off all day! Consistent trade winds from ENE at Beafort Force 4. A comfortable 32 deg C as long as you spent your day in the water.
This morning we anchored in Tobago Cays and prepared for our first survey off the Cramer. The area that we decided to survey is in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Eager to get in the water after a couple of days at sea we all shuttled into the small boats and headed towards the reef. We dove off the boat into the blue clear water to find a sad reef, full of dead and diseased coral. Even though this area is an MPA the site had little coral diversity and lots of dead broken corals.
For my Directed Oceanographic Research project, my group is looking at the distribution of three coral species throughout the Caribbean. We chose to look at staghorn coral, pillar coral, and mustard hill coral. So far we have only seen mustard coral. The other two species are listed as threatened and critically endangered coral species and we have yet to come across them. Staghorn coral is an important coral species for juvenile marine life and used to be abundant in the Caribbean. Due to bleaching and disease, 97% of staghorn coral has been lost. We hope to see staghorn and pillar coral in the surveys to come. This just shows how important coral research is and the need to go beyond MPAs in fighting the loss of corals.
While snorkeling around I couldn't help but imagine what the reef might have looked like a couple decades ago. As a marine biology major I've had an idealist perception of what coral reefs should look like but I have come to realize that the baseline has shifted and reefs are indeed on the decline. It's possible that I might not ever get the chance to see the reef of my imagination. I am hopeful that through the research that we are contributing to we can change this in my lifetime.
- Ryanne Murray, Eckerd College